Typhoons, droughts, and heavy precipitation, coral bleaching, and saltwater intrusion—the ill effects of climate change are numerous and fatal.
Culture Spotlight

10 years wasted? Losing precious time and ground to climate change

While more and more people have given this global problem more attention in the last 10 years, the message is still hard to swallow for many sectors of society. Are we a decade—or decades—too late in saving our planet? 
Joyce Reyes-Aguila | Dec 22 2019

December is the last month in the tumultuous 2010s, a decade that saw the rise of new political heroes and villains, a changing of the guard in different sectors of society, the growing concern for climate change taking a more desperate turn, and an unending cacophony of opinionated people screaming into the Facebook void. In “The Last 10 Years,” a series of pieces scattered over these last 30 days, we look back at what happened to try to figure out what comes next

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Is climate change real?

We keep hearing about the end of this decade and making the most of its waning days. Sadly, there’s not enough talk about the possible end of the planet itself—largely because humans are pushing it to its limits.

It took a while for climate change to take center stage. For decades now, scientists have been warning us about the ill effects of pollution that our cars, our industries, and even our daily habits cause. In turn, these build up greenhouse gases (GHGs) that warm the Earth’s temperature and alter weather patterns. Of course, we now know that the GHGs have nowhere to go but our atmosphere—ultimately impacting climate and, in turn, lives in our planet.

More on The Last 10 Years:

It took a lot for climate change to gain attention. Champions like actor Leonardo DiCaprio and politician and environmentalist Al Gore (though the documentaries they made) convinced many that it is happening, and action was imperative. I first learned about climate change in college as part of our international studies curriculum. But it only became real to me six months after graduation when I worked at the Climate Change Information Center at the Manila Observatory.

There scientists, geologists, and experts were going beyond semantics and definition. They were creating disturbing maps of residential areas that will be permanently inundated by rising sea levels, one of the effects of climate change. There they were ascertaining typhoon trajectories to show different sectors that the increase in the number of typhoons in the last years can help them respond to climate change better. Experts were saying how risk management can aid farmers in predicting when to plan and harvest best based on weather patterns, and warn civilians of safety risks bad weather brings at certain times of the year.

I felt then that climate change was a difficult message to deliver locally. To some, it was insensitive to push it in the face of widespread poverty. It was a struggle to explain to the transport sectors that changing their vehicle’s engines can help improve air quality along with the health of many. They had to shoulder expenses, with their limited budgets, just because some organization was telling them about something nebulous called climate change.

Even globally, climate change did not immediately get the attention it deserved. It was not real because giant corporations and policy makers were saying that climate change was bad for business, economies, and jobs. It was even dubious to some. After all it was hard to imagine that giant glaciers could really melt, and that whole land masses and the communities therein could disappear permanently.

 

Sound the alarm

But the past 10 years have seen giant glaciers melting and maps being updated to remove areas that have since gone underwater. It also has made the message of climate change more resounding despite the continuous struggle of getting the buy-in of policy makers, countries, businesses, and even individuals to respond to the crisis.

We do not know how long the planet will be able to hold on but “the next 10 years are crucial,” World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature-Philippines head of Climate and Energy Programme Atty. Angela Consuelo S. Ibay says. “The time is ticking, so to speak. Many have said we are at a climate crisis, a climate emergency and that we should ‘act as if our house is on fire.’”

The WWF expert says that, like the rest of the world, the Philippines is not immune to the effects of climate change. “It has impacted the country in terms of damage to the economy and loss of lives due to extreme weather events like typhoons, droughts, and heavy precipitation, coral bleaching, and saltwater intrusion. Sea-level rise has also become a threat to many coastal communities. The increase in temperatures, both surface and ocean, is also already being felt across the country and is affecting our agriculture, water supply, and health. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are interrelated and thus everything can be affected.”

Pedestrians wade through flooded MacArthur Highway in Marilao, Bulacan in July 2018. Widespred flooding is one of the effects of climate change.

By the end of 2030, the United Nations Environment Programme hopes to secure commitment from more people to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Atty. Ibay says this is crucial so as not to breach the threshold. “Scientific assessments paint dire consequences if temperatures go beyond (this). They have stated that every half-degree matters, meaning that 1.5°C is safer than 2°C or more for people, communities and nature.”

Every half-degree of warming will impact the agricultural sector, resulting in lower yields and decreased nutritional content in crops, she explains. “More people will likely be exposed to higher risk of extreme weather, flooding or even drought. In terms of water availability, more urban residents (as much as 410 million globally) will be exposed to severe drought if temperatures increase beyond 2°C. Our coral reefs will be virtually wiped out by 2100 if temperature (rise) is not kept to 1.5°C. Communities in the coast and low-lying areas can be affected by sea-level rise, with as much as 80 million people (at 2°C temperature increase) as compared to 62 million people if temperatures are kept to 1.5°C levels.”

Part of what can be done, the lawyer says, is shifting conversation from highlighting the impacts and losses caused by climate change to what can be gained if climate solutions are implemented. “Showcasing climate actions that positively help sectors adapt and get ahead of these effects can help steer the conversation,” she shares. “Ultimately, we need to understand how these sectors are impacted and how they can capitalize on early climate action so that their sectors do not suffer too much.” The process should be inclusive, participatory, and deliberate to enable communities to become sustainable and resilient.

Atty. Ibay says that even if the 1.5°C threshold is achieved; residual effects of climate change will still be felt. Communities, households, business, and cities still need to be prepared. “I think urban areas are important actors in the transition toward a low-carbon and sustainable future. We should be galvanizing our cities and getting them to not only adapt and prepare but also to look into other climate solutions such as nature-based ones that can also bring back nature even in an urban setting.”

The WWF Climate and Energy Programme chief says the urgency of climate change is becoming more known as more of its effects and impacts are being seen in more places globally. “While it is good that this sense of urgency is now being highlighted, it is unfortunate that we have gotten to this point that we’re teetering on a crisis and I hope that time will not run out on us.

“If we are able to get our act together as a global community responding to climate change, and if at the same time, unsustainable human activity can be put to a halt, we might see not only sustainable and resilient communities, but also find our biodiversity. We can see nature bounce back, making our environment more vibrant, allowing for the planet's natural systems to continue to support life on Earth. That would be a beautiful thing to behold, indeed.”