The message embodied in the landmark report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is stark: Climate change will increase the risk of conflict, hunger, floods and mass migration in this century.
In the 32-volume, 2,610-page document, the panel warned that the world is already feeling the harsh effects of global warming and unless decisive steps are taken now, they could get out of control.
“Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts,” a summary of the report noted.
The IPCC presents a grim scenario. Erratic rainfall patterns will raise the risk of flooding, especially in Europe and Asia. Severe droughts will worsen the water crisis and drastically reduce farm outputs at a time when high population growth puts pressure on food production.
As the oceans heat up, marine ecosystems could reach a “tipping point” that puts them beyond saving. A thawing Arctic could raise sea levels by as much as 32 inches by 2100, submerging much of the world’s coastal communities.
Part of that scenario may be playing out now. Drought has parched parts of Australia, wildfires have scorched the forests of the United States, and the strongest typhoon on record cut a swathe of death and destruction across central Philippines last year. Climate change was An aggravating factor in every one of these events.
What is more alarming is that scientists agree that there will be more similar catastrophes in the near future.
“We’re now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said Chris Field, the overall lead author of the report. “We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential.”
So why is there no rush to push the panic button? For an answer, we need to go back to 2007, when the IPCC presented an earlier report on global warming. A lot of countries, the Philippines included, eagerly jumped on the bandwagon to set drastic limits to carbon emissions. Eloquent speeches were made about working together to defeat the menace of pollution.
Discussions on a global strategy to reduce greenhouse gases began with brimming enthusiasm, only to peter out as participating nations wrangled over commitments and responsibilities. China, for instance, wanted wealthier countries like the United States to pay a bigger bill for cleaning up the environment. The US called for a more equitable distribution. (It is worth noting that China and the US are world’s two biggest polluters.)
We cannot afford any dithering this time, when so much is at stake and the clock is ticking down.
The IPCC says there are cheap and doable ways of adapting to climate change. One measure is to prevent people from living in places that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, a policy that the Philippine government is already trying to enforce in the aftermath of Yolanda. Another is reducing water wastage.
The words of US Secretary of State John Kerry have a ring of urgency to them. “There are those who say we can’t afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic,” he said.
It is both a call to action and a challenge that would be fatal to ignore.
We Filipinos must answer that call for our own sake. More Yolandas will come for sure. But climate change factors can make the next more destructive than the one we had in November. Doing our bit to adapt to climate change will make each one of us less vulnerable.