Asia’s cities are worst hit in a warming world

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say.

Asia’s cities are worst hit in warming world
Cairo scores better, but even near Giza's pyramids there are pollution hotspots. Image: Sophia Valkova, via Unsplash. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities around the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease.

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo — a city of nearly 10 million — performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days — is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. 

This story was published with permission from Climate News Network.

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