Global warming: the window is closing fast

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As 2021 drew to a close, Typhoon Odette lashed the country, killing 400 people, affecting 10 million people and damaging 2 million homes. Can it get any worse? With global warming, the bad news is that it will only get worse if we don’t act soon.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report warns that there is overwhelming evidence that climate change threatens human well-being and the health of our planet. In addition, the panel of forthcoming scientists concludes that any further delay in concerted action will close the window to securing a future worth living.

As one of the most climatically vulnerable countries in the world, the Philippines should take this warning seriously. Below we present some of the most important impacts of the report on our country.

Frontliner in climate protection

First, and more broadly, we should examine our national development plans and programs in the light of a warming planet. The IPCC report emphasizes the need for climate-resilient development. This approach recognizes the connections between human communities and their natural environment. Contrary to 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 enshrined in a national climate change action plan that reinforces an integrated approach between authorities and stakeholders in areas such as food and human security, water supply, environmental sustainability, energy and industry. However, the overall framework urgently needs to be mainstreamed into the relevant sectors and at the local levels whose communities suffer the most from the effects of global warming. For example, the capacity of local governments should be strengthened not only to access funding such as the People’s Survival Fund, but also to better understand how their communities can use local or traditional knowledge to adapt to these impacts.

Nature should be saved first

Second, we need to optimize nature-based solutions. Contrary to 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 enable humans to better cope with climate hazards. At the same time, they help to dampen flooding and sequester carbon in their biomass, which contributes to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, among numerous benefits. In this context, we must strive to conserve and restore our natural ecosystems and their biodiversity if we are to take advantage of the services they provide.

The natural resources of the Philippines such as forests, freshwater, coastal and marine resources are largely degraded (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/the-philippine-climate-change-assessment/) through decades of mismanagement. About half of the total forest area has been lost since the 1990s. Our lakes and rivers are being polluted to death. State and non-state actors have attempted to reverse the trend through programs such as the National Greening Program. Among the numerous reasons for restoring the health of natural systems, we now have one more – climate regulation.

While increased urbanization has caused numerous instances of encroachment and degradation and created complex risks, cities can also offer opportunities for climate action. As of 2021, the Philippines’ four most urbanized cities alone (Quezon City, Manila, Davao, and Caloocan) 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 a solution – green buildings, clean water supplies and sustainable transport systems to connect urban and rural areas. In short, we should bring nature back to our cities. As IPCC scientists put it, “Nature can be our savior, but only if we save it first.”

Secure the basics: food and water

Third, food systems should be strengthened to ensure food security. The changing distribution of plants and animals around the world alters key biological events and affects food webs. Food shortages are evident, with local food availability projected to be reduced by 3.2% by 2050, which could mean 300,000 deaths if left untreated. To counter this goliath, farmers in the Philippines have adopted farm and landscape diversification strategies, using climate-resilient crop varieties and native vegetables to increase economic and environmental benefits. The integration of trees on farms or agroforestry is also a long-standing practice in the Philippine highlands and a strategy highlighted by the IPCC in the latest report to simultaneously produce food and protect nature.

Fourth, climate change will alter the amount and availability of water resources. The IPCC reports that due to climate change, about half of the world’s population is affected by either severe water shortages or flooding from extreme weather events such as increased 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 protection measures should be taken comprehensively, such as: B. Moisture protection in soils, rainwater harvesting and storage as well as water stagnation.

Chasing the closing window

Fifth, sea level rise poses a serious threat to coastal cities and small islands. Several studies have found that mean sea level rise for the Philippines is higher than the global average, ranging from 5.7 to 7.0 mm per year. With 60% of Philippine cities located on the coast, including the country’s largest and its capital, Manila, the country is particularly vulnerable. Coastal farming or food production zones are also under threat, leading to potential migration and encroachment. Sea level rise can also disrupt critical infrastructure (buildings, transport, energy). Efforts to further study sea level rise (https://www.omlopezcenter.org/our-work/sea-level-rise/) in the Philippines and the identification of adaptation strategies are currently being initiated by various climate change actors. Once again, the importance of strengthening local governments is underscored, as they will primarily bear the brunt of adapting to these impacts.

After all, the IPCC report is not just doom and gloom. Efforts have been made to present adaptation solutions for different sectors that will be affected by climate change. So it’s not too late to take action. However, customization has its limits. If the planet warms above 2 degrees Celsius, certain options may stop working. For example, coral reefs can collapse, resulting in permanent loss of the livelihoods that depend on them.

Beyond the illustrations and findings of the most recent IPCC report, Typhoon Odette has given us Filipinos a glimpse of a warmer future. In the end, the IPCC report sounded optimistic. Though the window of opportunity for action is narrowing, options for adjustment are within reach only if we begin to act now, collectively and with the urgency necessary.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Rodel D. Lasco is Executive Director of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management and one of the coordinating lead authors of Working Group II of the IPCC Assessment Report 6, released in February.

Ayn G. Torres is the Knowledge Production Manager for the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Climate Change, Disasters, Global Warming, Disaster Risk Management, Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Resilience and Disaster Risk Management, UN Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change, IPCC, Typhoon Odette

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