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Opinion

The devastating impact of climate change: what we can do together

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

Following some scorching hot summer months, tropical rains have returned to the Philippines and the dreadful typhoon season is back. At the same time, large parts of Europe and Asia are suffering from record-breaking heatwaves, which result in devastating wildfires in some places. I therefore considered it relevant to dedicate this month’s column to the impact of climate change, particularly on the Philippines, and how we work together to address this challenge.

I realize that the Philippines lies in the Pacific Typhoon Belt, and that the country has long endured the devastating impact of typhoons, but evidence shows that climate change has escalated the intensity and frequency of these storms. Super Typhoons Yolanda in 2013 and Odette in 2021 were the costliest typhoons in Philippine history and have shown the increasingly destructive potential of these natural phenomena. The warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific provide the necessary fuel for typhoons to form and intensify. I was able to personally witness the impact of Odette on local communities when I visited Siargao last August, eight months after the landfall of Odette.

Unfortunately, increasingly destructive typhoons are not the only effect of global warming the Philippines is facing. As an island nation with a vast coastline, it is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Coastal erosion, freshwater increased vulnerability to salinization, and the displacement of communities are some of the dire consequences of this phenomenon. Low-lying regions, including Manila, are particularly at risk. The torrential rains in the beginning of this year in the Southern provinces in the Philippines and the ensuing landslides and floods have again reminded us of this fact.

Climate change also threatens food security in the Philippines. Past studies have shown that the country incurred P290 billion in damages caused to the agriculture sector over the past decade due to extreme weather events. Erratic rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts and increased pest infestations are adversely affecting agricultural output. Farmers face mounting challenges in maintaining consistent crop yields, which leads to food scarcity and increasing prices.

The message by the International Panel on Climate Change prior to COP27 could not have been clearer: The climate is changing faster than our capacity to adapt. The world therefore must deliver better and faster results in addressing this crisis, but also already adapt to the effects we feel now due to the increasing temperatures. Sadly, despite contributing very little to the causes of climate change, the Philippines significantly feels this pressure. However, while the challenges are significant, I refuse to paint a mere negative picture.

Having been in this country over the past years, I have seen that the Philippines has taken a determined and proactive approach in addressing this global crisis. Together with the EU, this country has demonstrated consistent leadership on the global stage, advocating for stronger action on climate change. The Philippines has also played a pivotal role in the Paris Agreement negotiations and is very actively involved in international climate forums.

In order to mitigate the threat of climate change, the Philippines has set ambitious renewable energy goals. With a focus on harnessing solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power, the country has focused in expanding its renewable energy capacity, aiming to generate 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040. The EU is actively supporting this goal, with our P4-billion “Access to Sustainable Energy Program” (ASEP) which aims to expand sustainable energy generation, implement energy efficiency and conservation measures and provide clean energy access to Filipinos in remote communities, through last-mile electrification drives. And more support in this regard will be announced very shortly.

Furthermore, recognizing the importance of community engagement, the Philippines has implemented grassroots initiatives to build resilience at the local level. The Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 has set a goal to make communities, institutions and the natural and built environment more resilient to the impacts of natural hazards and climate change by 2028. Community-based disaster risk reduction and management programs empower citizens to actively participate in disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts.

Here too, the EU stands ready to partner. The EU’s Earth Observation flagship program, Copernicus, provides free environment and climate data derived from a constellation of satellites – the Sentinels – which monitor the earth and its many ecosystems 24 hours daily. In April, we launched the National Copernicus Support Action Program for the Philippines (CopPHIL), which is a first step of the upcoming EU-Philippines Global Gateway Initiative on Digital Connectivity. The CopPHIL program will entail capacity building and applications of Earth Observation data and technology, and the creation of a data management facility in the Philippines to support better data exchange and coordination among agencies requiring and utilizing satellite imagery. By providing tools for better planning and implementation of disaster preparedness, response, risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies as well as for better policy definition, increased transparency, commitment and accountability, the Philippines will be able to enhance its hazard management and disaster mitigation strategy and ascertain the nation’s resilience to climate change.

Climate change is an existential threat that knows no border. From floods in Lanao del Sur and landslides in Maguindanao to forest fires in Greece and droughts in Northern Italy, we are all already strongly affected by its impact. As President Marcos said in his SONA, “Climate change is now an important criterion in (Philippine) integral national policies, in planning, decision-making, up to the implementation of programs.” Let us continue and intensify our work together to address this major challenge.

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Luc Véron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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