ON FEBRUARY 28, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report, highlighting the impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability aspects of the climate crisis.

This comes a few months after the conclusion of the most recent climate negotiations last year, where world leaders made new commitments to fight a threat even greater than the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these pledges are considered not enough to limit global warming to a level that would not minimize harm done to our world.

What does this report mean for the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable nations to the climate crisis?

Key takeaways

Nearly half of all people in the world are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, which include women, the youth, indigenous peoples, and the urban poor. They have experienced the worst of extreme events, like super-typhoons and prolonged droughts, and slow onset events like sea level rise and more acidic oceans; this is a reality captured well within Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si'.

The IPCC reports that the risks to natural and human systems in the short-term would depend more on their vulnerability and exposure than changes in the intensity or frequency ofclimate-related hazards. What this means is that interventions from our governments, businesses, and other stakeholders are needed to better protect the marginalized sectors and help them prepare for potential disasters.

That said, many of these risks, from extreme rainfall to loss of biodiversity, cannot be avoided in the next few years due to the excess pollution already in our environment, which could lead to significant losses and damages for our environment, economy, and society.

It is clear that higher levels of warming would lead to higher costs in terms of lives and property. For instance, damages from extreme flooding at a warming of 3°C could be nearly four times as much as the costs at 1.5°C, the ideal target under the Paris climate agreement. Remember that current global warming, along with all the disasters we have experienced so far such as Yolanda and Ulysses, is at 1°C of heating.

In Asian nations such as the Philippines, expected impacts include higher damages on existing infrastructures, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, more severe coral bleaching, decline in coastal fisheries, and heightened risks to food and water security. As these impacts could also affect one another, we are looking at compounding risks that affect numerous sectors and, ultimately, our pursuit of sustainable development.

What is more worrisome is that many natural systems are closer to their limits of their capacity to naturally adapt, including some warm water coral reefs, coastal wetlands, and rainforests. At higher levels of warming in the next few decades, measures involving ecosystems-based adaptation, sustainable farming, and water management would lose their effectiveness; this could only lead to more losses and damages for millions of Filipinos.

Adapt to another new normal

The Philippines has anchored its climate action strategy on adaptation. It contributes less than one percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, while being one of the nations at highest risk to this crisis. Given these new findings, sectoral leaders, especially those in the government, must prioritize the climate crisis in their decision-making and work to reduce our vulnerability to its many manifestations.

In terms of food security, leaders must provide funding, resources, and support to our agricultural workers in implementing solutions such as natural crop varieties resistant to extreme temperatures and diversifying planting strategies. While irrigation is needed to lower risks from drought risk and climate impacts, it needs appropriate management to prevent potential adverse outcomes, such as groundwater depletion and soil salinization.

This is an example of how our leaders need to avoid implementing false solutions, in this case known as maladaptation. No matter how beneficial any proposed solution is, a lack of proper implementation and accounting for the needs and well-being of all stakeholders involved, especially the most vulnerable sectors, only leads to even more loss, damage, and injustice.

In relation, our country needs now more than ever to strictly enforce its existing climate and environmental laws. Our forests, mangroves, coral reefs, and other ecosystems must be subjected to protection, conservation, and restoration measures. Many of these areas can also play an important role in approaches related to ecosystems-based adaptation in terms of reducing vulnerabilities to extreme weather events, providing sustainable livelihoods to nearby communities, and other benefits.

It should be emphasized that adaptation practices alone cannot prevent all losses and damages brought by the climate crisis. As important as they are to ensuring the survival of millions of Filipinos, policymakers must not forget to address this problem's ultimate source: excessive pollution from fossil fuels such as coal and corporations funding and prolonging their operations.

Effectively implementing adaptation measures requires political will across all levels of governance, with clear institutional frameworks, mandates, and mechanisms. It also requires sufficient knowledge on climate risks, impacts, and their consequences, as well as more mobilization of financial resources that can be readily accessed by sectors who need them the most. More importantly, decision-making processes must be inclusive, prioritizing justice and equity to ensure that no one is left behind or placed in danger.

We have spent centuries pursuing development in such a manner that we have made our environment adapt to us. The climate crisis has shown us that some natural laws should never be broken. We must adapt to survive the gravest threat of our lifetime.

Contrary to the belief of many Filipinos, achieving development is impossible without protecting our planet and our peoples. And per the latest IPCC report, with any more global warming, our chances to achieve climate-resilient, inclusive, and sustainable development are running out.

Have we learned our lesson yet?

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John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si' Philippines, and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He is one of the reviewers of the IPCC Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report.