Climate Change Threatens New Filipino Areas

Shifting weather patterns laid to climate change can be expected hit new areas of the Philippines that have not traditionally been in the direct path of typhoons, the Philippine Climate Change Commission has warned.

The nation, comprising about 7,000 islands in the path of fierce storms sweeping in from across broad reaches of the Pacific Ocean, is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the depredation of rising sea temperatures. According to the Asian Development Bank, seven of the world’s 10 most exposed countries are in Asia, led by Vanuatu, followed by Tonga and the Philippines third, with millions of people concentrated near the coasts.

More than 20 million people live in the Greater Manila area, much of it vulnerable to heavy flooding, especially as groundwater extraction causes the city to sink. Combined with rising global temperatures, the Philippines faces one of the fastest-rising sea levels in the world, at nearly 12 millimeters a year.

The areas likely to be hit as weather patterns change include parts of the Visayas island complex, where Category 5 Super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan killed at least 6,200 people when it came ashore on Nov. 3 with winds gusting up to 300 km per hour. The storm did an estimated US$14 billion worth of damage in economic losses, according to US Rep. Mike Honda, a California congressman, in a recent opinion piece written for the Reuters news service. Human bones continue to wash ashore two months after the storm, with 1,700 people still listed as missing. The Visayas, particularly Cebu and the resort island of Boracay among others, are tourism magnets which could suffer economic harm from the storms.

Mindanao, where much of the country’s agricultural produce is grown and processed, is also at growing risk, according to the report. In November 2012, Mindanao was hit by Super Typhoon Bopha, the strongest storm ever to hit the island, which killed at least 1,901 and left another 834 missing, displacing 170,000 people and doing US$1.04 billion in damage. Much of the country’s entire tuna fleet was demolished with the loss of as many as 300 lives.

Specialists warn that the country will see an increased number of powerful storms, as well as intensified monsoons that trigger flooding, including in Metro Manila, which was inundated by a slow-moving storm that lasted for eight days in August of 2012, pushing the Marikina River to 20.6 meters, a full three meters above the flood level, leaving 95 people dead, nearly 8,500 homes destroyed and paralyzing the center of the city for weeks.

The ADB, in its report, estimates that overall as many as 410 million Asian urban dwellers will be at risk from rising waters and storms by 2025. The number of people inland who are also at risk is expected to rise to 241 million in the same period. The projected impact of severe weather caused by climate change will create significant costs related to climate proofing cities and businesses. The ADB reckons that the cost currently runs to US$53.8 billion across Asia and the Pacific. Yet less than 5 percent of disaster losses in developing Asia are insured, compared to 40 percent in developed countries. In the impoverished Philippines, the figure is considerably less.

The world appears to have missed its chance at actually arresting global temperature rise, with a lack of political will to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Adaptation and, to a lesser degree, mitigation appear to be the only recourse to address the adverse effects of climate change as it likely can no longer be reversed without drastic action from the world’s leaders. Certainly, the need for investment in disaster risk reduction is overwhelming. President Benigno S. Aquino III immediately ordered the implementation of “no build” zones along the country’s 36,000 km of island coastlines in the wake of Haiyan/Yolanda and authorities began to work on a plan to move vulnerable communities to less more protected areas. But that seems problematical at best, since all of these communities depend on marine or agricultural resources and finding adequate alternative livelihoods in a country where unemployment is already endemic is unlikely. But it has been estimated by the World Bank that the economic impact of disaster would be reduced by US$7 for every US$1 spent. The ADB has invested as much as US$7 billion in clean energy-related projects since 2008, with US$2.1 billion in 2011 alone and has carried out disaster-related projects worth more than US$12 billion since 1987.

Through mechanisms such as the Climate Investment Funds, multilateral development banks have mobilized US$6.5 billion for climate action in developing countries, with US$2.5 billion earmarked for Asia and the Pacific. The Green Climate Fund, currently under development, aims to mobilize an additional US$100 billion per year for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.