As 2021 drew to a close, Typhoon Odette lashed the country killing 400 people, affecting 10 million people, and damaging 2 million houses. Can it get any worse? With global warming, the bad news is that it will get worse if we don’t act soon.
The latest assessment report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change (IPCC) warns that there is overwhelming evidence that climate change threatens human well-being and the health of our planet. In addition, the panel of imminent scientists concludes that any further delay in concerted action will close the window in securing a livable future.
As one of the most climatically-vulnerable countries in the world, the Philippines should take this warning seriously. We present some of the key implications of the report to our country in what follows.
Front liners in climate action
First and more broadly, we should examine our national development plans and programs in the light of a warming planet. The IPCC report emphasized the need for a climate-resilient development. This approach recognizes the interconnections between human communities and their natural environment. In contrast to reductionist planning, we must 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 Climate Change Action Plan which reinforces an integrated approach between agencies and actors in food and human security, water sufficiency, environmental sustainability, energy, and industries among others. However, the overall framework needs to be urgently mainstreamed to relevant sectors and to local levels whose communities suffer the most damage from the impacts of global warming. Local governments’ capacities, for example, should be strengthened to not only be able to access financing such as the People’s Survival Fund, but also to better understand their communities’ capacity to use local or traditional knowledge in adapting to these impacts.
Nature should be saved first
Second, we must optimize nature-based solutions. In contrast to its previous assessments, the latest IPCC report recognizes that solutions emanating from natural ecosystems are largely untapped. For example, forest ecosystems, healthy watersheds, and coral reefs provide livelihoods that allow people to cope better with climate hazards. At the same time, they help attenuate flooding and they sequester carbon in their biomass helping reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, among numerous benefits. In relation to this, we must pursue 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 largely degraded (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/the-philippine-climate-change-assessment/) through decades of mismanagement. About half of total forest cover was lost since the 1990s. Our lakes and rivers are being polluted to death. State and non-state actors have been trying to reverse the trend through such programs as the National Greening Program. Among the numerous reasons for restoring the health of natural systems, we now have one more --- climate regulation.
Additionally, while the growing rate of urbanization has caused numerous instances of encroachment and degradation and created complex risks, cities can also provide opportunities for climate action. As of 2021, the Philippines’ top 4 highly urbanized cities alone (Quezon City, Manila, Davao, and Caloocan) have a combined population of 8.25 million. However, most of these cities are also confronted with high levels of poverty and unemployment, as well as poorly planned urban growth. Bringing nature back to these cities can be a solution --- green buildings, ensuring supplies of clean water, and sustainable transport systems to connect urban and rural areas. In short, we should bring back nature to our cities. As IPCC scientists put it, “nature can be our savior, but only if we save it first.”
Securing the basics: food and water
Third, food systems should be strengthened to ensure food security. The changing distribution of plants and animals across the globe is altering key biological events and is affecting food webs. Food shortages are apparent, with local food accessibility projected to be reduced by 3.2% by 2050 with 300,000 associated deaths possible if action is not taken. To confront this Goliath, farmers in the Philippines have been adopting farm and landscape diversification strategies and using climate-resilient crop varieties and indigenous vegetables for increased economic and ecological benefits. The integration of trees on farms, or agroforestry, has also been a long-standing practice in Philippine uplands and a strategy emphasized 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 amount and availability of water resources. The IPCC reports that about half of the world’s population is experiencing either severe water shortages due to climate change, or flooding from extreme weather events like intensified or more frequent storms and tropical cyclones. Drought conditions in the Philippines are projected to increase by 5-20% by the end of the century. Soil and water conservation measures should widely be adopted, such as moisture conservation in soils, rainwater harvesting and storage, and water impounding.
Chasing the closing window
Fifth, sea level rise poses serious threats to coastal cities and small islands. The rise of mean sea-level for 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 the Philippines cities located along the coast, including the country’s largest and its capital, Manila, the country is especially vulnerable. Coastal agriculture or food production zones are also threatened, causing potential migration and encroachment. Sea level rise may also induce disruption in critical infrastructure (building, transport, energy). Efforts in further studying sea level rise (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/our-work/sea-level-rise/) in the Philippines and identifying adaptation strategies are currently initiated by various climate change actors. Once again, the point in capacitating local governments is emphasized as they will primarily bear the brunt of adapting to this impact.
Finally, the IPCC report is not all doom and gloom though. It took pains to present adaptation solutions for various sectors that will be impacted by climate change. So, it’s not too late to take action. However, adaptation has its limits. If the planet warms above 2 degrees Celsius, certain options may no longer work. For example, coral reefs may collapse leading to permanent loss of livelihoods dependent on them.
Beyond the illustrations and findings 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 narrowing, options for adaptations are within our reach, only if we start acting collaboratively, and with the necessary urgency 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 one of the Coordinating Lead Authors of the IPCC Assessment Report 6 Working Group II released in February.
Ayn G. Torres is the Knowledge Production Manager of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.