FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The most pressing problem confronting humanity is not the pandemic. It is climate change. The pandemic aggravates the warming of the globe, threatening to make the planet uninhabitable.

Scientists commissioned by the United Nations (UN) recently put out a shocking report. After all the annual international meetings and the brave pledges made by governments, the consensus is that global carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45 percent over the next decade. Instead, all the scientific projections indicate that over this period global emissions will rise by 16 percent.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change, all countries working in concert would have to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels to avert catastrophic consequences. Currently, global warming is about 1.35 degrees centigrade. This has led to the melting of the polar ice caps and the largest glaciers. It has led to extreme weather conditions such as super typhoons, flooding, droughts, the death of coral reefs and the massive extinction of marine life.

The UN now projects that by 2030, temperature rise will reach 2.7 degrees centigrade. The consequences of such warming are cataclysmic.

The Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to all the adverse effects of global warming. We have been calamity-prone as it is, sitting at the junction of the Western Pacific Ring of Fire and right smack at the typhoon belt. Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, hit us in 2013. Imagine if something like Yolanda hits us every year.

Global warming will hit us most severely. Much of our population, settled in coastal cities, live at sea level. Much of our agriculture is lowland. Any rise in sea levels will harm us immeasurably.

We are dependent on the sea for much of our food. As the oceans warm and pollution causes oxygen levels to fall, our fisheries sector will deliver less food to our collective table. As things stand, we already import fish along with other basic agricultural produce. Our ability to feed our population will be seriously impaired.

An archipelago with small islands and even smaller rivers, fresh water supply is critical for us. As things stand, we are at the limits of our available supply. We have no significant desalination capacity. Our main rivers are among the most polluted in the world.  The impending long droughts will punish us.

Imagine Metro Manila with flooded streets and no water at the taps. This is not some dystopian scenario happening many years hence. We are already experiencing it. Yet not much has been done to improve our fresh water supply.

As things stand, droughts elsewhere are forcing millions to starve or to migrate. This will be a more pronounced pattern in the coming years. There will be wars fought for control of fresh water sources. Note the tensions building up over control of water flow at the Nile or the Mekong.

This might be hard to understand. Global warming will cause winters to be more brutal. This is part of the general pattern of extreme weather.

This year, we saw unprecedented flooding hitting Western Europe. As the oceans warm and as ice quickly melts from severe winters, we are likely to see more of these events.

The wildfires that have been happening in the Western US are now replicated in many parts of Europe due to prolonged droughts. In Siberia, the melting of the permafrost has yielded fossils millions of years old. Iceland is now a golfing destination. The Alps are losing their glaciers – an indispensable source of year-round fresh water supply.

Parties to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change are due to assemble at Glasgow to discuss what humanity can do to reverse the current course towards the destruction of the planet. Over the past years, this annual meeting has become more of a talk shop delivering little. The UN report tells us this.

The reason why the global response has seemed ineffectual so far even as the evidence of global warming becomes more resounding is that governments are politically unable to deliver the policies needed. Most of these policies – such as imposing carbon taxes or banning single-use plastics – will cause much short-term pain. Constituencies are not prepared to accept them.

Nations have varying levels of commitment to address climate change. Responding to global warming requires a whole-of-nation approach. If constituencies are not prepared to accept the costs of mitigating emissions, the most decisive governments will sooner be thrown out of office rather than achieve mitigation goals.

Last April, the Philippines submitted what is among the boldest emissions mitigation target. We committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2030.

That is a bold commitment. Even if we meet it, however, global warming will not be reversed on our efforts alone. The Philippines accounts for only 0.3 percent of total global emissions.

The biggest culprits in climate change are the large industrial economies of China, Europe and North America. They need to make the deepest cuts in emissions.

In our case, meeting the committed reduction goal will require brave policy actions. One truly important program will phase out our coal-based power plants and replace them with renewable energy sources. Coal is dirty but cheap. A transition away from coal will reflect in higher power costs. Our consumers might not be prepared to accept that.

As elections near, more politicians are presenting themselves as leaders for the country’s future. We should ask if they will make the bold decisions fighting climate change requires.

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