The COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing economic fallout have caused massive global disruption and uncertainty that will continue for many months and will have implications for economic growth, the financial well-being of people, governments, and private and public investments. 

We now live in difficulty and uncertainty, made more burdensome by the choices of some of our leaders who continue to sow intrigue and hatred, instill fear, and instigate violence as if these could lead us to a safer and healthier society. Unprecedented times indeed.

However, experts have pointed out that this pandemic gives us an opportunity to rethink our old approaches and ways, especially in terms of how we could further incorporate the principles of climate action and sustainability in all our systems and operations.

The skeptics among us would ask, “Is there really a need to talk about climate change now? Why does climate action have to go hand-in-hand with pandemic recovery?”

The answer to our skeptic friends is this: Yes, we have to because scientists have long warned that climate change is a pandemic enabler.

If we wait for the pandemic to end before tackling the climate crisis, we will find ourselves in the middle of another pandemic before we can even start transforming into low-carbon and climate-resilient systems.

If the global community put climate action in the backseat, climate-vulnerable countries like the Philippines will experience more catastrophic events caused by the warming planet.

By: Nazrin Castro, The Climate Reality Project Philippines

Impacts of climate change in the Philippines

In the last decade, the Philippines has consistently ranked high among countries most affected by climate change. In the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index by the Germanwatch, we ranked 4th among countries most affected by climate change for the period 2000-2019; 2nd in the snapshot year 2018 and 1st in 2013. The report series earlier cited that the country’s vulnerability stems from being “recurrently affected by catastrophes.”

In the World Risk Report 2019, which also measures the country’s level of development and adaptive capacities to cope with extreme weather events, we ranked 9th in 2019 and 2020—an improvement from our previous ranking of being 2nd in 2014 and 3rd  from 2015 to 2018.

There’s a consistency, however, of being included in the list of top countries most affected by climate change in the last decade. This is because we are an archipelagic country situated along the typhoon belt, with an average of twenty typhoons visiting us per year, making response and recovery extremely challenging. 

Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013 was the most notable as it was the strongest, deadliest, and costliest typhoon to hit us thus far. 

The devastation of Yolanda was really immense and tragic. But it immediately awakened our senses to address our climate vulnerabilities. We have become the face and voice of vulnerable developing countries that had little to nothing contribution to global warming and yet suffering the most from its impacts.

But while Yolanda propelled the country as the face of the climate justice movement globally, other climate change-related disasters and impacts are affecting and will continue to affect the country.

1. Costlier typhoons and storms

The 2019 Status Report of Disaster Risk Reduction revealed that the country has “been affected by 565 disaster events which have caused an estimated $US 23 billion in damages” and that an “approximately 85.2% of the sources of the country’s production have been reported to be susceptible to disasters, and 50.3% of the total land area is considered to be economically at risk.”

The report further noted that “the typhoon season costs approximately 2% of the country’s yearly GDP on average, and another 2% is consumed by the recovery activities–a recurrent disaster trap which hinders overall economic development.”

Based on the reports from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the top 10 costliest tropical cyclones, entailing damages to agriculture and infrastructure, in Philippine history occurred in the last 12 years: (1) Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 at P95.483 billion; (2) Typhoon Pablo in 2012 at P43.2 billion; (3) Typhoon Glenda in 2014 at P38.62 billion;  (4) Typhoon Ompong in 2018 at P33.93 billion; (5) Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 at P27.297 billion; (6) Typhoon Ulysses in 2020 at P20.229 billion; (7) Typhoon Rolly in 2020 at P17.875 billion; (8) Typhoon Pedring in 2011 at P15.553 billion; (9) Tropical Depression Lando in 2015 at P14.39 billion; and (10) Typhoon Frank in 2008 at 13.525 billion.

2. More intense droughts and dry spells

In 2019, the country lost nearly eight billion pesos due to droughts and dry spells, induced by El Niño and aggravated by climate change. A total of 247,000 Filipino farmers were affected, prompting 51 local governments to declare a state of calamity.

