Climate change is everything
Our country is currently in a public health emergency. As we continue to work together toward putting an end to this, we cannot afford to lose sight of a more disastrous and more lingering crisis – the global climate emergency.
Climate change is caused by the increased presence of dangerous greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide, among others, in the atmosphere, which causes long-term changes to weather patterns and temperatures.
It has led to rising sea levels and extreme weather events such as super typhoons, heavier rains, more intense heat, prolonged and severe droughts, and enormous losses in lives, livelihoods, properties, and the environment. Vulnerable countries like the Philippines are bearing the brunt of climate change’s impact.
The world will experience irreversible changes if the average global temperature rises beyond two degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide were now at levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” It also warned that the world cannot afford to keep emitting carbon dioxide at the rate it has been doing in recent years.
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We have seen the impact of natural hazards and the prevalence of disaster risks exacerbated by climate change. These disasters have killed uncounted individuals, wiped out communities and cities, and undid many years of development gains.
Further, despite the cooling effect of the La Niña phenomenon, 2020 was dubbed one of the warmest on record with the average global temperature at about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The six warmest years on record have all been in the past six years – 2015-2020 – and, with increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the trend is targeted to continue.
According to PAGASA, the average annual mean temperature in the Philippines has increased by 0.65 degrees Celsius since 1951, rising at an average rate of 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade and projected to increase 1.7 to 3.0 degrees Celsius by 2050. Higher temperatures are expected for all regions by 2050, the rates doubling compared to 2020 levels. Warming is projected to be the worst in Mindanao, the country’s food basket.
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It causes drastic changes in weather patterns, an increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of floods, and an increase in frequency and intensity of droughts.
Several international studies have constantly placed the Philippines on the top of the rankings of countries that suffered most from global warming. The 2021 Global Climate Risk Index ranked the Philippines fourth among countries most affected by weather-related loss events from 2000 to 2019. Over 317 extreme weather events were recorded locally over the past 20 years, the highest among the top 10.
Climate change has developed into everything from disasters such as Ondoy in 2009, Yolanda in 2013 or Ulysses in 2020, sea-level rise and land loss, ocean acidification, and the effects on forests and biodiversity over the years.
It threatens food security. For every one degree Celsius rise in minimum temperature, rice plants have shown to drop yields by as much as 10 percent. In the past, farmers in the Philippines had to stop growing rice during El Niño droughts. An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report warns that rice production in the Philippines could drop by 50 to 70 percent. Climate change will cut agricultural crop yields and hike food prices.
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It damages infrastructure. Being exposed directly to prolonged and frequent rainfall, strong winds, and higher waves and temperature variations can lead to accelerated structural fatigue and materials failure. The impacts could be severe in areas where infrastructure are not designed to cope with the effects of climate change.
It affects economic growth. Based on an ADB study on the economics of climate change, the Philippines stands to lose six percent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually by 2100 if it disregards climate risks. The same study found that if the Philippines invested 0.5 percent of its GDP in climate change adaptation, it could avert losses of up to four percent of GDP by 2100 – clearly a short-term investment with a long-term eight-fold gain.
Climate change displaces families and communities. Those along coastal areas are directly impacted by extreme weather events and submerged by sea-level rise. Aside from substantial socioeconomic losses, families and communities are displaced and their livelihood sources and strategies shift. As people forge new ways of living, they also face increased vulnerabilities.
Climate change increases poverty. Economic status defines the levels of vulnerability of people. Poverty limits the capacity of the affected population to bounce back immediately in the face of disasters or to shift rapidly to new adaptation modes that require financial resources to materialize. It is also a driver of rural-to-urban migration. According to the World Bank, climate change could put more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030 without effective mitigation measures.
Climate change is a phenomenon that affects the entire Philippines. We will be hard-pressed to address poverty, hunger and food sufficiency, health and safety, and many other societal and economic concerns if we treat climate change with a business as usual attitude.
Scientists agree that it is imperative to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius if climate-vulnerable countries are to survive and thrive. Doing so is crucial in reducing disaster risks and achieving sustainable development goals. It compels society, especially the government, to embed climate policy in long-term development strategies while carrying out immediate risk-informed and evidence-based interventions.
Despite our very tiny carbon footprint, we must be resolve to rise to the climate challenge and ready to heed the call for urgent and ambitious actions. We need every Filipino to embrace the reality that climate change is everything.
The author is the Executive Director of the Young Environmental Forum and a Non-Resident Fellow of Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his climate change and development course at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) and an executive program on sustainability leadership at Yale University. You can email him at email@example.com.
Date: 10 July 2021