Hurricane Harvey and Typhoon Hato precipitate escalation in extreme weather, particularly in countries of high global climate risk – including the Philippines.
RECENTLY, I followed the tropical storm Isang pass the Batanes area in the north. After I flew to Guangzhou in China, the low-pressure storm morphed first into a tropical depression southeast to Taiwan soaring into a typhoon in the South China Sea.
On August 23, Typhoon Hato’s eye was directly over Hong Kong. In China, Hato left 26 people dead, and damage amounting to $1.9 billion. Soon thereafter, Tropical Storm Jolina, known as Pakhar in China, formed to the east of Luzon in the Philippines and intensified as a severe tropical storm—and so it goes.
Almost at the same time, Harvey became the first hurricane in the US to make landfall since Wilma in 2005 and the strongest in Texas since Carla in 1961. As the media spotlight moved from the South China Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey unleashed “tornado-like winds,” including isolated tornadoes.
According to current estimates, exposed stock with damage to floods is calculated at $267 billion, which is more costly than Hurricane Katrina and Sandy put together. Indirect losses and total macroeconomic effects are likely to increase these estimates, not to speak of further damage in neighboring Louisiana and inland as long as rainfall-induced flooding will continue.
But what happens in Texas will not remain in Texas.
Washington vs Beijing and Brussels
Despite all the headlines and heartbreaking images, Hato and Harvey are just a glimpse of what we must face in the future. As the challenges of extreme weather are rapidly escalating, efforts to contain global collateral damage are failing.
Risks have escalated dramatically since June 1, when President Trump announced his long-anticipated decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement—an international pact intended to reduce the effects of climate change by maintaining global temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”
In the past decade or two, the growth record of large emerging economies has increased the role of these nations among the world’s largest emitters as well. Since the early 2010s, China has been said to be the “world’s greatest polluter.” That’s true but in aggregate terms.
By default, big nations pollute more than small ones. But on per capita basis, the US and major European economies remain the greatest polluters by far.
According to recent research, China contributes 10 to 12 percent of human influence on climate change. That’s lower than might be expected for the world’s largest aggregate emitter. But climate change is accumulative. As the major advanced economies, including the US and Europe, have been emitting far longer, their net contribution on climate change remains far higher.
While Harvey may complicate Trump’s proposed exit from the Paris climate accord, Beijing and Brussels stand firmly behind efforts to contain collateral climate damage. Nevertheless, medium-term scenarios remain grim.
The threat to the Philippines
According to climate scientists, intensity changes in land-falling typhoons are of great concern to East and Southeast Asian countries. Since the 1980s typhoons that strike East and Southeast Asia have intensified by 12 to 15 percent.
Meanwhile, the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 have doubled, even tripled. In contrast, typhoons that stay over the open ocean have experienced only modest changes. The increased intensity of land-falling typhoons is said to be due to strengthened intensification rates that go hand in hand with locally enhanced ocean surface warming on the rim of East and Southeast Asia.
Thanks to increasing greenhouse gas forcing, the projected ocean surface warming pattern suggests that typhoons striking eastern mainland China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan will only continue to intensify further.
According to Global Climate Risk Index, the 10 countries most affected in the past two decades feature mainly emerging economies in Asia (Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand). The remaining countries in the list are all emerging economies in the Americas. Countries like the Philippines and Pakistan that are recurrently affected by catastrophes rank among the most affected countries both in the long-term index (see Figure).
Only a few years remain to reverse the likely path into existential disasters. Under the Paris Accord, the earliest effective date of the US withdrawal is November 2020—the last month of the Trump presidency.
Dr Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served as research director at the India, China and America Institute (USA) and visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see http://www.differencegroup.net/
THE LONG-TERM CLIMATE RISK INDEX (1996-2015)