What the UN climate report says about Philippines

by Jose M. Galang

Posted at Apr 08 2014 11:02 AM | Updated as of Apr 09 2014 08:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Severe weather and shifting ecosystems as a result of climate change could put the new generation of Filipinos into greater risks of deeper poverty, food shortages, disease and slower economic growth, a United Nations body’s newly released report indicates.

In the period to 2050, climate-related hazards like super typhoons and heavier rainfalls alternating with long and warmer dry seasons will “exacerbate risks” and in turn further “further entrench poverty” in vulnerable countries, with the Philippines seen to be one of the developing economies that will be “most at risk,” says the report by the UN-led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Future increases in the frequency of extreme events are overlaid with considerable poverty, although not all poor people will be at risk,” says the report, which also sees the Philippines to be among Asian nations expected to experience the “highest sensitivity to sea level rise” by the year 2050.

Unless the government, communities and private enterprises jointly put in place cost-effective mitigation and adaptation measures, annual mean losses to the economy due to disasters and calamities caused by climate change, the report says, could reach 2.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Philippines and three other Southeast Asian countries (Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam) by 2100—significantly more than the global average of 0.6 percent seen for the period.

“In addition, the mean cost for the four countries could reach 5.7 percent of the GDP if non-market impacts related to health and ecosystems are included and 6.7 percent of the GDP if catastrophic risks are also taken into account,” the report further warns.

As well, the Philippines, under a scenario of rapid temperature increase by 2030, could experience one of the highest rates of increase in poverty among the agricultural self-employed citizens with low productivity records, the report says.

The IPCC report points out that climate change “negatively impacts livelihoods” and these impacts are directly related to natural resources affected by changes in weather and climate. In the Philippines, typhoon impacts are mainly through damage to the livelihood assets of coastal populations and the level of ownership of livelihood assets has been a major determinant of vulnerability.

More community-based adaptation strategies, particularly those supported by local governments—perhaps the kind implemented in Albay province—could be among priority options that could help people confront and overcome these climate-related challenges.

Thousands of scientists and other experts contributed to the latest IPCC assessment of global climate change events and patterns. The report that was released last March 31 (the fifth since the IPCC’s creation in 1988), which was a synthesis of more than 102,500 books, studies and conference reports collected and reviewed by other experts and governments, has generated much interest worldwide owing to what are described as “scary” and “catastrophic” scenarios projected from the scientific data.

Because of the Philippines’ experience with severe weather—most recently the fierce winds and rains of super typhoon Yolanda and the massive inundation from typhoon Ondoy—there is reason for local policymakers and analysts, including from the private sector, to pay close attention to the IPCC report.

Students in flooded Malabon City use a boat to commute on the opening day of school. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com

One of the lead authors in the report’s chapter on Asia, which looks at a range of issues on the Philippines and options available to the country, is Rodel Lasco, a Philippine senior scientist who was elected in 2009 to the National Academy of Science and Technology, an advisory body to the Philippine president and the Cabinet on policies concerning science and technology.

The IPCC report says damage to physical assets due to weather events and climate change is well documented for poor urban settlements, which are often built in risk-prone floodplains and hillsides that are susceptible to erosion and landslides.

“Income losses due to weather events mean less money for agricultural inputs (seeds, equipment), school tuition, uniforms, and books, and health expenses throughout the year. Flooding in informal settlements undermines job opportunities,” the report says.

Equally important, albeit frequently overlooked, adds the report, is the “damage to human assets as a result of weather events and climate, such as food insecurity, undernourishment, and chronic hunger due to failed crops or spikes in food prices most severely felt among poor urban populations.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines already ranks as the second-highest in terms of the number of people exposed to storms and floods (12.1 million) and the fourth-highest in terms of GDP value losses ($24.3 billion), according to 1998-2009 statistics compiled in the IPCC report.

The number of Philippine residents exposed to storms is the second highest after Japan’s 30.9 million, and is also bigger than China’s 11.1 million.

