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Adapting to climate change

The World Bank recently released a study it funded on climate change, and according to its president, Jim Yong Kim, “The scientists tells us that if the world warms by 2° Centigrade, [global] warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years, that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves and more intense cyclones. The near term climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature.”

The most tragic part of this report is the conclusion that the poor who have had very little to do with causing global warming will suffer the most. The biggest cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels. It is the business sector and the rich who are the biggest users of fossil fuels.

The study also showed that eight out of ten Filipinos personally experienced the impacts of climate change in the last three years, which has been much quoted the past week The SWS conducted survey revealed that 85% of respondents claimed to have suffered from climate change. Around 54% said their experience was severe to moderate.

However, the same survey shows that 52% of the respondents have admitted that they have “little” or “almost no understanding” of what climate change is all about. Another 35% said they had “partial but sufficient understanding” of the subject. Only 12% said they have “extensive” knowledge on climate change.

The biggest challenge to writing about climate change is trying to understand the scientific terms that are commonly used in describing this phenomenon. According to the United Nations, climate change is defined as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

A recent briefing paper by the Climate Change Commission of the Office of the President says that the Philippines, being an archipelago and because of its location, is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impact of climate change. Our country also ranked highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to typhoon cyclone occurrence, and it ranked third in terms of people exposed to these seasonal typhoons.

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This vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and typhoons. It will also alter agricultural and coastal and marine ecosystems. The WB study said that the rise in sea level, loss of coral reefs and devastation to coastal areas are likely to occur in Southeast Asia.

The study also describes “rising ocean acidity leading to the loss of coral reefs and the benefits they provide as fish habitats, protection against storms, and revenue generators in the form of tourism. Warmer water temperatures and habitat destruction could also lead to a 50% decrease in the ocean fish catch in the southern Philippines.”

While climate change reports can sound depressing, studies show that the government has drastically improved its capability to cope with its effects. According to Christophe Crepin, the World Bank expert on environmental change, the Philippines is actually only one of fifteen countries that have elevated its climate change regulatory framework to the level of laws.

But it should be clear that environmental disasters are not just the problems of the academe and the government. It is true that we are on the verge of an economic boom. But it also true that major natural disasters can wipe out economic gains in specific regions hit by these disasters. While the government needs a long term, strategic perspective and plan, it is important that there be short term solutions to these phenomena.

Secretary Mary Ann Sering, executive director of the Climate Change Commission, explained that 80% of natural disasters in the Philippines are water related, which basically means typhoons and floods. The immediate approach to this problem therefore is “adaptation” instead of mitigation.

Adapting basically means accepting that the number of typhoons will increase and the intensity of rainfall will also increase. The country must therefore focus on “managing the unavoidable.”

On a national level, the two priority programs of the government will be flood control and national greening. The major cause for the recent flooding in Metro Manila was the volume of water coming down from the Sierra Madre mountains and flooding the lowland areas including Metro Manila.

The obvious cause is that the forests in this mountain range and the watershed areas have virtually disappeared often because of illegal logging in the past. While the long term solution will be reforestation, the short term solution of DPWH Secretary Singson is to build water catchments and underground tunnels in the metropolis.

The most immediate solution to alleviate the flooding will be the removal of informal settlers living along the esteros. In fact there is a need for a national effort to remove all persons who live in hazard prone areas, like river banks and esteros, and relocate them to safer areas.

An action plan for adapting to climate change is now an essential part of the government’s development plan. Environmental degradation and the disastrous consequences of climate change will have a negative impact on the government’s goals of poverty reduction and sustained economic expansion.

Climate change may sound very complex, but local governments and every Filipino must accept that this is already happening and that we can learn to adapt. And there are many ways every Filipino can help. Plant trees, stop using plastic, practice waste recycling and other “green” activities. Remember that we are only stewards of this earth and we have the responsibility to make sure that the next generation will inherit a living planet from our generation.

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E-mail: elfrencruz@gmail.com

 

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