A man wades out on a submerged pier as tropical storm Mawar hits near suburban Navotas City northwest of Manila, Philippines on 2 June 2012. AP

By NEAL PEIRCE, Times-Dispatch
17 June 2012

HONOLULU – An Asian century, an urban century — the rise of the East and the role of such expansive urban giants as Shanghai are emblematic of popular assessments of where the world's economy is heading.

But talk with Roland Fuchs of the East-West Center in Honolulu and you hear two deeply disturbing warnings.

First, the climate equation, and what it means for Asia in particular. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising at alarming rates, with the Pacific Rim seriously endangered.

Measured since 1958 at the Mauna Loa observatory on Hawaii's big island, carbon dioxide readings surged especially quickly last year. Fuchs suggests the world could well face a rise of average temperatures of 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit (about 4 degrees Celsius) — doubling earlier estimates — by 2060 or 2070.

And while the impact would be felt globally, some of the most destructive blows would all but surely strike the low-lying, fast-expanding coastal cities of Asia — cities such as Mumbai, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Bangkok, Manila, and Jakarta.

As Hurricane Katrina's blow to New Orleans proved, low-lying delta cities are especially susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise. And for many Asian cities, packed with ever-increasing millions of people, the development has been so intense that the soil is actually subsiding.

Rising sea level, resulting from thermal expansion of ocean water, intensified by melting of glaciers and ice sheets, becomes lethal when violent cyclones hit. […]

Asian metropolitan areas account for nine of the 10 highest-risk levels for coastal flooding among all world port urban areas, according to an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Calcutta, India, with 14 million inhabitants at risk, heads the list, followed by Mumbai with 11.4 million in peril and Dhaka with 11.1 million.

The only non-Asian city on the top danger list is Miami, with a regionally exposed population of 4.8 million. Rising Atlantic sea levels may well cause sea water infiltration imperiling fresh water supplies, wash away beaches with high storm surges and possibly inundate the entire lower Everglades. […]

Neal Peirce: Rising Asian cities may sink into the sea

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