Photo: UNclimatechange, via flickr | Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Asia – The largest continent in the grip of global warming

At the World Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, politicians, scientists and religions once again wanted to save the world. Especially in Asia, climate change meets poverty. The Catholic Church is trying to help. By Michael Lenz & Malik Özkan

(KNA/IZ). It took a while, but in the meantime even religions have recognised climate change as an existential threat to humanity. They were also present at the World Climate Conference COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The Catholic Church plays a special role here, following up the words of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato si with action. In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, for example, one of the countries in South Asia most affected by climate change, the Church and Caritas began planting 700,000 trees at the beginning of 2021.

In the Catholic Philippines, Typhoon Nalgae brought death, misery, and devastation in late October. Nalgae was the 22nd cyclone this year and will probably not be the last. Typhoons are the norm in the Philippines, but in recent years they have become increasingly extreme. The reason for this is man-made climate change. The damage caused by typhoons is worsening due to deforestation, mining, and the destruction of mangrove forests.

This is where a new initiative in the Philippines comes in. Environmental organisations, together with the country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, began reforesting mangrove forests on the coasts of the northern Visaya Islands and in the south of the main island of Luzon at the beginning of November 2022. It is the region where typhoons reach the mainland. 5,000 seedlings have already been planted by 800 volunteers on 36 hectares of coastal zone. Eventually, 100 hectares of new mangrove forest will be created. “More than 50 percent of the volunteers are from church organisations,” Father Antonio Labiao, Caritas Executive Secretary, told Philippine media.

Mangroves are multi-talented. They absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, protect the coasts from erosion and the coastal inhabitants from the full force of typhoons and storm surges. They are also the nursery for the offspring of many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. These, in turn, form the livelihood of the fishermen and their families. With an annual turnover of 1.65 billion US dollars, the fishing industry is an important economic factor in the Philippines.

This year, weather and environmental disasters also made headlines in other regions of Asia. A heat wave with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius had India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in its grip for weeks. Then in Pakistan, a heavy monsoon flooded large parts of the country in September.

Although Asia is home to more than half of humanity and half of its more than four billion inhabitants are considered poor, it receives only 25 per cent of global funding for climate protection. This is according to the report on global climate finance published by the aid organisation Oxfam at the beginning of November. Most of the $20.5 billion (2020) for climate action in Asia was also loans, it said, pushing already heavily indebted countries further into the debt trap.

“Asia’s climate donors and governments need to re-evaluate climate finance in a way that is truly pro-poor, locally led and targeted to help women and girls who shoulder the bulk of climate risks and damages,” urged Sunil Acharya, Oxfam’s Asia expert.

In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued an ultimatum to the banks in a pastoral letter earlier this year. Either, it said, the banks stop financing companies in the coal and gas sector by 2025. Or, the bishops said, “we commit to withdraw all our resources from them by 2025 at the latest and hold them accountable for their fiduciary and moral obligations as climate actors.”

Asia and its large population are not only paying a high price for the emission of climate gases and the resulting climate change, as was recently the case in Pakistan. They are also among the leading polluters today. The People’s Republic of China alone now emits 30 per cent of the climate killer CO2 produced worldwide. Then there is the rapidly emerging and energy-hungry India, whose industry and growing population also rely on the targeted expansion of coal-fired power plants, as well as the equally populous states of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea. And the rich areas around the Persian Gulf are among the regions that emit the most gas in terms of per capita production.

Due to the global imbalance between, on the one hand, rich or rising producers and, on the other hand, mostly poor countries where climate change has led to devastating consequences, the human rights organisation Amnesty International called for the hatching of compensation mechanisms in the run-up to the climate summit. Its new report shows that the human rights of marginalised groups in the global south, such as indigenous peoples and inhabitants of informal settlements, are most seriously violated by the climate catastrophe. Older people, the homeless and people with disabilities in Europe are also disproportionately affected.

Annelen Micus, expert on the climate crisis and human rights at Amnesty International in Germany, said: “The Global North has mainly caused the climate crisis, but people in the Global South are most affected by the devastating climate disasters. It is therefore high time that industrialised countries take responsibility for the consequences of their emissions over the past decades and make reparations for climate damage worldwide.”

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