Climate change and disasters: Are we ready?

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The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had made it clear that most countries are largely ill-prepared for climate-related risks, stressing that the increase in global temperature will be the cause of more extreme weather events around the world.

 

Without mincing words, IPCC vice-chairman Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, said climate change is not a distant threat but a “present and clear danger” that is already impacting lives, especially in poorer countries.

 

“ It is no longer a question of whether human-induced climate change will occur as we can already see its impacts on the poor people,”  Ypersele told the Philippine EnviroNews.

 

Ypersele said, that the Philippines for instance, is greatly affected by rising sea levels triggering stronger storms in the future that will be devastating to the country.

 

“ Not every extreme weather event, such as the Supertyphoon Haiyan, can be attributed to climate change yet. But you can say that events like Haiyan will occur more frequently or with more intensity in the future. We still need a long observation and sophisticated technology. One thing is very clear on typhoon impact, for example in the Philippines where it is threatened by sea level rise, the danger will be larger than before,” Ypersele said.

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Ypersele, however, suggested that the Philippine government needs to invest more in planning for more resilient communities and structures as well as transforming the country into a low-carbon growth.

 

When Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013, it grabs the world’s attention by dominating the overall picture of natural catastrophes. The country was, arguably, unprepared from the devastating storm attributed to storm surge, rough seas and floods where over 6,000 people were killed, and millions left homeless. Total damage and losses reached more than US$13 billion.

 

The crisis in the Philippines struggled for international attention, seeing perhaps one of the most massive relief operations to date, but it pitted against earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand, floods in Thailand, the mass migration in small island countries and famine in East Africa.

 

If natural and man-made disasters are becoming more common, shouldn’t we be paying more attention and getting ready for them?

 

Margareta Wahlstrom, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that the supertyphoon drew the issue of addressing the importance of medium and long-term disaster risk reduction and resilience building as strong component of the rehabilitation process and embedded in the needs assessment and implementation plans.

 

“ Filipinos are resilient in the face of multiple calamities,” Wahlstrom said in her statement at the Asia-Europe Meeting Manila Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. “What is needed now is the embodiment of much of what is already there: a shift from intent to action. This will not only change the Philippines but the whole world as it addresses new thresholds of danger and calamity propelled by environmental degradation, poor land use and urban planning, fast growing urban population and poverty.”

 

For  Climate Change Commission Vice-Chair Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the consequences of Supertyphoon Haiyan will continue to unfold for years, adding that the destruction wrought by this supertyphoon is a timely reminder of some of the threats climate change can pose to life, livelihood, infrastructure and culture.

 

“ Extreme weather events are definitely on our doorstep. We need to scale up our planning on climate change adaptation and disaster risk management as soon as possible. As we continue to urge nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, we can no longer wait on pursuing adaptation and disaster risk management,” Sering told the Philippine EnvironNews.

 

Disasters and climate-related events, Sering said, are also keen warning of the indirect impacts to human health, agriculture, livelihood and the economy.

 

Sering said that while climate-related disasters require widespread political, technological, economic, and social changes, there is a need to install preparedness and sustainability measures in to interventions.

 

 

Cost of inaction will be catastrophic

 

The Philippines is already a global hotspot for strong typhoons and other climate-related events such as droughts and floods, rising sea levels and escalating temperatures.

 

The country, geographically, is “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when it comes to storm surge and strong typhoons as most of the coasts face every direction with a full range of exposure to the sea, said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice-President and special envoy for climate change.

 

Kyte told the Philippine Environews that the country is “sitting right in one of the warmest parts of the ocean and as always been historically a typhoon alley with more stronger and more intense and more frequent typhoons.”

 

“ The government has understood that the Philippines have to introduce remarkable measures to improve its resilience and this means it require a lot of investments,” Kyte said. “The cost of development in the Philippines will go up by about 25 percent if the extreme weather event predictions s told by scientists are correct. So at an early stage we have been engaging discussions with other counties and the Philippines”.

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“ The cost of inaction will be catastrophic. We are convinced that with the impacts of extreme weather events, threat to agricultural systems and energy systems and water scarcity and the threat to cities, the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action to build low carbon development and resilient development.,” she said.

 

Kyte said that while the Philippines had been making efforts to be “climate ready,” there is a need to commit more to disaster preparation and response, insurance scheme and to implement national climate adaptation resilience fund.

 

At national level, the Philippines does have policies, regulations and laws in place that mandate action to manage disaster risk and tackle climate change. But implementing these locally is proving harder, government officials and lawmakers agree.

 

Kyte suggested the country must look at how to: build low-carbon, climate-resilient cities; build climate-smart agriculture; accelerate energy efficiency; accelerate investment in renewable energy; put a price on carbon.

 

“Typhoon Haiyan by itself is more than enough reason to urgently act on the implementation of climate change laws,” said Tarlac Province Representative Susan Yap, who is also the Global Legislators Organization GLOBE) Philippines chair. Challenges include turning national laws into local action and getting government agencies to coordinate their plans, she added.

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Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst

 

In addressing disaster and weather-related events, possible solutions do exist with strong political action and financing mechanism, said Albay Governor Joey Salceda, who also sits as the co-chair of the Green Climate Fund board.

” It is a fact that industrial countries’ greenhouse gas emmisions are partly to blame for global warming. However, the country needs to strengthen its efforts to address this issue locally both on mitigation and adaptation,” Salceda said.

Jose Ma Clemente Sarte Salceda_2011
By localization, Salceda pointed out that there is a need to capacitate communities and local governments on science-based, evidence-based needs assessment, programming and formulation of climate actions.

Recognized by the United Nations as champion for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, Salceda has been pushing for the institutionalization of climate adaptation in all provinces of the country.

“Let us strengthen the adaptive capacity of communities and support multi-sector climate programs in addressing adaptation and mitigation. Mainstreaming climate initiatives and communicating them to the grassroots level is essential,” Salceda added.

 

 Text and photos by IMELDA V. ABANO, PNEJ/Environews

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