Climate Change: Is It a Threat to the ASEAN Region? - by Lt Col Dr Maimunah binti Omar


By Lt Col Dr Maimunah Omar


In recent years, Climate Change has emerged as an important issue around the world- the ASEAN region is not excluded. Climate Change refers to a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet's weather patterns and average temperatures. In simple words, Climate change can be defined as long-term weather patterns in terms of a significantly changing global temperature, rainfall, or wind, snow ice, rise of sea water level and many others. It can arise from natural processes and factors such as volcanic eruptions and human activities through our emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Southeast Asia is one of the world’s fastest growing regions in terms of the population and urban growth in recent decades. Scientific assessment has indicated that the coastlines of the Southeast Asia are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. According to the research conducted by the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change between the year 1902 and 2012, there had been an increase of temperature between 0.5 and 1.0 Celsius in the North and Central continents of the Southeast Asia, including areas of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Northern Vietnam. As for the rainfall, it has increased during the rainy season and decreased in the dry season although the trend is uncertain.


There is no doubt that climate change does give an impact to the ASEAN region in short terms and long terms such as its vulnerability to disaster, agriculture and food security, migration, internal security issues and many others.

Vulnerability to Disaster

The ASEAN country becomes more exposed to the disaster. The rise of the sea water level, also the changes of rainfall pattern can affect the whole region. As an example, due to climate change, in Phillipines, on average 20 typhoons hit the country every year and the strongest one is Typhoon Yolanda (also known as typhoon Haiyan) which crosses the Visayas in central Philippines on November 7-8, 2013. It affected almost 10,000 people and caused the Philippines’ economy to have lost almost 14 billion (USD). Another example is heavy rain further causing landslide and flash flood in Vietnam in November 2018. According to Vietnam’s Central Steering Committee on Disaster Prevention it is stated that 12 people have died in landslides in Khanh Hoa Province, 5 people went missing and 11 injured. Over 40 homes had been destroyed. Around 2,000 people had been evacuated from flooded areas.  This is a result of incessant rain in 24 hours. Malaysia is also not excluded; the perception that Malaysia is safe from severe natural disasters is no longer accurate, as in recent years Malaysia has been exposed to intensifying climate-related disasters. For example, in 2014, Malaysia faced its worst Monsoon Flood in the East Peninsular Malaysia affecting 541,896 people. In 5th June Malaysia was also hit by earthquake disasters with 5.9 magnitude, in Ranau Sabah, which took the lives of 18 mountain climbers.

Impact to the Agriculture Sector and Food Security

As for the agriculture sector, the climate change influences the temperature and rainfall, which will directly affect the soil moisture status and groundwater level. Crop yield is constrained to crop varieties and planting areas, soil degradation, growing climate and water availability during the crop growth period. It also contributes to the loss of agricultural land via the rise of sea level as happening in Vietnam. It is estimated that with an increase of 1 meter of sea level caused by the climate change, approximately 38.29% of the area of ​​natural land and 32.16% of agricultural land in 10 provinces in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City will be flooded in salt water, and 7.6 million tons of rice / year, or 40% of total rice production of the area, will be affected.


Climate change also triggers the growing population movements within and across borders, as a result of the increasing intensity of extreme weather events, sea-level rise and acceleration of environmental degradation. Eventually, it will give an effect on the livelihoods, public health, food security, and water availability. This in turn will leave an impact on the human mobility, likely leading to a substantial rise in the scale of migration and displacement. For example, people in the central coast tend to migrate to the Central Highlands in Vietnam. People in Low Mekong Delta migrate to Cambodia. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) records that worldwide, over a period of eleven years (2008-2018), about 265.3 million people were displaced internally as a response to disasters. South and East Asia, and the Pacific were the most affected regions. In particular, the Philippines, China and India recorded the highest number of disaster displacements in 2018. Another problem that could occur is due to the fact that migration has transmitted infectious diseases which will subsequently cause a burden to the receiver country. It will also create ethnic conflicts and pressure in certain areas and parts of the country.


Other than the factors highlighted earlier, Climate change has also caused a number of security issues between countries, especially on border-sharing countries. Due to the economic pressure and lack of development, those who have migrated might have terrorist backgrounds and they infiltrate to neighboring countries without being noticed. In the maritime aspect, Climate change has harmed the world’s fish supply. Less fish means states are likely to fight over scarce fishery resources and cause low-level tensions between the countries when their fishermen, with intention or unintentionally, encroach other countries’ EEZ and  eventually being caught by the authority for conducting illegal, unreported and undeclared fishing (IUU). For example, since 2006, Malaysia has arrested 748 vessels and detained 7203 fishermen from Vietnam, who were fishing illegally in Malaysian waters. IUU’s issues have also soured the relations between Malaysia and Indonesia many times. Cross-border issues such as haze, can sometimes create some tension too, between neighboring countries if they are not handled and tackled properly. The instability cast by internal securities could also arise in the country where military and police will need to work harder to cope with the issues with regard to natural disasters. 


As climate change can cause a great range of impacts, immediate actions need to be taken by ASEAN. It could be started by creating awareness among the children in the early stage of childhood through education. Government also has to establish policies to support the acts of people by taking eco-friendly actions in their daily lives, such as reducing unnecessary electricity use, switching from private vehicle use to public transportation, using products that are more environmentally friendly and suppressing excessive consumption of goods that could produce household and industrial wastes. At strategic level, ASEAN needs to activate and enhance its cooperation and defence in dealing with climate change. The improvements of cooperation could be materialized in the streamlining of processes between ASEAN and military mechanisms as well as among military-related mechanisms. These could be implemented in developing more HADR scenarios in field exercises to enhance civil-military cooperation and  holding workshops under ADMM Plus EWG HADR that involve relevant stakeholders, including civilian-related agencies. ASEAN also needs to activate the ASEAN strategic plan on environment such as ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025 and others. Other than that, enhancing defence diplomacy through dialogues at the regional level is required as an avenue to build confidence and develop good relations with other countries to reduce tensions and eliminate negative perceptions between countries. Sharing knowledge and experiences between experts through seminars, forums and others concerning climate change issues would also benefit ASEAN. In line with that, establishing a Climate Change Research Team by utilizing science and technology institutions like the Science and Technology Research Institute for Defence (STRIDE) in Malaysia will give an advantage to ASEAN in the long run.



The impact of this climate changes is not to be taken lightly, and the challenge of the climate change in Southeast Asia is real, urgent and would be a threat if not been handle accordingly. A lot can be done to improve our climate conditions by the authority and also by ourselves.  If humans contribute to control global warming and climate change, this world would be cooler and the high temperatures we currently have would decrease. If everybody is unified in trying to put an end to most of the climate changes that have been occurring, this world and our region would be a safer place to live in, thus we should work together to ensure that we take care of, and protect, our environment for a better future.

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