“No matter where we are in the world, the warming climate affects us all. We can only do so much to save the world, but we can give our best to save our home, our country,” said Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committees on Climate Change and Environment.
Unless the Philippines takes concerted effort against climate change, Legarda said that typhoons, floods, and other calamities would continue to threaten the country’s economy and the lives of millions of Filipinos.
“According to the International Disaster Database maintained by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the Philippines lost US$8.809 billion, roughly P378 billion in damages due to natural disasters from 1900 to 2013,” Legarda pointed out.
A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of climate researchers, traced the warming of the planet to the increase of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. GHGs produce the greenhouse effect, which traps heat near the earth’s surface, maintaining a relative constant temperature.
“Many human activities increase the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere, which can result in a gradual increase in the earth’s surface temperature, causing global warming,” explains H. Steven Dashefsky, author of Environmental Literacy: Everything You Need to Know about Saving Our Planet.
Carbon dioxide, the primary GHG, occurs naturally but excessive quantities of it are released by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Other GHGs are almost exclusively produce by human activity such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used as refrigerants.
Still other GHGs include methane (released from wetlands, rice fields, and biomass fires, among others), nitrogen compounds (one of the primary pollutants that contribute to air pollution), and ground-level ozone. About 80% of global warming is due to increases in all of these GHGs.
Deforestation is believed to account for the other 20%. “Plants incorporate carbon dioxide into their bodies during photosynthesis,” writes Dashefsky. “Fewer trees caused by deforestation mean less intake of carbon dioxide. In addition, burning the wood sends the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate.”
Unless the world drastically cuts GHG emissions, the international climate panel said the planet will warm by at least 2 more degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) this century in all but one of the four scenarios they outline. That 2-degree threshold is “where the risks start piling up,” including food crises in developing countries, people forced to move from coastal cities because of rising seas, and more biodiversity extinctions, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, a co-author of the IPCC report. “This is a point where any sensible person would look and say the risks are just getting too high.”
Global climate change is already taking its toll on the Philippines. In fact, it has been identified as the world’s third most vulnerable country to extreme weather events and sea level rise. Sixteen of its provinces are among the top 50 most vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia, according to Hotspots!: Mapping Climate Change Vulnerability in Southeast Asia.
A World Bank report said that in a 4ºC world, sea level around the East Asia and the Pacific region is likely to exceed 50 centimeters above present levels by 2060, and 100 centimeters by 2090, “with Manila being especially vulnerable.”
“Climate change is expected to lead to more intense typhoons, whose storm surges will be superimposed on higher sea levels,” notes Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines. “In the Philippines, storm surges are projected to affect about 14% of the total population and 42% of the coastal population.”
But there are more devastating effects. Already, the annual damage to agriculture from climate-related impacts like typhoons, droughts, and floods has already reached P12 billion or about 3% of total agricultural production in 2011.
Climate change is said to warm the ocean waters and cause ocean acidification, which would have great impacts on coral reefs. Touted as the “rainforests of the sea,” the reefs serve as important feeding and spawning grounds for many fish species that support the livelihoods of fishermen.
“Even minor changes in ocean dynamics can cause severe impacts,” the World Bank report notes. For instance, during the recent El Niño Southern Oscillation event in 1998 to 1999, the live coral cover of the country decreased by half, “diminishing fisheries yield by more than P7 billion.”
“The projected changes in maximum catch potential in a 4ºC world range from a 50% decrease around the southern Philippines during the 2050s to a 6-16% increase around the northern Philippines,” the World Bank report states.
According to World Bank, the country’s ambitious development goals are at risk unless significant measures are taken to increase climate resilience.
“The heat is on,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. Act now or face disaster. As US Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out: “Those who choose excuses over action are playing with fire.”
“Turn down the heat,” said another World Bank report. “Regardless of where we live, climate change is affecting us, and we will need to try to adapt to the new normal conditions. We are seeing changes in temperature, precipitation and water levels and we need to be prepared to the impacts of these changes,” urged Rosa Perez, a climate scientist at the Manila Observatory.
“Future development (should) be carried out with accommodation to climate change in mind,” the World Bank suggests. “Otherwise, the country could be locked into infrastructure development, land use changes, and urbanization processes that are more vulnerable to climate risks.”