WORLD leaders met in Paris for COP-21 or the 21st Conference of Parties. This was a last-ditch effort to stop global temperatures from rising above two-degrees Celsius, beyond which natural ecosystems like coral reefs, forests and arctic habitats might crash.
Earth has already warmed by 1-degree since the 1800s. More alarming is how 13 of the 15 hottest recorded years occurred since 2000.
Read on to find out why what happened at the COP-21 matters to you.
Rice will be expensive
A warmer world will make it more difficult to grow crops and livestock, especially in a tropical country like the Philippines. Global temperatures have been relatively stable for the past 10,000 years—until people started burning long-buried fossil fuels like coal and oil to generate power. Heat can slow down photosynthesis, cause plant dehydration and prevent pollination. For every degree that night-time temperatures rise, rice yields can drop by 10 percent. Lower production means we’ll import more food, driving rice prices higher. The International Food Policy Research Institute forecasts a 32 percent to 37 percent jump in rice prices by 2050—so enjoy unli rice while you still can.
Seafood will be scarce
Coral reefs cover just 1 percent of the ocean floor, yet host 25 percent of all known marine life. Since the ocean is a naturally stable ecosystem, corals have adapted to highly specific conditions. Climate change is making the ocean warmer, causing coral bleaching (stressing corals to the point where they expel the symbiotic algae which give them food and color). Ocean acidification in turn makes it difficult for corals to absorb the calcium they need to build their skeletons. With current global warming rates, Earth’s coral reefs might die by 2050. With them go the foundation of the world’s marine fisheries. No reefs mean no coral reef fish—and less seafood for you and me.
There will be less drinking water
Water is the most important resource on Earth. Over 70 percent of the planet is covered in it, yet just 1 potable is potable. One in seven people can’t access safe drinking water. Climate change dramatically affects water distribution, either by showering regions with too much (like Typhoon Ondoy) or too little (like this year’s El Niño, predicted to be worse than the 1998 dry spell). Already Angat Dam in Bulacan, which supplies 98 percent of Metro Manila’s freshwater, is at a critical level. Water imbalances affect agriculture—too little will cause crops to wilt and wither, while too much can flood fields. It takes 5,000 liters of fresh water to produce a kilogram of rice. Due to intensified climate change effects, tomorrow’s water sources shall be rationed. Sound crazy? Think about this—a few generations ago, the idea of selling bottled water was, too!
We will have stronger storms and floods
The Philippines sits along the Pacific typhoon belt, absorbing around 20 storms yearly. Typhoons Ondoy, Sendong, Pepeng and Lando are but harbingers of what’s to come—which might be Monstorms like Yolanda—which took 6,300 lives and wrought $14 billion in damage. Though most typhoons are born in the Pacific Ocean, rising temperatures have heated up the West Philippine Sea enough that it also births storms. About P136.3B or 5 percent of the Philippine budget has already been allotted for climate change adaptation efforts—money better spent building schools and feeding hungry Pinoys. COP-21 might see the possible creation of a Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) to let major carbon emitters like China and America fund climate adaptation efforts for vulnerable nations like ours.
Many plants and animals will die out
One in six species might be pushed to extinction due to climate change, says WWF-UK chief climate change adviser Dr. Stephen Cornelius. To survive warming temperatures, plants and animals will need to be able to “move” from warmer to colder areas at a rate of one kilometer yearly. Those that cannot migrate fast enough—corals, trees, fungi and even many animals—will die. WWF predicts that climate change can spur a mass extinction in the near future. What will be left are adaptable animals like flies, cockroaches, rats and mosquitoes. When plants and animals disappear, the benefits we derive from them will forever vanish.
How can you help?
So what can you do? Talk more about climate change. Share this article. Make #COP-21 trend on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is leading a campaign called Tweet Your Leader to let negotiators know that we want a concrete plan for developed nations to reduce their emissions and help vulnerable countries like the Philippines adapt to stronger climate change effects.
WWF pushes for science-based solutions such as shifting to renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. Halting deforestation will allow natural carbon sinks like trees and topsoil to store greenhouse gases and put the brakes on climate change. Practical climate adaptation strategies must be crafted and implemented to protect the world’s most vulnerable people and places. “We must act collectively and save our one and only home,” notes WWF-Philippines President and CEO Joel Palma. “Plan B will not suffice, simply because we have no Planet B.”
Through decisive action and proper preparation, we might just steer clear of the five scenarios above. COP-21 can be a cop-out—but it can also be the turning point, the moment when world leaders finally address the great challenge of our time.