Tackle climate change, not charter change

May 16, 2006 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

The storm that visited the country is a good reminder how misplaced and irrelevant this obsession with charter change is. Posted below is a speech I delivered today, urging the House of Representatives to address global warming and to act on a resolution that AKBAYAN Representatives filed in Congress to create a special committee on climate change.

The House Committee on Rules, headed by Majority Floor Leader Prospero Nograles, will decide on the fate of the resolution. You can contact the Committee to push for the establishment of the special congressional body for climate change.

Ginoong Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kongresista, isang magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat!

“Caloy”, otherwise called “Chanchu” internationally, was classified by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) immediately after it entered the Philippine area of responsibility as a “mere tropical depression” with maximum sustained winds at 55 kph. It blew across the country, hitting several provinces in Northern Mindanao, much of the Visayas, and Southern Luzon, including Metro Manila, with its wind intensity reaching 100-130 kph. When Caloy left the country yesterday, it had killed 41 people, stranded 10, 000 passengers in different areas, caused power outages, and damaged properties that would surely cost millions.

What “Caloy” effectively did, however, goes beyond wreaking havoc across the nation. More importantly, it is telling us, Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, that the great debate on climate change is already over and that the time to act is now.

Climate change refers to the human induced variation in the Earth’s climate, including the increase in the world’s surface temperature that is commonly known as global warming. For a tropical country like ours, climate change is expected to cause extreme climate events like destructive typhoons and flash floods; rising sea levels due to continuous polar meltdown; and global warming.

“Caloy” does not qualify as an extreme ‘climate event’, but we should be forewarned of the increasing intensity of the tropical storms that enter the country. What we witnessed over the weekend is just the third of the nineteen tropical typhoons that enter the Philippines on the average annually, and the next one is expected to hit the country this month. Let us not wait for an extremely destructive typhoon before we prepare ourselves for the full impact of climate change and mitigate its damage.

Greenpeace, an environmental movement, warns that based on the potential destructiveness index (PDI) of tropical cyclones for the last 50 years, the average storm peak wind or speed of storms coming from the western North Pacific has increased by 50%. In the Philippines, this is manifested by the occurrence of severe El Niño and La Niña events, including damaging typhoons, flash floods, drought, and forest fires. From 1970 – 2005, there were seven (7) El Niño and five (5) La Niña episodes, while between 1950 to 1970, there were only two (2) El Niño and three (3) La Niña episodes. PAGASA notes that there is an observably weak La Niña occurrence this year.

Expect, therefore, an increasing intensity of the typhoons that enter the country. From 1990 to 2004, several typhoon extremes were recorded: there were 32 tropical cyclones that entered the country in 1993, the highest in terms of frequency in our history. The most destructive typhoons also occurred during the same period: in 1990, typhoon Ruping with sustained maximum winds of 205 kph, caused 10-billion pesos worth of damage; in 1991, Typhoon Uring left 5, 080 people dead, 292 injured, and 1, 264 missing; in 1995, Typhoon Rosing, with maximum winds at 255 kph, left with P9 billion worth of damage; and in 1998, while the lowest number of typhoons was observed, the most severe, Typhoon Loleng with its maximum winds at 290 kph, also took place.

Seven extreme cyclone-induced events also took place during the same period: the Ormoc catastrophe (1991); Cherry Hill tragedy (1999); Payatas Garbage-slide (2000); Baguio-La Trinidad landslides (2001); Camiguin flashfloods (2001); Southern Leyte-Surigao disaster (2003); and the Aurora-Infanta floods (2004).

The rapidly changing weather patterns will also cause damage to our economy, with the agriculture sector taking the hardest hit. The increasing frequency of El Niño and La Niña episodes will continuously affect the production of our major crops, particularly palay, corn, coconut and sugarcane. According to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development, for the the 1997-98 El Niño and 1998-99 La Niña episodes alone, the average production losses per hectare for palay were 25% and 92% below normal during the wet and dry seasons respectively. A recorded typhoon damage worth 1.17% of our GDP and 4.21% of agricultural outputs is clear writing on the wall that should be seriously considered.

Beyond destructive and extreme climate events, climate change has other equally disturbing impacts. The acceleration of glacial discharge due to global warming has, during the 1990’s alone, increased sea levels by 0.1 to 0.2 meters, a rate that poses great danger to small Pacific islands and archipelagic countries like the Philippines. If this rate continues, by 2015, some islands in the Pacific will be totally submerged. In the Philippines, Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, and southeastern Mindanao have recorded at least 15 cm sea level rise since 1970, and the rate is increasing every year. If a complete meltdown of glaciers in Greenland happens, for example, existing sea levels will rise by 7 meters, which would submerge most of The Netherlands, Bangladesh, Florida, London and a large chunk of our own archipelago. Imagine the disaster that the meltdown of polar caps would instigate.

