Al Gore was scheduled to speak in Manila this week, but most local media were caught unawares when the environmental activist and former US vice president turned up in Tacloban, Leyte, last Saturday. The visit swung the spotlight back to a province that b
As the planet continues to warm, its rising oceans are projected not only to inundate vast tracts of coastline and low-lying communities but also to churn up storms of greater ferocity that will displace millions of people.
Filipinos are in the front line of this perfect storm of rising tides and bigger typhoons. “The ocean waters around the Philippines are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” said Gore.
That is not an unsupported assertion. Just last October, Science Daily reported that, “According to data by the World Meteorological Organisation, the water levels around the Philippines are rising at a rate almost three times the global average due partly to the influence of the trade winds pushing ocean currents.”
A 2007 study by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a rise in sea levels of 18 to 58 centimetres by the end of the century, making the Philippines the fourth most vulnerable nation in the world, with 16 of its regions immediately at risk of being submerged. Meanwhile a study by US-based research group Climate Central warns that the continued rise in the world’s temperatures would see New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Miami and other major coastal cities inundated, along with countless smaller communities all over China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and other places in Asia, which is “home to 75 per cent of the populations that today reside in zones that would no longer be classified as land in a climate-altered future”.
About 20 million of those people are in the Philippines, in megacities like Manila, a flood-prone area even in historic times, and Davao, which may see much of its city centre disappear beneath tides once Davao Gulf rises. Other parts of Mindanao in imminent danger include the islands of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, the coastal areas of Zamboanga and Maguindanao. The region is already in the grip of an unprecedented El Nino, another by-product of climate change, which is said to be the strongest in 50 years.
In Manila, Gore spoke out against the building of more coal plants, the industrial technology that belches greenhouse gases and contributes the most to global warming. Too bad he didn’t get to meet with President Benigno Aquino and remind the Philippine leader of his lament at the Paris climate talks that, “Countries like the Philippines bear a disproportionate amount of the burden when it comes to climate change”, before vowing that his government “continues to pursue vital reforms to address climate change” and “to make interventions that mitigate the impacts of climate change”.
That was last December. Barely a month later, in early January, Aquino was in Davao to open a new coal-powered plant, among the 21 similar projects green-lighted by his administration.
Hailed in Paris as a hero of the battle against climate change, Aquino proved to be a paper tiger in the fight as soon as he returned home.
With presidential elections due in less than two months’ time, the Philippine people can now take that fight into their own hands. The electorate should demand that the five contenders offer up concrete, feasible policies on how they will save the country from a looming climate apocalypse.