The short and long term impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing threats to biodiversity in Myanmar through direct mechanisms as listed in Figure 7 as well indirectly, through its impacts on humans and their dependence on the products and services produced by terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. Climate change is anticipated to impact human populations through the loss of agricultural lands (e.g. Johnston et al. 2010a; 2010b; MRC & ICEM 2009), aquaculture (e.g. Kam et al. 2010), shortages of food and fresh water, reduced income, damage to property and infrastructure, disease and other health issues, and the need for resettlement away from lands affected by sea-level rise or floods (e.g. Hoanh et al. 2010; Wassmann et al. 2004).
Poor populations are among the most vulnerable to climate change, due to their reliance on natural resources and limited technical or financial resources for adaptation. Declines in fish productivity due to climate change and hydropower development could result in food shortages for many (e.g. Baran et al. 2008; Welcomme et al. 2010). Myanmar’s freshwater ecosystems form an integral part of agricultural production systems, which will be impacted by climate change.
The response of human populations to climate change will almost certainly place greater pressures on Myanmar’s biodiversity. In upland areas, crop failure due to warming conditions may force communities to clear forests and establish crops at higher elevations; slash and burn practices under drier conditions might also increase the incidence of forest fires. In coastal areas, sea-level rise would force communities to clear and occupy new lands. In the lowlands generally, declining fish catches would force communities to seek alternative protein sources, and hunting of wildlife would probably increase. As species shift ranges and habitat compositions change in response to climate change, animals that are generalists such as invasive species may have greater competitive success than native species. Invasive animal species tend to be generalists, which may increase their success and threaten native species. An important impact of climate change for wild populations as well as human communities is the increased risk of disease such as malaria and dengue (Daszak et al. 2000; Harvell et al. 2002).
In all regions, increased conflict with protected areas is virtually certain, as displaced communities seek new lands to settle in. Governments may inadvertently facilitate such impacts as they are forced to seek land solutions for displaced populations. In coastal regions, the need to shift some infrastructure inland (such as coastal roads) to avoid sea-level rise may require the clearance, or further fragmentation, of remnant habitats. The scale of these impacts is potentially huge, involving millions of people, and human biogeography will thus be critical to conservation planning under climate change (Woodruff 2010).