by Imelda V. Abaño
Nowhere will the impact of climate change be felt more than in the world's poorest nations where people live on less than a dollar a day. The brutal reality is that impoverished countries lack the resources to halt the effects of climate change - there is no money, and not even basic technology - and in addition, they are locked in a perpetual struggle with twin demons: weak infrastructure and continuously booming populations.
Climate change is real; that is the overwhelming scientific consensus, as is the conclusion that this change is human-induced. The reality can be seen in melting ice, dying coral reefs, rising sea levels, changing ecosystems, prolonged and more severe droughts. Millions of people are now at risk.
"The world needs to take action now, before our planet becomes damaged beyond repair. If we fail to act quickly, decisively, and with great vigor, there will soon be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide," says Von Hernandez, Campaign Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The Philippines are especially vulnerable
The environmental group Greenpeace says that the Philippines are already in crisis. Their report, "The Philippines: A Climate Hotspot," released early this year, documents that:
• 15 of the 16 regions of the Philippines are vulnerable to a one meter rise in sea level;
• The regions and provinces most susceptible to rising sea levels are also those most affected by extreme weather events, by landslides, and which have the highest incidence of poverty;
• Extreme weather events brought about by ferocious typhoons and increased rainfall have already cost hundreds of millions, and those numbers are rising steadily.
"The Philippines is among the most vulnerable of countries. Aside from recurring typhoons and drought, sea level rise is a major threat to marine ecosystems and to coastal human populations and their livelihoods," Hernandez says.
He adds that climate change will amplify the socio-economic burdens such as hunger and water scarcity already shouldered by Filipino families, which will increase the already huge disparity in the living standards of the rich and the poor.
The Greenpeace report also shows how climate change can irrevocably alter the country's coastline. A one-meter rise in sea level, for example, is projected to affect 64 out of 81 provinces in the Philippines; sea water would cover at least 703 of 1,610 towns and inundate almost 700 million square meters of land. Even worse, this one meter rise in global sea level could occur even sooner if global carbon dioxide emissions are not immediately curbed, and the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets begin to melt. In the worst case scenario, the complete melting of these ice sheets could raise global sea levels from seven up to twelve meters.
The food supply is in danger
According to Reiner Wassmann, Senior Climate Scientist of the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the impact of climate change on rice yields will vary by region.
"Rice production may become unfavorable in some especially vulnerable regions, like those affected by sea level rise. A large portion of Asian rice land is located in deltas, and these areas have experienced the most rapid growth in rice production and exports," Wassman explains.
Wassman says that IRRI established the Rice and Climate Change Consortium in 2007 to assess direct and indirect consequences for rice production; to develop strategies and technologies to adapt rice to a changing climate; and to explore crop management practices that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas under intense production.
In April 2007, a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that for more than a century, people have relied on fossil fuels for their energy needs. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, releases into the atmosphere massive amounts of the gases that create global warming; carbon dioxide is -the most significant greenhouse gas. The more carbon dioxide we release, the more we increase the "greenhouse effect" on our planet: when heat is trapped, global temperatures increase. This has a catastrophic impact on the planet's ecosystems.
Responding to the IPCC report, Abigail Gay Jabines, a Greenpeace activist working to halt climate change, says that unless they change course, the poorest counties will be the hardest hit by the effects of carbon dioxide emissions.
"Poor nations should focus on renewable energy such as solar and wind power and bypass the "dirty" energy phase that rich countries went through. It's something that these countries can do without following the footsteps of the industrialized nations and releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide."
Averting climate change
According to Jabines, there is still time to avert the worst impacts of climate change - if we act decisively now.
As a start, she says, national and local governments must adopt immediate strategies for disaster preparedness. But the most critical issue is that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50% globally by 2050.
"By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is still time in moving towards a [completely] carbon-free environment to avoid the most catastrophic impacts," Jabines declares.
About the Author
Imelda Visaya-Abaño, began her journalism career in 1998 as a reporter at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading daily newspaper in the Philippines. Her areas of interest are women and children's issues, science, environment, health, agriculture and education.
In 2002, Ms. Abaño was honored as the Asian Winner of the Global REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards on Environmental Reporting.
Ms. Abaño vows to continue serving her community through balanced news and fearless views. She believes in better journalism for better communities.