Climate change has been a constant reality for many Filipinos, with impacts ranging from extreme weather events to periodic droughts and food scarcity. The most affected populations are coastal residents and rural communities that lack proper disaster preparedness.
According to the Center for Global Development, the Philippines is the world's fourth most vulnerable country to the direct impacts of extreme weather events. Averaging 20 tropical cyclones a year, it may be the world’s most storm-exposed nation. Last November, Supertyphoon Haiyan, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded, claimed more than 10,000 lives, affected over 9 million people, and left over 600,000 Filipinos homeless. With both the oceans and the atmosphere warming, there is broad scientific consensus that typhoon are now increasing in strength.
Like most developing countries, the Philippines plays a minor role in global carbon emissions yet suffers an inordinately higher cost. With over a third of its population living in poverty, the country emits just 0.9 metric tons of carbon per capita, compared to the United States' 17.6 metric tons. "We lose 5% of our economy every year to storms," observes Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano. The reconstruction costs of Haiyan alone are estimated at $5.8 billion.
As the Philippines embarks on a long road to recovery, sustainability is key for post-Haiyan rebuilding. "We must build back better and more resilient communities," says Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Philippines' Senate Committee on Climate Change, who was named a Regional Champion by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. "We must prevent disasters and be prepared for the next natural hazards. This disaster also tells us about the urgent need to save and care for our environment."
It is widely argued that taking early action against climate change through mitigation efforts outweigh the costs and economic impacts of inaction. In the Philippines, transitioning to a low-carbon economy has many challenges, but it also offers strong prospects for growth and development. The country has tremendous mitigation opportunities and is graced with significant renewable energy resources. According to the Philippine Department of Energy, renewable energy already provides 40 percent of the country’s primary energy requirements, and much of its potential has yet to be tapped.
To achieve an environmentally secure future, the Philippines must not only rebuild more sustainably but also create a sustainable pathway for future development. With one of the most progressive energy laws in Asia, the country has committed to a renewable energy target of 50 percent by 2030 under its Renewable Energy Act.
Read more at ENN affiliate Worldwatch Institute.
Death toll graphic from typhoon Haiyan image via Shutterstock.