Climate change has caused tremendous damage to many communities over the past year yet until now we did not see any significant developments in the mitigation and adaptation plans of key stakeholders. Millions of people, especially from the Global South, will encounter challenges as the climate crisis continues to exacerbate, including extreme events, health effects, food security, livelihood security, migration, water security, cultural identity, national security, and other threats. Hence, there is an urgent need for systemic change from the government and other parties involved through improved laws and policies.
The Philippines is home to two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity with 70% – 80% plant and animal species. With the Philippines considered one of the 18 mega-biodiverse countries in the world, climate change poses a major threat not only to humans but also to the ecological life support systems. It’s unfortunate that the Philippines is high in the global risk index yet contributes less than 1% to global emissions, making it the most vulnerable country to climate change. In fact, the Philippines had a 0.62°C increase in annual average mean temperature between 1958 and 2014, with the rate of change rising over time. With this, rainfall volume and severity have increased as a result of climate change, with more rainy days being documented in recent decades. Al Gore, Climate Reality Project Founder, and former U.S. Vice President, often describe this as “rain bombs”. Moreover, the Philippines being situated along the typhoon belt in the Pacific, the country had to deal with an average of 20 typhoons per year where five of which could be considered destructive. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), a national meteorological agency, has observed that typhoons are becoming stronger which are deemed to be attributed to the warming of sea surface temperature and atmosphere. It is important to note that this is a symptom of climate change which accelerates the formation and emergence of tropical cyclones.
My experience during Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) would be one of the turning points in my life as it opened my eyes to the current reality that our generation is confronted with. In 2013, the Philippines, particularly my province Leyte, was hit by one of the largest and strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded in history to strike the land. As a Category 5 storm, it was also one of the deadliest Philippine typhoons with more than 6,000 casualties, 1,800 missing and 28,688 injured. It has caused major damage to our province in terms of infrastructure and livelihood. I could describe the aftermath as a nightmare. No one had anticipated such a tragedy to happen in my community. It is devastating to think how one’s life could drastically change in a short period. We were all greeted by a gruesome scene right after the landfall. Dead bodies were laid out on the streets where we could even smell the reek of these
decomposing bodies. Many houses were completely washed out which forced many families to live in tents. My family was one of the few fortunate people who were able to save their homes. However, surviving through the recovery was a real challenge for us as we were financially struggling like most families. We were highly dependent on relief goods for food to eat for months. The lack of access to electricity, clean water, and stable reception also poses a great challenge for us. It took years before we fully recovered but the trauma and scars remain as remnants of such tragedy.
Eight years later, we saw this happen again when Super Typhoon Odette (Rai) made landfall, affecting the southern part of the province Leyte. We have seen collective efforts being done by various organizations, businesses, and local government units (LGUs) from conducting donation drives to relief operations. It is great to know that my country is united during this time of the event, providing assistance as much as they can to the victims. If we can channel this “Bayanihan” spirit in fighting for climate justice, then we could have a much louder and stronger voice, making the process of holding the people involved accountable for all of this.
This fight starts with good climate policies. We have to speak to politicians to make an appeal for the implementation of policies beneficial to our fight against climate change and to uphold their commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. With this, scientific advice to the government is essential in their policy formation, providing scientifically derived evidence. Advisers, advisory councils, or academies usually present a rigorous analysis of specific reports to the head of the government. Rather than just supporting a course of action, their job entails clarifying the evidence-based alternatives. Here, we see how relevant their role is in policy-making. However, it was disappointing to know that during the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or COP26, the Philippine delegation was dominated by government officials from the Department of Finance. It was reported that no official from the Climate Change Commission was part of the delegation. The CCC is in charge of climate policy and has institutional knowledge of previous COP negotiations. Unlike previous COPs, there are also no civil society organizations or members of the academe present in the delegation. Also, it could have been better if an official from PAGASA was part of the delegation for the discussion of the report on physical science. In this high-stake negotiation, all voices must be represented and government officials alone cannot take that role. This notable absence of scientists and government officials well-versed in climate adaptation was definitely one of the prominent issues of our country during COP26.
Moreover, climate change is possible to be addressed using available technologies and sustainable practices that we have today. This is where Post-Normal Science comes into play. The concept of Post-Normal Science helps scientists solve the increasingly complex nature of climate change. This is evident in how they developed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) report. The working groups are composed of diverse teams with different perspectives to come together to engage in a dialogue, discussing and assessing the science of climate change. This report will be beneficial to policymakers, providing them with the latest scientific information to improve current policies and develop new ones. Governments and businesses will have to make significant investments, but that investment will be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of increased natural disasters and other climate impacts. A recent study even suggests that we can fulfill all of our energy demands for heating, power, and transportation with 100% clean renewable sources by mid-century if we use currently available technology. Thus, as individuals, we have the responsibility to continue advocating for climate action by choosing the right leaders that would advance climate change policies by ending fossil fuel subsidies, investing in renewables, and supporting the carbon price. Pursuing careers that will contribute to finding solutions to climate change is also one of the simple ways we as individuals can help mitigate this crisis. Let us all come together by rallying for climate justice and calling for system change this fight does not only involve a certain agency or organization but the commitment of all nations.
Written By: Nikka Gerona