More bicycle riding and other lifestyle changes are urgently needed to reduce climate-altering carbon emissions that are damaging Asia's health and could also threaten the economy, the World Health Organisation said Monday.
Climate change contributes directly or indirectly to about 77,000 deaths per year in the region, according to WHO estimates.
"So far the impact is on the health of the people. If the trend continues, it may have an impact on the economy," said Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.
"Of course the threat is there. We should not wait for that to happen," he told reporters at the start of a four-day conference on the impact of climate change and health in Southeast and East Asian countries.
Omi said urgent action was needed because Asia's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions was expected to grow larger with the rapid economic expansion of China and India.
"We have now reached a critical stage at which global warming already has seriously impacted lives and health and this problem will pose an even greater threat to mankind in coming decades if we fail to act now," Omi said.
He said that in some countries environmental issues were not given the highest priority but "if we ignore the environment, humanity will suffer."
Omi proposed greater use of bicycles, the use of clean energy sources, and tax incentives to reduce carbon emissions.
"... we have to adopt lifestyles that are not only healthy but also environment friendly such as reducing the use of private vehicles, walking more or riding bicycles," he said in a speech.
"Subsidising clean energy or energy-saving technology encourages the use of cleaner energy for industrial development," he said.
Health threats from global warming include malaria and dengue fever due to the proliferation of mosquitoes, while reduced rainfall and water shortage could lead to waterborne diseases, the UN health agency said.
Carbon dioxide from energy use is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases which scientists blame for global warming.
At least 40 participants from 16 countries including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have gathered to identify innovative ways to combat climate change.
Omi said proposals from the gathering to fight climate change would be discussed at an inaugural regional forum on environment and health in Thailand next month.
A key UN report released earlier this year warned that billions would face a higher risk of water scarcity and millions more would likely go hungry as damage to the Earth's weather systems from greenhouse gases changed rainfall patterns, powered up storms and increased the risk of drought, flooding and water stress.