As 2021 drew to a close, Typhoon Odette hit the country, killing 400 people, affecting 10 million and damaging 2 million homes. Can it get worse? With global warming, the bad news is that it will get worse if we don’t act quickly.
The latest assessment report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that there is overwhelming evidence that climate change threatens human well-being and the health of our planet. Furthermore, the panel of imminent scientists concludes that any further delay in concerted action will close the window to ensure a livable future.
As one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, the Philippines should take this warning seriously. Below are some of the main implications of the report for our country.
At the forefront of climate action
First and foremost, we must examine our national development plans and programs in the light of a warming planet. The IPCC report highlighted the need for climate-resilient development. This approach recognizes the interconnections between human communities and their natural environment. Unlike reductionist planning, we need to see the big picture and recognize that what happens to one part of the system affects the other components.
The Philippines adaptation strategy is currently anchored on a national action plan on climate change which reinforces an integrated approach between agencies and actors of food and human security, water supply, environmental sustainability , energy and industries, among others. However, the overarching framework urgently needs to be mainstreamed into relevant sectors and local levels whose communities suffer the most from the effects of global warming. The capacities of local governments, for example, should be strengthened not only to be able to access funding such as the People’s Survival Fund, but also to better understand the capacity of their communities to use local or traditional knowledge to adapt. to these impacts.
Nature must be saved first
Second, we need to optimize nature-based solutions. Unlike its previous assessments, the latest IPCC report acknowledges that the solutions emanating from natural ecosystems are largely untapped. For example, forest ecosystems, healthy watersheds and coral reefs provide livelihoods that enable people to better cope with climatic hazards. At the same time, they help mitigate floods and sequester carbon in their biomass, helping to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, among many benefits. In this regard, we must continue our efforts to conserve and restore our natural ecosystems and their biodiversity if we are to reap the services they provide.
The Philippines’ natural resources such as its forests, freshwater, coastal and marine resources have been extensively degraded (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/the-philippine-climate-change-assessment/) over decades of mismanagement. About half of the total forest cover has been lost since the 1990s. Our lakes and rivers are polluted to death. State and non-state actors are trying to reverse the trend through programs such as the National Greening Program. Among the many reasons to restore the health of natural systems, we now have one more — climate regulation.
Moreover, while the increasing rate of urbanization has caused many instances of encroachment and degradation and created complex risks, cities can also provide opportunities for climate action. As of 2021, the 4 most urbanized cities in the Philippines (Quezon City, Manila, Davao, and Caloocan) alone have a combined population of 8.25 million. However, most of these cities also face high levels of poverty and unemployment, as well as poorly planned urban growth. Bringing nature back to these cities can be one solution — green buildings, ensuring clean water supplies, and sustainable transportation systems to connect urban and rural areas. In short, we must bring nature back to our cities. As IPCC scientists have said, “nature can be our saviour, but only if we save it first”.
Provide the essentials: food and water
Third, food systems must be strengthened to ensure food security. The changing distribution of plants and animals across the world alters key biological events and affects food webs. Food shortages are apparent, accessibility to local food is expected to be reduced by 3.2% by 2050, with 300,000 associated deaths possible if no action is taken. To cope with this Goliath, farmers in the Philippines have adopted farm and landscape diversification strategies and used climate-resistant crop varieties and indigenous vegetables for increased economic and ecological benefits. Incorporating trees into farms, or agroforestry, is also a long-standing practice in the Philippine Highlands and a strategy highlighted by the IPCC in the latest report in order to produce food and protect nature at the same time. .
Fourth, climate change will alter the quantity and availability of water resources. The IPCC reports that about half of the world’s population experiences either severe water shortages due to climate change or flooding from extreme weather events such as intensified or more frequent storms and tropical cyclones. Drought conditions in the Philippines are expected to increase by 5-20% by the end of the century. Soil and water conservation measures should be widely adopted, such as soil moisture conservation, rainwater harvesting and storage, and water retention.
Chase close window
Fifth, rising sea levels pose serious threats to coastal cities and small islands. Mean sea level rise in the Philippines has been noted in several studies to be above the global average rate, ranging from 5.7 to 7.0 mm per year. With 60% of Philippine cities located along the coast, including the country’s largest and its capital, Manila, the country is particularly vulnerable. Coastal agricultural or food production areas are also threatened, causing migration and potential encroachment. Sea level rise can also induce disruptions in critical infrastructure (building, transport, energy). Efforts to further study sea level rise (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/our-work/sea-level-rise/) in the Philippines and identify adaptation strategies are currently being initiated by various actors of climate change. Once again, the importance of building the capacity of local governments is underlined as they are the ones who will mainly bear the brunt of adapting to this impact.
Finally, the IPCC report is not entirely catastrophic. It focused on presenting adaptation solutions for the different sectors that will be impacted by climate change. It is therefore not too late to act. However, adaptation has its limits. If the planet warms above 2 degrees Celsius, some options may no longer work. For example, coral reefs can collapse, resulting in the permanent loss of the livelihoods that depend on them.
Beyond the illustrations and conclusions of the latest IPCC report, Typhoon Odette has given us Filipinos a glimpse of what a warmer future looks like. In the end, the IPCC report sounded an optimistic note. Although the window of opportunity for action is shrinking, adaptation options are within our grasp, only if we begin to act collaboratively, and with the urgency needed now.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Rodel D. Lasco is the Executive Director of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management, and is a coordinating lead author of Working Group II of the IPCC Assessment Report released in February.
Ayn G. Torres is the Knowledge Generation Lead for the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management.
Warning: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ABS-CBN Corp.
climate change, disasters, global warming, disaster risk management, Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, Typhoon Odette