ENVIRONMENT: CLIMATE CHANGE: ENDING POSSIBLE APOCALYPSE

“We are encouraging all government agencies and offices and local government units to establish rainwater collection systems, protect our biological diversity, adopt energy efficiency measures, undertake tree planting and mangrove reforestation, implement ecological solid waste management, among other ways. With all these provisions under the law, the government has to take the lead. It should ensure that all agencies are given technical and financial support to cope with the warming climate. It should embark on a massive information and education campaign so that people would know the effects of climate change and their responsibility in preventing a worse scenario.” – Senator Loren Legarda

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If there’s one issue that catches the attention of everyone, it’s climate change.  After all, no one is spared from its consequences: sea level rise, famine, scorching heat of the sun, water crisis, more super typhoons and massive floods, and unwanted diseases.

This month, the Philippines is celebrating the Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week (from November 19 to 25) with the theme: “The 1.5 Celsius Climate Change Challenge: Survive and Thrive Together.”

With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries of climate change.  In fact, sea level rise in the country is expected to be three times that of the global average if the situation is unabated, according to the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines.

“In the Philippines, at risk are 64 coastal provinces, 822 coastal municipalities, 25 major coastal cities and approximately 13.6 million Filipinos that need to be relocated away from danger zones,” said Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committees on Climate Change.

Climate change or is it global warming?

“Climate change is a better choice than the term global warming because it avoids the misleading implications: that all parts of the world are warming uniformly and that the only dangerous outcome of growing greenhouse gas emissions is higher temperatures,” clarifies Dr. Rosa T. Perez during the Climate Change Media Workshop for Mindanao-based journalists held in Davao some years back.

Dr. Rosa is a research fellow of the Manila Observatory.  She was one of the scientists who contributed to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body which became a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Warming is only the tipping point for a cascade of changes in the earth’s ecosystems,” she continues in her explanation.  “In addition, climate change better conveys the coexistence of human-made effects with natural climate variability, a more accurate, ‘state-of-the-science’ portrayal of the causes for the phenomenon.”

It was Dr. James E. Hansen, of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), who first raised the problem of global warming. In 1988, he told an American Senate hearing that “the greenhouse effect is changing our climate now.”

In a Reader’s Digest article, author Robert James Bidinotto, explains greenhouse effect in these words: “When sunlight warms the earth, certain gases in the lower atmosphere, acting like the glass in a greenhouse, trap some of the heart as it radiates back into space. These greenhouse gases, primarily water vapor and including carbon dioxide, methane and man-made chlorofluorocarbons, warm our planet, making life possible.”

“The global warming is very simple,” said Dr. Robert Watson, IPCC chairman. “We are increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and thus their concentrations in the atmosphere are going up. As these concentrations increase, the temperature of the earth rises.”

“While human activities during the past century have damaged a long list of nature systems, most of these problems are local or regional in scope and can be revered in years to decades if sufficient effort is exerted,” Christopher Flavin wrote in his book, Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy. “Changes to the earth’s atmosphere on the other hand are global and irreversible not only in our lifetimes but in our children’s and grandchildren’s as well.”

The IPCC projections indicate that, if emissions continue to rise at their current pace and allowed to double from their pre-industrial level, the world will face an average temperature rise of around 3 degrees Centigrade this century.

This is bad news for the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 typhoons every year.  Our country is ranked the third “most vulnerable” when it comes to the effects of climate change, according to a United Nations survey. “Weather patterns could become unpredictable, as would extreme weather events, hurricanes could become much stronger and more frequent,” wrote Lulu Bucay in a brochure published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Sea level rise, another effect of climate change, will also contaminate our drinking water quality and agricultural productivity, contends the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.  This is due to possible salt intrusion in coastal soils and fresh water aquifers. Already, one of every five residents quaffs water from dubious sources in 24 provinces, the Philippine Human Development Report points out.

People are not the only ones that will likely be most affected. “Important ecosystems such as mangrove forests could also be lost,” warned Dr. Rodel Lasco, who is the country’s coordinator for the World Agroforestry Center.

Coral reefs, touted to be the “tropical rainforests of the sea,” are also at risk. “With global warming of up to 2 degrees Celsius, 98% of coral reefs will die by 2050,” she surmised. “A World Bank study shows that this would cause decrease in marine fish capture by about 50% in the southern Philippines by the year 2050.”

Climate change will likewise push many wildlife species to extinction. “If climate zones shift, existing national parks or protected areas would no longer preserve the habitat for plants, fish, and wildlife for which they were established,” Bucay noted. Some of the species facing doom are Philippine Eagle, tamaraw, calamian deer, Philippine tarsier, and Cebu black shama.

According to the fact sheet, which is published by the Climate Change Commission (which was created under Republic Act 9729), there are two main approaches to address climate change: adaptation and mitigation.

On adaptation, the fact sheet explains: “In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.  In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate.”

On mitigation, the fact sheet gives this explanation: “Technological change and change in activities that reduce resource inputs and emissions per unit of output and implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance sinks.”

So far, the Philippines has achieved only two types of actions in terms of levels of climate change adaptation, namely: resilience-building and climate-proofing.  This is according to Dr. Perez.

In resilience-building, the country has been addressing the adaptation deficit, such as to diversify livelihood activities according to the variable conditions of the place. It also ventures into crop insurance and other agricultural innovations on irrigation, as well as adapt seasonal forecasting and early warning systems to reduce the effects of disasters.

Climate-proofing, on the other hand, is adapting to incremental changes by strengthening structures and natural shields and protections. This would include upgrading drainage systems to accommodate greater runoff, adapting shorter cropping systems in areas with more frequent visits of natural disasters, and estimating periods of greater water stress and heat extremes.

Something must be done now before it is too late.  As Katherine Richardson, a climate scientist at the University of Copenhagen, puts it: “We have to act and we have to act now. We need to realize what a risk it is they are taking on behalf of their own constituents, the world’s societies and, even more importantly, future generations.”

“Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought,” warned Chris Field, coordinating lead author of the IPCC report.