Thursday, December 14, 2006

Climate change, the bigger enemy

While the Philippines was reeling from its yearly dose of typhoons, the worst of which struck recently, something related was happening elsewhere. The Twelfth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol was taking place at the UN office in Nairobi, Kenya from Nov. 6 to 17.

Kenya’s vice president Moody Awori told the delegates: “We are gathered this morning on behalf of humankind because we acknowledge that climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats humanity will ever face.”

On a local scale for us, first, it was typhoon Milenyo, then came Reming, then Seniang—all within a span of a month or two, and the last two typhoons within a week of each other. It was as if these superhowlers were trying to be in synch with the political storm that has been buffeting this be-stormed and benighted country these past months.

After the skies had cleared and the body count had begun there was the usual blame-throwing. To Phivolcs: Were the warnings loud enough and the mudslide-prone areas warned? To the local governments: Were the warnings relayed to communities concerned? To the residents: Why didn’t you heed the warnings? To despoilers and destroyers of forest covers: You must pay for the destruction you have wrought. And so forth and so on.

In the din of cries of grief and despair, amid the cacophony of fault-finding and blame-throwing and in the happy hum of the steady stream of aid that was pouring in, there was a little voice, inaudible almost, that rose. I don’t remember now who said it but I certainly heard it. The bigger enemy, someone said (I think it was a scientist who said it) is climate change. And it is bigger than the short-term solutions being presented on the ground.

Like, yes, we have natural weather occurrences that shouldn’t have resulted in such huge disasters if only… But these occurrences and their consequences are just raindrops when compared with the bigger global enemy that is climate change. Bigger in the sense that it affects the whole planet Earth and all its inhabitants—young and old, rich and very rich, poor and very poor, powerful and powerless…

It is bigger than politics and national boundaries, bigger than ideological, religious and ethnic strife, though, I might say, that all these human concerns also have something to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the meteorological problems of this planet. For the deadly wastes we send up to the atmosphere come down in a deadly way upon or heads and homes, on towns and cities, on hills and valleys. And it is mostly the poorest that are worst hit.

Father Sean McDonagh, author of many books on the environment and former resident of the Philippines, has come up with another book, his nth, “Climate Change: The Challenge to Us All.” Two years ago he wrote “The Death of Life: The Horror of Extinction”.

I have yet to get a copy of McDonagh’s recent opus but I learned that it got good reviews. I also received a copy of his essay “Climate Change: The Urgent Challenge to All”. I think “urgent” is the key word here.

Climate change has been in the international agenda since Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, McDonagh reminds. What has happened since then? Politicians have merely been paying lip service and have not confronted the problem because their advisers have thought the it would take probably 100 years before the effects of climate change would be felt, that these wouldn’t happened during their watch.

Well, many politicians and world leaders who were alive in 1992 are still around and they are seeing for themselves the drastic changes in the past few years.
In 2004, Sir David King, the chief scentific adviser to the British government said that “the problems arising from global warming are the biggest challenges facing governments.” McDonagh says scientists and scientific bodies around the word have since issued dire warnings about the effects of climate change on weather patterns, ocean habitats and flooding, biodiversity and access to potable water. Speaking of water, Metro Manila has been experiencing what waterless means, with a weather official hoping Seniang would blow into Central Luzon so the waters of Angat would be replenished.

It’s like choosing between a rock and a hard place, between death by drowning or death by thirst.

McDonagh says that Sir Nicholas Stern’s review of the “Economics of Climate Change” (published in Oct. 2006) constitutes the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in terms of making a cast iron case for aggressively addressing global warming. With a combination of political leadership, the proper mix of carrot and stick in carbon tax to reflect the true cost of energy and support for new technologies, we could avoided the worst in climate change, he says.

A low carbon economy, McDonagh suggests, will offer new possibilities for business that could run to billions of dollars per year. It can no longer be “business as usual” while we are experiencing drastic extreme weather conditions, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and massive extinction of the species.

While the Bush administration has not signed the Kyoto protocol, a number of US states and cities are willing to sign a Kyoto-like protocol beyond 2012, and everyone wishes growing economies like China, India and Brazil would also sign up to limiting greenhouse gas emissions after 2012.

Climate change is not just a scientific and economic issue. It is a moral one.