In terms of losses to the economy (measured by the GDP), the Philippines ranks fourth after Japan ($1.23 trillion in losses), Korea ($35.6 billion), and China ($28.5 billion). The Philippines’ economic losses to storms is the highest among the developing economies in the region, according to the IPCC data.

Adaptation measures

For states considering adaptation measures, the IPCC points to various options that are classified into: institutional and social measures, technological and engineered measures, and ecosystem-based adaptation measures.

The IPCC notes coastal adaptation strategies, which the Philippines may find useful for areas most vulnerable to climate-related events, as consisting of “retreat, accommodation and protection.” This approach, IPCC says, is now widely used and applied in both developed and developing countries and the strategies have now been expanded into broad approaches of “retreat, defend and attack.”

“Protection aims at advancing or holding existing defense lines by means of different options such as: land claim, beach and dune nourishment, the construction of artificial dunes, hard structures such as seawalls, sea dikes and storm surge barriers or removing invasive and restoring native species,” says the report.

“Accommodation” is achieved, the report says, by increasing flexibility, flood proofing, flood-resistant agriculture, flood hazard mapping, the implementation of flood warning systems or replacing armored with living shorelines.

On the other hand, “retreat” options include allowing wetlands to migrate inland, shoreline setbacks and managed realignment by, for example, breaching coastal defenses allowing the creation of an intertidal habitat.

The IPCC report cites the growth of community-based adaptation measures implemented by developing countries such as the Philippines. In Albay province, a local adaptation scheme installed in 2008 established farm clusters to assist farmers and fisher folks in their agricultural requirements, food assistance, and technological and training needs.

Albay’s strategies include preventing scarcity of agricultural commodities, pump-priming the agricultural industry in the province, and speeding up rehabilitation of the province’s upland agricultural areas.

The provincial government of Albay established the Center for Initiatives and Research on Climate Adaptation in 2008, a living research and
training institution in collaboration with the Environment Management Bureau, World Agroforestry Center, Bicol University and the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Says the IPCC report on Albay’s adaptation achievements: “Mainstreaming of global warming concerns gives a voice to the Albay Declaration in Congress and directly encourages policy makers to mainstream climate change in policy-making. Indicators measure cleaner environment for the community improvement of infrastructure development plans, land development/ conversion activities, institutionalization of pre-planning, enhanced implementation and enhanced monitoring and evaluation.”

More risks ahead

As if the current situation is not dreadful enough, the IPCC also warns of “emergent risks” that could spell more difficulties due to climate change hazards.

A rise in the Earth’s temperatures above 4-degrees centigrade implies a “high risk of extensive loss of biodiversity with concomitant loss of ecosystem services,” says the IPCC report.

Given that the previous IPCC assessment report, which noted global mean temperatures exceeding a warming of 2-3 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial days, already estimated that some 20-30 percent of the species on Earth were “likely at increasingly high risk of extinction,” a further warming of 4-degrees “implies further increases to extinction risks for an even larger fraction of species,” says the report.

Furthermore, the loss of Arctic sea ice and degradation of coral reefs, as well as other natural barriers, presents a high risk to ecosystem services where many people are exposed to coastal hazards and also depend on coastal resources for livelihoods, such as in the Philippines, according to the report.

Also, the disappearance of analogs of climates (indicating major community movements and changes in patterns of interactions among species) in regions of exceptional biodiversity in the Himalayas, Mesoamerica, eastern and southern Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia, the IPCC report says, indicates “additional risks.”

The IPCC report recommends “iterative risk management” instead of any single method of approaching the various contexts related to climate change. Risk management is a general framework that includes alternative approaches, methodologies, methods and tools.

Within the climate change context, the IPCC says, risk can be defined as “the potential for consequences where something of human value (including humans themselves) is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain.”

NOTE: For those interested in reading more about the IPCC report, here is the link to the website: http://www.ipcc.ch/.


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