Getting dramatic over climate change

published 23 Nov 2009, Manila Standard Today

Students in colorful native costumes crowded Heroes Hall in Malacañang on Friday morning. There were dancers, singers, musicians who played tunes by blowing on used soft-drink bottles filled with varying amounts of water. A mural by an Isabela-based artist was unveiled. A woman from Palau rendered a native chant.

The event was not, per se, a cultural exhibition. During the multi-media summit on climate change, art was not an end in itself but a tool. For the rest of Climate Change Consciousness Week – November 19 to 25, according to Presidential Proclamation 1667 – a host of similar activities will supplement forums and discussions on the issue. The visual and performing arts are a force in fostering awareness, and beyond that social transformation and committed action. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts tries to popularize among citizens a concept that's highly technical – and downright scary.

Menacing prospects

There is a tipping point of irreversible climate change, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change quotes scientists as saying. That will be the day when the level of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere would be 450 parts per million, roughly by the year 2050. When this point is reached, a two-degree centigrade increase in global temperature will occur. Sea levels will rise by six to seven meters. Here in the Philippines, such an increase in sea levels will reduce the land areas of Mactan and Guimaras. Vast areas of Malabon, Navotas and Manila (including the newsroom at the Port Area where I write this column now), will be permanently under water.

Today the greenhouse level stands at 372 parts per million. Yet, even before the tipping point is reached, “creeping” climate change is already upon us. The 20 or so typhoons that visit us every year are getting stronger and more frequent, says Secretary Heherson Alvarez, the presidential adviser on climate change. Typhoons only used to average 120-140 kilometer per hour; now they are in the vicinity of 180-200 kph. There are unprecedented floods and landslides, as we so painfully know.

There are two approaches to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation refers to acts and omissions that keep us from releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. Thus we push back the tipping point. On the other hand, adaptation refers to dealing with the effects of climate change – the disasters that we are seeing now – because, precisely, climate change is not just a looming prospect. It's already here.

Copenhagen and the Philippine position

Next month, world leaders will be gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark to negotiate a treaty to succeed the Kyoto protocol that sought to get countries of the world to cut emission targets, depending on their level of industrialization. Kyoto is expiring in 2012 and is largely viewed as inadequate, especially since the United States of America, the world's biggest economy and the second-largest carbon emitter (next to China) never ratified it.

President Barack Obama has indicated his country would walk the talk this time around. But will US senators, who ultimately have to pass legislation, back him up? Americans may not be too keen on cutting their emissions if it would crimp industrial output – especially in a recession. The Chinese, on the other hand, insist that America has had a big head start in getting rich by dumping carbon into the air. Why should China set its limits when its economy caught up only recently? Indeed it's going to be a political issue, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says. Let's just hope that for this one, concerns of the human race would be more important than each nation's output issues. Countries that stand to lose the most need all the help they can get from the real culprits.

This is the Philippines' clout and personality in the talks, never mind that we are a low-carbon emitter. The 1995 Manila Declaration,which brought together 38 countries most at risk from climate change, affirmed the extreme vulnerability of archipelagic and island-nations. (The woman who chanted was the Hon. Faustina Rehuher Marugg, minister of community and cultural affairs of Palau, a country which may just share the Philippines' fate in the long run.)

So in the Copenhagen talks, the Philippines, along with other vulnerable nations, will press for deep and early emission cuts by industrialized nations. Specifically, our team will press for cuts of at least 30 percent between 2013 and 2017, at least 50 percent between 2018 and 2020, and at least 95 percent by 2050, all from 1990 levels.

Then again, these are just demands, and like other multi-lateral talks, there will be plenty of haggling and power play. We hope the delegates do not get stalled by their national interests and forget that each day wasted on disagreement brings all of mankind a little closer to tipping point.

An administrative challenge

Alvarez says that if there was something the country realized from the disasters we've seen in recent years, it is that we sorely lack a national climate change action plan. These are extraordinary times and we should be on war footing against climate change, he says. All sectors must be mobilized.

Aside from his advisory office, Alvarez also oversees the reorganized Presidential Task Force on Climate Change,which the President chairs. These agencies will eventually be absorbed by the Climate Change Commission, created by Republic Act 9729, signed by the President just last October. He hopes that the commission will be able to craft a national blueprint for this extraordinary war.

Then again, some sectors say that there are already too many commissions under the Office of the President and that a department-level body is needed to ensure that any initiatives are sustained regardless of political developments. Alvarez agrees, and believes these gaps in the law will be addressed soon enough. For now the main challenge is to get the emerging agencies going, especially in the adaptations aspect, seeing how destructive recent disasters have been.

But is it possible to sustain the momentum, especially since the elections – and the circus that goes with it -- are just around the corner? The key here is to make commitment to the mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change an election issue. Since the would-be commission would be under the Office of the President, the next chief executive should be committed to the cause, lest it get taken over by the other equally pressing concerns of the presidency.

Will Alvarez himself seek an elective post next year? “Well, my party (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) is nominating me,” he says, “but I would rather stay here and focus on these emerging agencies.” He adds that while the country's position on mitigation is already pretty much settled, much work remains to be done on the adaptation front. These agencies need to be less reactive; they must be able to acquire the technological sophistication in order to anticipate what kind of disasters are likely to occur where, thus minimizing the damage to lives and property.

Then again, this is just another summit where well-crafted pledges and dramatic declarations are made. The celebration of climate change consciousness week and the passage of the law are crucial first steps that need to be followed through at every level to make them work. Climate change is not something you talk about and then forget. The threat won't go away – unless the whole world acts, and drastically.

And no, that's not being theatrical.


Readers' reactions:

Hello Adelle,

In just a few days from now, on December 7, 2009, the UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Copenhagen for government leaders to initiate programs that would forestall catastrophic disasters caused by unpredictable shifting of weather patterns.

The conferees are expected to discuss the recent severe floodings and landslides in the Philippines; the similar calamities in Bangladesh, Vietnam and even South America; the accelerating loss of ice sheets in Greenland and Antartica; the melting of glaciers and the reduced water supply during the dry months around the world.

All these environmental calamities are causing tremendous impact on our global health and safety, our food production, our security, not to mention the widespread of pests and diseases among our people.

Euro RSCG Worldwide, our mother communications agency, has partnered with Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Foundation to campaign for climate justice. Our global CEO,
David Jones, has initiated the “Tck Tck Tck Time for Climate Justice” campaign, the biggest advocacy geared towards seeking a solution for climate change.

Euro RSCG employees, sister companies and clients are doing their part and are joining the biggest human clock that’s ticking down towards the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on December 7. We would like to invite you, your family and your friends to join us in the campaign to save Planet Earth.

The clock is ticking. It’s about time we fought for the world. Please request your family, friends, and everyone in your network to upload their tck, and support the fight for climate justice. Let our voice be heard. Let us follow through with the decisions to be made this December in Copenhagen.

For now, I’d simply ask you to log on to and join the world in waiting for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Upload your 1 second tck video and be part of the world wide supporters of Climate Justice. You may also visit The Global Alliance for Climate Justice on Facebook.

Sincerely yours,

Charlie A. Agatep
President & CEO Agatep Associates
Group Chairman Euro RSCG Manila

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Good Morning Adelle,

I hope the Copenhagen leaders did not forget the effects of beef production and animal worship India has 1/3 of the global population of cattle.

Be Blessed!