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Public warned vs ‘arithmetic of climate change’

Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Climate Change Commission of the Philippines commissioner Naderev Saño has called it “the arithmetic of climate change.”

Citing a study of the Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that there is a 15-percent reduction in rice yields for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, he warned of lower rice production as warmer weather prevails.

“The impact on rice is simple arithmetic: a three-degree Celsius increase means a 45-percent reduction in rice harvests. That’s a reduction of almost half of what would be available for food,” Saño said.

At a recent forum held at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in Los Baños, Laguna, he noted that by 2020, the average temperature in the country has been projected to breach the one-degree Celsius increase, or from 0.9 to 1.2 degrees Celsius.

By 2050, average temperature will be two degrees hotter than what is currently normal – 32 degrees Celsius. By 2100, it will be 3.4 degrees Celsius above the current temperature.

Saño, however, noted that problems besetting the food industry are not caused by temperature alone.

“We are not speaking yet of extreme weather like more frequent and stronger typhoons, sea level rise, and saltwater intrusion,” he said.

While the frequency of typhoons remains the same, he said at least five to six are stronger now with wind speeds of 220 kilometers per hour, compared to only two or three in previous years. 

“And they bring a lot of rain,” he said.

Most vulnerable

SEARCA director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said the agriculture sector is most vulnerable to climate change owing to its heavy reliance on the weather.

“Agriculture remains to be the backbone of he global economy as it also bears the responsibility of feeding a population that has grown by leaps and bounds while production continues to diminish due to losses in our natural resources. Hence, we must strategically pursue initiatives that can make the most impact,” he said.

In another forum sponsored recently by the Philippine Agricultural Journalists Inc., IRRI principal scientist Rainer Wassmann enjoined farmers to plant stress-tolerant varieties to blunt the adverse effects of climate change to the rice sector.

“As temperature increases and sea level rises, rice farms are also vulnerable to heat stress and increased water salinity,” he said. “These factors have contributed to decreased yield even in high-yielding varieties, from about 10 metric tons per hectare to only eight metric tons per hectare.”

The impact of climate change will be most disastrous in the semi-arid tropics, which is home to most of the world’s poor, said former agriculture secretary William Dar in another forum at SEARCA.

“As it intensifies, climate change can reduce cereal yields in parts of Asia of up to 30 percent and in many African countries of up to 50 percent,” said Dar, who is also director general of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

He urged the public to brace for a  brewing “perfect storm” as a result of warming temperatures, drought, increasing land degradation and desertification, loss of biodiversity, rising food prices, zooming energy demand, and population explosion.

He also stressed the need to harness “the power of science” to address this storm.

Meanwhile, the international conference on Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) will be held on Nov. 12-14 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City.

It will be convened under the auspices of the Philippine government-hosted Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture in partnership with various institutions.

With “Strengthening Resilience, Equity, and Integration in ASEAN Food and Agriculture Systems” as its theme, the top-level assembly is expected to draw about 400 participants from various parts of the world, particularly Southeast Asia.

AGRICULTURE AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT CLIMATE CHANGE COMMISSION OF THE PHILIPPINES FOOD AND AGRICULTURE SYSTEMS GIL SAGUIGUIT JR. GRADUATE STUDY AND RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL CROPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE LOS BA
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