PH leads call for more ambitious climate change goal

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and 19 other countries highly vulnerable to global warming want the world to gun for a more ambitious climate change target, saying the present one still poses grave threats to human rights.

Currently, the world is struggling to keep the globe's temperature from rising by more than 2°C.

But the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 20 mostly tropical countries, say the goal should be to keep temperature rise at 1.5°C, a more challenging goal.

The Philippines, the country that chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), has sent the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) a letter calling for the change in target.

Sent last April 30, the letter came with 3 independent reports on the difference spelled by a 1.5°C target to a 2°C target in terms of global warming's effect on human rights. 

"In order to compensate for the inadequacy of the current long-term goal of 2°C, the Conference of Parties would be well advised to strengthen that goal by the maximum feasible amount. On current scientific understanding this means adopting a 1.5°C (or below) goal," wrote Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering.

Inadequate target

Representing the rest of CVF, Sering argued that devastating impacts of climate change are already felt today when the globe has warmed by just 0.85°C above pre-industrial levels. What more if it warms by 2°C?

Studies show that in such a world, "even high degrees of adaptation would fail to reduce risk to low levels," added Sering. (READ: Climate change boosts conflict risk, flood, hunger: UN)

Climate change is already being felt by many tropical, developing countries – many of which are members of the CVF.

The Philippines, for instance, was hit in 2013 by what many regard as the strongest storm to make landfall in history. 

Pacific island countries are also deemed the most in danger of sea level rise and increasingly stronger typhoons that form in the Pacific Ocean.

To give other countries the chance to respond to the CVF's call for the more challenging target, Sering requested the UNFCCC to organize a special session before countries gather at the much-awaited Paris climate conference in December. 

In the Paris summit, countries are expected to forge a historic climate deal outlining the global plan to keep global warming at a manageable level.

Thirsty world

The reports presented by the CVF show that changing the climate target to 1.5°C from 2°C makes a huge difference on how much climate change will endanger human rights. 

One report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described possible effects on basic rights like right to life, adequate food, health, water and sanitation, housing, and the rights of vulnerable sectors like women and children.

One right that will certainly be compromised by a world which has warmed by 2°C is the right to water and sanitation, according to the report. 

Quoting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it said such a temperature increase would lead to a "very high risk" of reduced access to water for rural and urban poor communities from the year 2080 to 2100.

There will also be severe reduction in water resources for 14% of the global population. 

Livelihood, especially of the poor, will suffer greatly from a 2°C warming. The report says there is a high risk of deteriorating livelihoods in drylands because such warming may drive crop and livestock production to tipping points. This would adversely affect small-scale farmers and herders. 

A 2°C scenario would, in general, "slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security, and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger," concluded the report.

Labor, displacement

Another report by the Ruby Coast Research Centre focused on the difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C scenario in terms of labor productivity and the world economy.

It posits that a hotter world would mean less productive laborers – whether it be farmers, construction workers or corporate employees. Less productive workers would lead to lower economic output, eventually affecting the Gross Domestic Product of countries. 

The report found that such impacts would be most strongly felt in tropical countries where, already, the temperature is "high enough to substantially limit outdoor and indoor work during hot periods."

The study was only able to compare 1.3°C and 2.2°C, following data available from reports by the IPCC.

In the year 2055, when global temperature has risen by 1.3°C, workers in tropical countries who do light labor (service jobs) lose 0.96% of their work hours. When the temperature rises by 2°C in 2085, this figure will double to 2.04%. 

For those who do moderate work (industry jobs), the hours lost goes from 2.74% to 5.18% and in heavy work (agricultural workers), from 4.89% to 8.55% – both of which also show a doubling of lost work hours. 

It's possible that, in the coming years and in certain parts of the world, it will be impossible for workers to finish their work hours without air-conditioning systems. 

The study found that in the Philippines for instance, those who do heavy work in shade but without cooling systems in a 1.3°C scenario will lose 6.36% of their usual working hours. But in a 2.2°C scenario, this grows to almost double or 11.30%.

The report concluded that the difference in labor productivity between a 1.5°C and 2°C scenario would roughly amount to $2.4 trillion in economic losses. 

That's enough to pay the daily salary of 222 billion Metro Manila minimum wage earners.

The last report by the Nansen Initiative emphasized how any increase in temperature would mean more people forced to leave their homes.

More warming "will increase the frequency and intensity of disasters and raise sea levels, putting coastal cities and urban housing at risk, and leading to more displacement with devastating consequences for communities," said Walter Kaelin, envoy of the chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative.

Such findings, he said, would have to be considered when assessing the current 2°C goal. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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