The Human Face of Climate Change

  • March 9, 2012

The Human Face of Climate Change
Friday, 9 March 2012, 1:00 PM
Ifugao State University

It is my pleasure to be invited here at the Ifugao State University to speak about the greatest development challenge that the world faces today.

A kid in this generation would seem to be more fortunate than a child born fifty years ago because of the convenience in life brought by the most advanced technologies we currently have. But how lucky could he be if he is unable to fully enjoy the beauty of nature?

When I was a child, I was blessed enough to appreciate the richness of our environment. We could breathe fresh air and drink clean water for free because provinces used to be filled with farms, meadows, and abundant forests; even in urban areas, plants and trees used to line the sidewalks and there was less pollution. We were able to commune with nature because it was existing, it was very alive. I hope the children of today and of the future could still experience that kind of atmosphere. But sadly, most of what we see now are just shadows of what used-to-be. The environment we now have is one that is degraded, polluted, and always at risk when disasters and impacts of a changing climate strike.

Never before in the history have humans proactively worked together to avert a global catastrophe, as what we now attempt to achieve with the challenge of climate change.

In many parts of the world, this is a real-life and real-time crisis. And the region of the Asia and the Pacific bears much of the brunt as it accounts for more than 80 percent of the global loss of life due to disasters. In our country, disaster risks abound. The Philippines, being an archipelagic State located in the western edge of the Pacific Ocean and directly within the Ring of Fire, faces the constant risk of typhoons, drought, as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Now with climate change, we confront weather in extremes.

In 2009, tropical storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng jolted a totally unprepared Luzon, including Metro Manila, killing nearly a thousand people and cutting a vast map of destruction. In 2010, typhoons Pedring and Quiel that killed more than 100 individuals and caused massive flooding in the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan; and in 2011, tropical storm Sendong caused the death of more than 1,200 and severely affected the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. The devastation and massive effect in the lives of our people brought by these natural hazards only show that we are not prepared even for the disasters of today, let alone for the worst effects of climate change tomorrow.

We have to realize that climate change is not just a scientific and environmental issue, but an all encompassing threat to our basic human rights – food, potable water, shelter, decent livelihood and life itself.

And it is this human face of climate change that I would like to bring to your attention.

Climate change threatens our agricultural productivity and food security.

From 1970 to 1990, typhoons, floods and droughts resulted in an 82.4% loss to total Philippine rice production. With continued climate change, crop yield potential is estimated to decline by 19% in Asia and rice yield in the Philippines by as much as 75% toward the end of the century.

Climate change threatens public health.

Higher temperatures cause the surge of diseases such as dengue, malaria, cholera and typhoid. Communities that have been displaced by disasters will be most likely to be exposed to health threats in evacuation centers.

A study of the World Health Organization revealed that the most apparent effect of climate change in the country was the sudden increase in dengue, malaria and typhoid fever cases in 1998 when the Philippines experienced the El Niño phenomenon.

In 1998, almost 40,000 dengue cases nationwide, 1,200 cholera cases and nearly 1,000 typhoid fever cases were recorded.

Climate change threatens water security.

Research at the PAG-ASA and Manila Observatory reveal that there have been fewer but more intense rainy days. As the number of rainy days decrease, water-dependent sectors will need to anticipate and innovate approaches to achieving and maintaining sustainable supplies of fresh water while preparing for floods and landslides.

Experts agree that the looming water crisis is the result of the combination of rapid population growth, pollution, the destruction and mismanagement of freshwater resources, and the failure to study and anticipate climate variability. All these factors create a growing water security challenge. Even as we speak, one out of five Filipinos has no direct access to clean water based on World Bank estimates.

At the root of this water shortage is the deterioration of the country’s forest areas. Under nature’s order of things, watershed areas store water for release into the water receptacles during the dry months, ensuring a continuity of water supply. Yet most of the proclaimed watershed areas have been classified as deteriorating or dying. We lose 1.4% of our forest cover a year.

Climate change threatens our biodiversity.

Philippine forests, host to a large variety of plant and animal species, have been declared as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body tasked to assess technical information on understanding climate change, predicts that with a 1.5 to 2.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature in a span of 50-100 years, 30% of species would be at risk of extinction.

Climate change threatens energy supply.

In 2010, Typhoon Basyang paralyzed the energy sector causing a massive blackout throughout Luzon. This only shows how vulnerable energy-related infrastructures are; thus, a call for the need to climate-proof our energy sector.

Measures for improved management and development of our energy generation, transmission and distribution linkages must therefore be put in place.

Climate change threatens economic growth.

The 2010 World Bank and UN joint report on the economics of effective prevention revealed that annual global losses from natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding could triple to US$ 185 billion by the end of the century, even without calculating the impact of climate change. Climate change could add another US$28-68 billion from tropical cyclones alone.

Based on a study by the Asian Development Bank on the economics of climate change, the country stands to lose 6% of its GDP annually by 2100 if it disregards climate change risks.

However, this same study found that if the Philippines invests 0.5% of its GDP by 2020 in climate change adaptation, it can avert losses of up to 4% of its GDP by 2100 — clearly a short term investment with a long term eight-fold gain.

Climate change threatens our right to life.

As one of the countries most affected by sea level rise, the Philippines is inundated 9-12mm per year which is much higher than the global annual average of 3mm. A one-meter rise in sea level would inundate an estimated 129,000 hectares of land, affecting 2 million people.

Given these far-reaching implications of climate change, we clearly have good reasons to be concerned about this issue.

It is crucial that we tackle the drivers of our vulnerability to disasters and climate change — poor urban governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods and ecosystems decline.
First, we must strengthen governance in the urban centers. In simple and doable terms, this means implementing the solid waste management law. This means cleaning all clogged esteros, canals, and other waterways that exacerbate our vulnerability to flooding. This means dredging rivers that have become oversilted due to soil erosion brought about by excessive logging activities.

This means making use of geo-hazard maps to avoid exposing our people, homes, and industries to disaster risks.

Second, we must protect our ecosystems because ecosystem services – the services nature provides to sustain human life on earth – are declining. This means massive planting of trees. This means protecting our forests and our people from risks of landslides.

And third, we must enhance rural livelihoods which 75% of the poor depend on for their subsistence. This means improving agricultural productivity and supporting our farmers better.

As the United Nations Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, I have been going around, even beyond the Asia Pacific region, campaigning for greater political and financial commitment among policy and decision-makers in building our resilience to disasters and to the impact of climate change.

Through the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2009, which I principally authored and sponsored, climate change responses were legislated. In the Senate, we have institutionalized a Committee on Climate Change, which I chair, to ensure the implementation of laws as well as the sustainability of initiatives for climate change adaptation.

Beyond the halls of the Senate, I run a nationwide awareness and education campaign on climate change, produce documentaries on environmental and climate protection, implement an extensive tree-growing program through Luntiang Pilipinas, mobilize humanitarian aid to disaster-affected and poverty-stricken communities, and involve the Filipino youth in this advocacy through the Philippine Youth Climate Movement.

As citizens of this nation, we all have the task to be involved in efforts to reduce disaster risks and adapt to climate change.

  • March 9, 2012 |
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