Monday, May 18, 2009

New research brings climate change threat home to Thailand

Chang Noi in the Nation (Thailand): Two years ago, the report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created shockwaves in the Western world, but hardly lifted a single eyebrow in Thailand. Partly that was because the report suggested Thailand would not be affected as badly as many other parts of the world.

…But we can now see that these benign conclusions were a trick of the data. Most of the research and modelling had concentrated on the temperate regions. The relatively benign view of areas like Southeast Asia was a result of ignorance. That ignorance is rapidly being dissipated. Scientists have been peering harder at the local data, and constructing models of the future that concentrate on the tropical and subtropical zones.

…While in the recent past, the greatest warming has been during the cool season, in the future it will happen in the hot season too. There will be more heat waves, and fewer cool days.

…The picture on rainfall is also pretty dismal. Over the past decades, average annual rainfall hasn't changed very much, but the variation from year to year, and place to place, has become more extreme. Dry years are drier, wet years are wetter. Some regions are swamped while others are scorched. Tropical storms have become more intense, though not more frequent.

…Forest fires have already become a bigger problem. In dry forest areas, they used to occur once a year, and now often occur twice. In moist and evergreen forests, which used to be virtually fire-free, they are becoming more common. The haze over Chiang Mai in the later part of the cool season has become an annual event. Minimising deliberate burning of forests has not helped much because the underlying cause is natural.

Landslides and mudslides are also becoming more common. In the past they were mostly confined to the South with its steep mountainsides and sharp monsoon rains. Over the last decade they have become annual events in the North as well.

The picture on sea levels is also becoming clearer and more disturbing. …The rise of sea levels will swamp coastal areas, particularly on the eastern coast of the peninsula. It will also increase seasonal flooding in Bangkok and other towns. The OECD ranked Bangkok seventh in the world among cities where climate change will affect people and property….

The Salawin river (a.k.a. the Nujiang river in China) at the border village of Mae Sam Laep. Myanmar is on the left bank. Shot by Takeaway, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

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