March 17, 2022

The Socioeconomic Impacts of Climate Change in South East Asia

Katrina Murdoch

Having arrived at paradise island in Malaysia, I noticed these white-bone-like structures underwater near the shore. Investigating further, I learnt that these were all dead corals, a consequence of ocean acidification, tropical storms and monsoons.

With climate change, tropical storms and monsoons are only going to get more frequent and intense, becoming ‘the norm’ seasonal weather in South East Asia. The consequences of these extreme events could be the new reality – dead coral reefs becoming snorkelling landscapes, shoreline communities disappearing with history, and food supplies being stretched as food production diminishes while population increases, to name a few.

The impacts of climate change in South East Asia are substantial and span across many socioeconomic areas. This blog post will not be able to cover them all, but it will provide an insight into them.

The South East Asia Region

In order to understand these impacts, we must first understand the region itself.

South East Asia is located to the South of China and East of India. It is considered to be one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change for two following reasons:

  • The population of South East Asia is growing quickly compared to other areas of the world. This rapid population growth creates problems in terms of water and food supply, housing and infrastructure. These problems will be exacerbated by climate change.
  • The majority of South East Asian countries are developing countries where in total, 93 million individuals still live below the $1.25 a-day poverty line (2005). Inequality is obscene and climate change will only intensify this.

These factors build the foundation in understanding the impacts of climate change that South East Asia could face if action is not taken immediately.

What are the socioeconomic impacts of climate change in South East Asia?

South East Asia is predicted to lose 3.3% of GDP by 2050 under a business as usual scenario. The Asian Development Bank suggests that for each $1 spent on mitigating climate change, $2.20 of economic benefits would be generated for the Asia-Pacific region (present value terms). Therefore, the economic benefits of combating climate change outweigh the costs involved.

The warmer temperatures associated with climate change are causing glaciers to melt and thermal expansion, leading to sea level rises and hence, the retreatment of our shorelines. These rises are impacting South East Asia’s livelihoods as 450 million people live in cities located along coast lines, with the Philippines alone housing 7 cities along its coast. These impacts of sea level rise could cost economies billions in damages.

Every year, we see more images of flooded cities. It was devasting to see my friend’s houses in Kuala Lumpur flooded with water and mud. Unfortunately, these sights are predicted to become more common as tropical monsoons and storms are increasing in frequency and intensity, in addition to sea level rise. Heavy rainfalls will exacerbate issues regarding poverty, poor infrastructure and retreating shorelines, particularly in densely populated areas such as those in South East Asia. In fact, Indonesia is already addressing these issues of flooding and land sinkage, due to overpopulation, by moving its capital city from Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo.

Agricultural production will also be heavily impacted by extreme events associated with climate change. Heavy rainfalls, storms and droughts will likely cause crop failures, shortages and ultimately threats to food security. This will impact the incomes of many individuals in South East Asia as they are reliant on agriculture. Furthermore, food encompasses a larger proportion of a poorer household’s income therefore, with food prices increasing, food poverty and inequality will increase as daily food staples become unaffordable.

The effects of climate change in South East Asia will be felt globally, as South East Asia is a crucial hub for shipping routes and exports, particularly agricultural exports. Therefore, with agricultural production disrupted, global supply chains will be impacted.

Climate change is also impacting our oceans, particularly through ocean acidification. This is occurring as a result of the extra CO2 in our oceans chemically reacting to form carbonic acid. With more acidic ocean conditions, the carbonate in our oceans is dissolving. This is disrupting the ocean’s biological pump as organisms that uptake CO2 in the oceans rely on carbonate to survive – namely, corals, plankton and molluscs. In South East Asia, dead coral reefs are a stark reminder of the impacts of climate change.

So how can we help South East Asia retain its white-sandy beaches, tropical landscapes and enriched biodiversity?

We must reduce our carbon footprint: whether that be by switching from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one, thrifting clothes instead fast-fashion, or cycling rather than driving a fossil-fuel based car.

Change can start at the individual level. An easy way to do this is by consuming sustainable food. 1 kg of beef produces the same amount of CO2 emissions as driving 63 miles! On the other hand, the CO2 emissions from consuming 1 kg of tofu equates to only 4.5 miles. Making that protein switch from beef to tofu in just one meal will have considerable impact on combatting climate change. Similarly, eating raw produce where possible, or stove-top cooking rather than oven cooking will reduce your energy consumption and hence, your carbon footprint. No matter how big or small, all of us can help.

We need to start making sustainable choices in order to save our planet.


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Asian Development Bank. (2016) Asian Development Outlook 2016 Update, pg. 52-62. [Accessed: 28th February 2022]

Asian Development Bank. (2009) The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review. Summary of Conclusions. climate-change-southeast-asia-regional-review [Accessed 28th February 2022]

BBC. (2022) Indonesia names new capital that will replace Jakarta. [Accessed: 28th February 2022]

Bhatiya, N. (22 April 2014) Why South Asia Is So Vulnerable to Climate Change. Foreign Policy. change/ [Accessed 28th February 2022]

Green Eatz. (n.d.) Food’s Carbon Footprint. footprint.html [Accessed 6th March 2022]

Hicks, R. (2021) Southeast Asia to bear the brunt of worsening global climate, IPCC warns. warming-2030-ipcc- report/#:~:text=The%20report%20predicts%20particularly%20stark,and%20frequent%20bo uts%20of%20rain [Accessed 27th February 2022]

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Prakash, A. (2018) Boiling Point. Finance & Development. 55 (3), 22-26. greenhouse-gas-emissions-prakash.htm

Written by
Katrina Murdoch
First published on
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Last edited on
Mar 17, 2022 12:48 PM

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