2020 is Disaster and Climate Emergency Awareness Year

“We all need to keep this in mind: We may be vulnerable, but we are not incapable of action.  We will translate our vulnerability as an opportunity to make out communities safe, healthy, liveable, resilient and sustainable.  We can all do this together – and make a difference in the life of our people and the future of our nation.” – Loren Legarda

***

As the archipelagic Philippines continues to suffer from the onslaught of disasters and climate emergencies, Albay Representative Joey Salceda has asked the Congress to declare 2020 as “Disaster and Climate Emergency Awareness Year.”

By doing so, “it will highlight the importance of local government units (cities and municipalities) in leading the process of transformation and adaptation to climate change and disaster resilience, emphasizing the role of local government units, business communities, individuals and stakeholders.”

In House Resolution No. 535, which he filed, Salceda said that the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement recognize that climate change adaptation that ensures global responsiveness and societal resilience for a sustainable future is a global challenge faced by all in the era of climate change. 

“The Parties of the Paris Agreement, including the Philippines acknowledge that the best available science should inform and guide climate change adaptation efforts, including the integration of adaptation of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessment to the people by 2030,” Salceda pointed out in his resolution.

According to Salceda, the melting of glaciers and the forest conflagrations are recent global events related to anthropogenic climate change significantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and unabated deforestation, and pointing to an acceleration of the climate impact chain, possibly indicating worsened catastrophes for the Philippines, especially its climate-vulnerable coastal and geographically isolated cities and municipalities.

“There is an urgent need to address this problem,” he stressed, “to ensure climate justice for current and future generations of Filipinos and ensure their survival in the face of projected adverse impacts of climate change and disasters, and also ensure that the Philippine government has learned the past decade’s mistakes, making sure not to repeat them by being proactive in changing the present practice of our current climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk and vulnerability reduction.”

Salceda, who the first Asia Green Climate Fund co-chair, said the Philippines has already suffered potential, losses, damages and disruption “due to hydrometeorological hazard impacts.”

He cited several devastating typhoons that hit the country in recent years. One was Typhoon Reming in 2006, “which was compounded by simultaneous mudslides and rockslides due to previous eruptions by Mayon Volcano.”

Both Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 had devastated Metro Manila and some key regions of Luzon.  Typhoon Yolanda, which happened in 2013, affected 16 million Filipinos resulting into more than 6,000 deaths.

In Mindanao, Typhoons Pablo and Sendong had devastated areas which were previously regarded as typhoon-free.

Also in Mindanao, the El Niño that took place from 2015 to 2016 had resulted into billions of agricultural damage, causing forest fires across its mountains, and even bred the Kidapawan massacre.

Salceda also cited the recent mass casualties during the Urduja, Vinta, Ompong, Naga L

landslides, Rosita and Usman disasters, which happened from December 2017 to December 2018 “despite such national agencies having been established a decade ago, until today, our country is still grappling with institutional issues on climate and disaster governance.”

Aside from declaring 2020 as disaster and climate emergency awareness year, Salceda also calls his fellow legislators of the House of Representatives to conduct continuous inquiries in aid of legislation and in relation to its oversight functions, on measures being implemented by all concerned national agencies and local government units to address the impacts of disasters and climate change on the fundamental rights of Filipinos.

He also urged the full integration and convergence of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts through the passage of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) Bill as an urgent policy response.

Salceda likewise enjoined a whole-of-government, whole-of-nation and whole-of-society mobilization on disaster and climate emergency, in behalf of climate-vulnerable local government units, communities and stakeholders in the country. 

Climate change is for real and it is already happening.  American veteran journalist Bill Becker, a senior official at the US Department of Energy, wrote: “Scientists and ‘alarmists’ have warned us about this for decades, but most of us were deniers to some degree, dismissing climate change as something far away, like dark clouds on the horizon.

“Now people are calling this the ‘new normal,’ which proves they still don’t get it. There is no more “normal”. The climate will continue to change, often in unexpected ways, because of carbon pollution from decades ago. It will continue getting more violent because we are still putting that pollution in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly how bad it will be. We are not experiencing a new normal; we are experiencing the end of normalcy.”

The Philippines, with more than 7,000 islands, is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.  “Climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges ever to confront humanity,” the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) reminds.  “Its adverse impacts are already being seen and may intensify exponentially over time if nothing is done to reduce further emissions of greenhouse gases.

Filipino farmers are most likely to be affected by the consequences of climate change as their crop production will decrease due to continuous rainfall, flooding and drought. As a result, more and more people will go to bed at night still hungry.

Agriculture scientist Julian Gonsalves of the Cavite-based International Institute Rural Reconstruction urged to do something now before it is too late.  “Agriculture sector is expected to suffer the most serious impact of climate change, affecting food security, nutrition and livelihoods, if we don’t act soon,” he pointed out.

The rise of sea levels is just one of the most certain outcomes of climate change.  “By the end of this century, sea levels in (Asia and the Pacific) region are expected to rise by about 125 centimeters, exceeding the global average by 10-15%,” noted the bank report, Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines. “Even assuming the sea level in the region rises at the global average rate of about 100 centimeters, about 14% of the Philippines’ total population and 42% of its total coastal population will be affected by intensifying storm surges resulting from more intense typhoons.”

Health scientists pointed out that should earth’s thermostat continues to rise, human health problems will also become more frequent and severe.  

“The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events will be abrupt and acutely felt,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, former director-general of the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO).  “Both trends can affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease.”

All these consequences will likely to happen in the near future.  “Decisively dealing now with climate change is key to ensuring sustainable development, poverty eradication and safeguarding economic growth,” said the country’s weather bureau, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology.  “Scientific assessments indicate that the cost of inaction now will be more costly in the future.”

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, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “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.”

According to the fact sheet 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. Rosa T. Perez,  a research fellow at the Manila Observatory.

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.