What causes climate change? The earth’s temperature naturally changes, but the 0.6 degrees Celsius change during the 20th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is certainly attributable to human activities. A continuation of these human induced changes means that in the next 100 years, the Earth would be warmer by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius.

The use of fossil fuels, which result in the emission of greenhouse gases, and unsustainable and environmentally-damaging land use practices have been identified by existing scientific evidence as the main culprits behind climate change. The rise in fossil fuel consumption, especially in most developed countries, has contributed to a 31% increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the so-called greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The industrial use of other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide also affects the Earth’s surface temperature.

Environmentally-damaging land use practices also contribute to global warming. Agriculture alters the amount of sunlight that the Earth can absorb, while large-scale extractive industries like mining, which causes deforestation, change the capacity of the Earth to process and maintain a sustainable level of greenhouse gases.

Climate change will affect everyone, and all species, albeit in varying degrees. It threatens biodiversity, as climate change alters water supply and sea temperature. All humans, all Filipinos will be affected, but the poorer citizens will suffer more. In the Philippines, 27% of “houses” use substandard materials or are built under makeshift structures, making them vulnerable during extreme climate events. Only a small portion of our archipelago has a very limited exposure to typhoons (Southern, Central, and Western Mindanao), while 82.5% of the country will encounter and experience tropical cyclones, several of them exceedingly devastating. The human cost of displacement will be staggering and in the next fifty years, we will have to deal with climate change refugees.

What should be done? More than charter change, the current obsession of the administration, climate change requires urgent attention. Its urgency is no longer subject to debate – its impact is already happening.

Disaster management is one thing, mitigation and prevention are entirely different matters. Drastically reducing human activities, such as the use of fossil fuel and land use practices that lead to deforestation, that cause global warming is a global responsibility that does not spare anyone or any country.

Definitely, existing policies must now factor in climate change imperatives. This is precisely the reason why AKBAYAN filed in Congress HR 1229, a resolution to create a special committee on climate change. Said committee will work on the following:

  • review existing environmental laws and policies that need to be strengthened to address issues related to climate change;
  • formulate and fast-track the creation of laws and policies that would immediately shift the energy framework of the country from fossil fuel and coal to renewable and clean sources of power;
  • map out areas and identify barangays and municipalities that are exposed to potential damage due to climate change;
  • develop national mechanism to increase awareness on climate change and propose policies to encourage citizens and communities to promote actions at the grassroots level that can mitigate the impact of climate change;
  • harmonize existing laws to the country’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, which the country signed in 1998 and ratified in 2003, and investigate violations committed by the State and private entities to the global warming protocol;
  • develop a foreign policy framework to strengthen regional and international efforts to address climate change, in particular the reduction in the global emission of greenhouse gases;
  • formulate national strategies to mitigate the impact of extreme climate events, such as typhoons, flash floods, and landslides; and
  • develop and propose a national road map on climate change.

There are priorities that must be established. The first involves a revolution in our energy policy, which entails a renunciation of coal and fossil fuel as the source of energy and a shift to renewable sources of power. The second would result in the re-alignment of our development strategy in such a way that global sustainability is the overarching concern.

Unfortunately, our own rhetoric on clean energy is not matched by political will and concrete action. We still delude ourselves with the “clean coal” myth, and despite our ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, we still allow for the establishment of coal-based power plants. Harmonizing our laws and policies with the Kyoto Protocol must be urgently addressed.

The country should also maximize the clean development mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto protocol. Such mechanism encourages developed countries to invest in developing countries in achieving compliance with their greenhouse gases emission reduction commitments. The investments include renewable energy project activities, energy efficiency improvement projects, and other cooperation projects that reduce emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.

Mr. Speaker, climate change is a crisis that poses huge opportunities for the country. On behalf of AKBAYAN, I urge Congress, specifically the House Committee on Rules, to act with urgency on the resolution that we filed to create the special committee on climate change. Establishing the special committee is the first step, and there are actions that must be undertaken. It will also entail costs and re-alignments in our priorities. Yet we have no choice but to address climate change – quite literally, the cost of inaction is our collective future.

Maraming salamat at magandang gabi muli sa inyong lahat.

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Entry filed under: AKBAYAN in Congress, Environment, Speeches.

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