[OPINION] Societal transformation: The road to 1.5°C target for PH

Alex Evangelista
[OPINION] Societal transformation: The road to 1.5°C target for PH
Climate action is far more than just disaster resilience

There is no more debate that climate change is real. From the record-breaking heat waves across Europe and South Korea, to super typhoons raging from the United States to Japan, the year 2018 is a wake-up call of how 1°C of global warming can impact human societies worldwide. The Philippines, one of the most vulnerable to climate change, was not spared from international attention with the onslaught of storm Mangkhut (Ompong) last September. (READ: Climate change: Why PH should care)

Such events alone show the urgency of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as agreed upon by countries under the Paris Agreement. Yet climate action is more than simply dealing with extreme weather events; it also involves dealing with slow onset impacts on food production, human security, and environmental stability, as much as extreme events like typhoons.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report on how to achieve the 1.5-degree target, and steps towards sustainable development. The findings of this document have significant implications on the national growth of the Philippines for decades to come.

Running out of time

The IPCC reports that should greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide be emitted at current rates, global warming will reach 1.5°C by mid-century. It also assessed that national pledges to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement are not enough to prevent worsening impacts by 2100. This gives countries only 20 to 30 years to adjust their mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change.

For the Philippines, preparing for future impacts is an urgent necessity. In a world warmer by two degrees compared to 1.5°C, more super typhoons will affect local communities, which will place the country’s disaster risk reduction management system to the test. (READ: Will you survive a world severely battered with climate change?)

Sea levels will rise by an additional one meter, displacing millions of Filipinos in both cities and rural areas. Over 99% of coral reefs may be irreversibly lost, which has massive implications on marine biodiversity and the economy.

Higher temperatures on both lands and oceans will result in lower agricultural output. Yields of maize, rice, wheat, and other crops will be reduced more in the 2°C scenario. This threatens food and water security, and the livelihoods of the farming and fishing sectors – two of the most impoverished in the nation. (READ: Climate change threatens 50 million jobs in Asia – report)

The risks on human health will also be magnified, especially at higher temperatures. In megacities such as Metro Manila, 350 million more people will be exposed to deadly heat stress by 2050. Further global warming will also bring about a more efficient transmission of infectious diseases such as dengue, especially in urban areas. (READ: TIMELINE: PH policies on climate change and disaster management)

Such developments will result in more Filipinos suffering from poverty by 2050. The poor and vulnerable sectors will be of higher risk from projected declines in food and water availability, higher prices of goods and services, and higher health risks. This presents massive challenges to national development.

Unprecedented change

To achieve the 1.5-degree limit, the IPCC report emphasizes the need for countries to urgently accelerate their climate change mitigation measures. By 2030, global net carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels. While it determined preserving carbon sinks such as forests as a possible option, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors remain the more effective strategy. (READ: Legarda at COP23: ‘We have to do both the difficult and the impossible’)

Specifically, cleaner energy sources such as renewables and biomass must comprise 70% to 85% of the global energy mix, with coal being rapidly phased out and oil and natural gas being utilized more sparingly until mid-century. Industries will need to undergo decarbonization through the use of more renewable energies, and carbon capture and storage systems.

Despite increased demand from a growing population, shifts to more sustainable energy, materials, and food consumption patterns, as well as higher energy efficiency will allow for lower energy use to meet that demand.     

Pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C also require reductions in short-lived climate pollutants. Gases such as methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons are stronger greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide that also contribute to worsening air pollution. This necessitates their reductions.   

Adaptation measures are also important in making the Philippines more resilient. In fact, the country has made adaptation as its primary mode of national action against climate change. It currently plans to transform the agriculture, waste, industry, transportation, forestry, and energy sectors to become resilient to extreme conditions, especially against slow onset events like droughts and rising sea levels.

Yet adaptation is not enough if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere and the oceans continue to cause severe impacts of climate change. While low-carbon emissions strategies will have multiple co-benefits across various sectors, government agencies and non-government stakeholders need to formulate effective action plans to minimize trade-offs.

For instance, climate-smart agriculture practices contribute to enhanced mitigation capacity for Philippine lands. They also boost the country’s food and water security, biodiversity conservation, and economic productivity for the farming sector. However, it tends to be biased towards technological solutions and ignores inequalities among genders and socioeconomic classes. 

Holding global warming to below 1.5°C necessitates societal transformation not just through mitigation and adaptation. It will also involve a change in attitude, supportive institutional arrangements, and multi-level governance.

Climate action is far more than just disaster resilience. It involves everyone from governments and businesses, to local communities recognizing that this phenomenon does not only manifest in super storms, but practically in every aspect of human life. (READ: Communicating climate change solutions to different sectors

It requires inclusive and just planning and governance that anticipates impacts on the economy and communities, instead of merely reacting to them.

The IPCC report shows that the path to sustainable development built on clean energy and adaptive resilience already exists. It is a road with necessary changes on an unprecedented scale to respond to climate change that we have never experienced before. The Philippines needs to immediately take that road before time runs out. – Rappler.com

John Leo Algo is a graduate student and climate researcher who also volunteers for WWF Philippines, the Haribon Foundation, and the Manila Observatory. He recently completed the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training hosted by Al Gore from March 14 to 16 in Manila.

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