The two weeks of United Nations-sponsored climate talks that ended on Nov. 11, leaving core sticking points unsolved before a December summit in Paris on a landmark agreement, leaves the Philippines and other small island nations and developing countries in a state of frustration – and concern over their own susceptibility to disaster.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. When Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, hit the country in 2013, more than 6,300 people died and 11 million were affected, losing their homes and livelihoods. Post-disaster problems such as human trafficking were also recorded as families, unable to earn money for their livelihoods, turned to selling their only assets – themselves.
Climate change has also affected the country’s food security due to crops lost when El Nino and the typhoon season set in this year. The impact of climate change is fundamentally intertwined with human rights issues — the right to life, the right to food, the right to shelter are only some problems we face. The impacts of climate change have, in fact, left many Filipinos with dead members of their families, destroyed homes and destroyed livelihoods, and lost hopes and dreams.
According to Oxfam International, the UK-based international confederation of relief organizations, climate change is the number one threat to overcoming poverty. Many Filipinos undergo a cycle of building and rebuilding their lives only to have their efforts repeatedly destroyed by the increasingly hostile weather. Nor is the Philippines alone. A long string of island nations across the world face danger from rising waters and extreme weather events.
With warming less than 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrialization period, the Philippines is facing extreme weather conditions, warming waters, drought, and sea level rise. What this means is that the country must be prepared to face more Yolandas, decreasing food production due to the low adaptive capacity of poverty-stricken farmers and a diminishing catch by the fishing industry, and more migration as low-lying communities are lost either to rising waters or wave action. Is the country prepared to face these?
In line with this, vulnerable countries like the Philippines are calling to limit the global warming target, initially set at 2C during the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, to a lower target of 1.5C. However, this call was blocked by some of the most powerful nations at the UN climate talks: India, China and Saudi Arabia. Additional powerful forces are meeting in Washington this week at a conclave put together by the Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel-funded industry body, to continue to push the line that climate change does not exist.
Care International’s Sven Harmeling has labelled the move by India, Chin and Saudi Arabia as “highly concerning,” especially given the human rights implications of a 2 degree target. This concern turned to protest as young people gathered at the UN with banners of tropical storms.
Scientists say that 2 degrees may not be enough for our survival. Pacific island nations like the Philippines and Indonesia are the first to be severely affected. In fact, with rising sea levels, Kiribati and Tuvalu are now relocating their people as their nations are slowly beginning to become inhabitable. The Maldives in the Indian Ocean is perhaps most threatened. This issue now goes from their basic rights to food and shelter to the preservation of their culture as a nation. Who will they be without the land and waters they’ve lived in for centuries? Where will they go as a people?
"How can we possibly subscribe to more than double current warming given what less than 1 degree Celsius has entailed?” asked Philippines Climate Change Commissioner, Mary Ann Lucille earlier this year. Sering currently heads a group of countries within the UN climate talks known as the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which argue that the 2 degree target, reinforced by leaders of the G7 this week is "inadequate, posing serious threats for fundamental human rights, labor and migration and displacement.”
A United Nations report released earlier this year states that climate change accounts for 87 percent of disasters worldwide, something that the Philippines faces every year. With more than 20 typhoons entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility every year and with very little means to adapt to extreme weather events such as Yolanda, Filipinos are already facing a threat to their survival and a threat to a better future. An ambitious target and a legally binding deal between nations, a commitment to lower carbon emissions, is needed in order for these nations and its people to survive.
Will other countries commit to 1.5 degrees warming? Countries like the Philippines can only hope so. Without this commitment, the future of small Pacific island nations will remain to be in danger. It is only a matter of time before the true reality of a warming world sets in.
Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Program Manager for Advocacy of Dakila, an organization of artists creatively inspiring social transformation. Dakila has been working on climate justice since 2009 with Oxfam International.