3. Higher sea levels.

PAGASA projects that sea-level rise in the country, which causes storm surges, flooding, and erosion, will increase by about 20 centimeters or thrice the global average. An estimated 13.6 million Filipinos would need to relocate higher, as 60% of local government units cover 64 coastal provinces, 822 coastal municipalities, 25 major coastal cities.

4. Higher variability in rainfall pattern.

In the 2017 Philippine Climate Change Assessment by the Oscar M. Lopez Center, climate change-induced variability in rainfall is likely to have the greatest impact on the country. There will be more than average rainfall during the wet season, and prolonged “no rain” periods during the dry season.

5. High degree of water shortage.

A study by the World Resources Institute reported that the Philippines will experience a “high” degree of water shortage in the year 2040, with the agriculture sector bearing the brunt of its impacts.

6. Lower fish catch

By the years 2051 to 2060, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the maximum fish catch potential of Philippine seas will decrease by as much as 50 percent compared to 2001-2010 levels.  This is supported by a World Bank study, which estimates that fish catch in Southeast Asia will drop by 50%.

7. Impacts on women and children

According to the World Health Organization, impacts of natural hazards, such as droughts, floods, and storms, “kill more women than men and tend to kill women at a younger age.” There is also an increased risk of sexual harassment and sexual-related violence against women in temporary shelters and evacuation centers.

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, there were 250,000 pregnant women in the worst-affected areas who needed food aid, and about 900 childbirths were expected daily. There were also reported maternal deaths due to damaged health facilities being unable to treat delivery complications.

history occurred in the last 12 years: (1) Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 at P95.483 billion; (2) Typhoon Pablo in 2012 at P43.2 billion; (3) Typhoon Glenda in 2014 at P38.62 billion;  (4) Typhoon Ompong in 2018 at P33.93 billion; (5) Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 at P27.297 billion; (6) Typhoon Ulysses in 2020 at P20.229 billion; (7) Typhoon Rolly in 2020 at P17.875 billion; (8) Typhoon Pedring in 2011 at P15.553 billion; (9) Tropical Depression Lando in 2015 at P14.39 billion; and (10) Typhoon Frank in 2008 at 13.525 billion.

The urgency of addressing the climate crisis

These recorded and projected impacts of climate change in the country, which are all based on official data and the best available science, highlight the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

Now, more than ever, we need to accelerate our climate actions. The global community, especially the developed world who contributed more to the warming of the Earth, needs to act now to ensure carbon neutrality by 2050.

This will only be possible if everyone will finally understand that climate action is not just about making sacrifices, it is about maximizing the opportunities at hand to reach new heights.

It is recognizing that, as leaders in our respective fields, we have the ability and even the obligation to re-imagine and actually pursue what is right and better for our future.

Now that we have the window of opportunity to jumpstart the economy, we must pursue actions and initiatives that also offer the co-benefits of reducing pollution, generating green and decent jobs, deploying and providing access to cheaper and domestically sourced energy, restoring the environment, and leading sustainable lives towards a healthier, safer, and much better normal.

Nazrin Castro
Nazrin Castro
Nazrin Camille Castro is the manager of the Philippine branch of The Climate Reality Project with a current roster of 1,200+ Climate Reality Leaders nationwide. Having worked for almost a decade in the development sector, Nazca has gained political and technical expertise on climate policy development and advised key government officials to help shape and advance the country’s climate agenda, specifically in strengthening climate finance access, youth and stakeholder engagement, and climate advocacy-building, nationally and regionally. She is also an advisor to the Philippine Alternate Board Member to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). She led the organization of the 2016 Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Leadership Events that launched the 2016 Low Carbon Monitor Report, one of the first reports on keeping the 1.5oC goal of global warming as well as the 13 panel sessions of the 2018 CVF Virtual Summit, the first high-level online dialogue with heads of state. She also engaged in collaborative researches on Sustainable Insurance Facility (SIF) and climate risk insurance for the micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sectors of Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. She earned her degree in Political Science at De La Salle University, where she was an academic scholar and a Jose Rizal Awardee. She does yoga and helps out in the family’s events designing services.

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