The issue has been the subject of scientific inquiry since 1896, but it’s really been a slow burn. Not until the Earth Summit of 1992 did climate change gain a degree of global prominence. Even then, up to a little over a decade ago, more people would have considered any mention of the climate crisis an esoteric matter, a looney topic.
Things are different now. Mounting costs measured in lives maimed and lost, properties destroyed and livelihoods decimated over the last few years have forced the public to take notice. There is greater anxiety about the growing uncertainties brought by the changing climate, and more have taken an interest in the work of climate scientists. It has simply become harder to ignore the impact of warming temperatures around the world.
As Typhoon Lando (international tag Koppu) exits media headlines, here are a few things more to think about as we try to get a better grasp of what to expect in the future.
- The numbers are increasing: from the previous record of 18 typhoons set in 2004, a new high of 20 for Category 4 or 5-strength hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere was registered as Typhoon Champi formed on Sunday just after Lando, which was the 12th storm to hit the Philippines in 2015.
- According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the frequency of typhoons in the Philippines has held steady since the mid-20th century. However, PAGASA noted an “increase in the number of tropical cyclones” with wind speeds greater than 150 kph.
- Many Filipinos still remember Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana), which dumped 455 millimeters of rain in 24 hours, or the equivalent of a month’s precipitation. Consider then the experience of Baguio, which received 1077.8 millimeters of rainfall as of Wednesday morning. Not many know that Baguio is “very prone to extreme rainfall, and that it received more than 2,200 millimeters of rain in four days from a tropical cyclone in 1911.” According to Weather.com’s Nick Wiltgen, more recently, “Typhoon Pepeng (international name Parma) dumped 1,850 mm of rain in seven days on Baguio in Octobers 2009, unleashing severe flooding and mudslides that killed 465 people in other parts of northwestern Luzon.” In August 2015, Typhoon Ineng (international name Goni) dumped over 700 mm of rain in Baguio and “nearby parts of northwestern Luzon in three days, even though it never made landfall in the country. The rain unleashed flash floods and mudslides that accounted for most of the storm’s death toll of 33 in the Philippines.”
- The four costliest cyclone disasters (dollar values unadjusted for inflation) in Philippine history all occured since 2012: Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan; November 2013) at $10 billion, Typhoon Maring (Trami; August 2013) at $2.19 billion, Typhoon Pablo (Bopha; December 2012) at $898 million, and Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun; July 2014) at $821 million. It is still too early to determine what place, if at all, Lando will occupy in such a tally.
Climate change-induced extreme weather events represent part of the threat generated by greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere largely as a result of the continued burning of fossil fuels. Slow onset impacts such as rising sea levels and ocean acidification, which are less known and which occur without the drama of calamities, comprise the greater part of the climate change threat to the country.
The magnitude of the crisis demands a re-think of strategies currently employed by non-government groups and social movements. It is clear the government cannot – and should not have to – take on climate change on its own.
The Aquino administration deserves huge praise when it finally launches the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) on October 28. Also known as RA 10174, the PSF is the country’s first legislated climate change adaptation finance mechanism dedicated to supporting the adaptation programs of localities. The PSF is the outcome of collaboration between climate champions in the executive, the legislature and civil society groups and its launch could not come at a better time.
It is time to act decisively, through better disaster response management and by anticipating and adapting to the new normal. Yet we need to ask the big question as well: can we really hope to cope better while we willfully contribute to a stormier Philippine future? There are over two dozen climate-damaging coal-fired power plants in the government’s pipeline, and counting. This is an epidemic by any yardstick, and the lunacy needs to stop. It is time to reverse course and pursue a truly sustainable energy trajectory.
Disclosure: Constantino is one of the non-government members of the PSF Board. The PSF Board is chaired by Department of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who is also the chair of the newly formed Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers, or the V20. Other members include the Climate Change Commission, NEDA, DBM, DILG, the Philippine Commission on Women, and one representative each respectively from the academe, the private sector, and civil society organisations. Click here for more information: PSF Board Information Portal for CSOs
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp