Climate change creating 'new poor' in PH

MANILA, Philippines – We can no longer ignore impacts of climate change on the country's poorest people.

The most recent United Nations report on climate change released on Monday, March 30, concluded that the warming of the planet will hit the poor the hardest, particularly those who depend on agriculture and fisheries for income and subsistence.

"Climate change will create new poor between now and 2100, in low-, medium-, and high-income countries and jeopardize sustainable development,"  reads the report, the second report released by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this year. (READ: Climate change boosts conflict risk, flood, hunger: UN)

It singles out rural regions in Southeast Asia as facing "very significant" impacts to economies and livelihoods. 

The poor will be hit in two major ways: rice and corn farmers will experience significant decreases in crop yields while the same reduced crop yields, together with growing population, will drive up food prices, making food less affordable for those in poverty. (READ: How climate change threatens our food security)

Global warming's toll on the world's aquatic resources are also harming fishermen everywhere. The change in ocean temperature and ocean acidification will only exacerbate massive coral bleaching leading to reduced catch of marine resources. 

These effects are already being observed, but have been confirmed by the IPCC report, which was produced by more than 700 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries. (INFOGRAPHIC: What UN reports say about climate change)

But the panel admits in the report that it underestimated the speed with which these effects would be felt. Previous reports stated that the world will be safe from most of climate change's debilitating impacts if it is able to keep the planet's warming to 2°C.  

As of 2013, Earth was 0.85°C warmer than temperatures before the Industrial Revolution, the time scientists agree humans started generating large amounts of carbon emissions.

But the IPCC reported that devastating impacts on agriculture and food security will already be felt if the Earth warms up by 2°C

Food security threatened

For major crops like rice, maize (corn) and wheat in tropical regions, climate change "is projected to negatively impact production for local temperature increases of 2°C or more."

If carbon emissions are not significantly reduced, the world can see a 25% to 50% reduction in these crops from years 2030 to 2049.

"In the Philippines, there will be a 10 to 15% drop in agricultural production for every 1°C of warming," said Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) national coordinator Gerry Arances, citing a report by the International Rice Research Insitute (IRRI) and state weather bureau PAGASA.

Climate change threatens agriculture in many ways. Many crops are sensitive to changes in temperature and cannot survive in severe heat or cold. Climate change can cause extreme fluctuations in temperature, affecting the crop yield. The droughts and heat waves also linked to the phenomenon can dry up water resources necessary for keeping crops alive and healthy.

Conversely, the intense rainfall, aggravated flooding and storms can also damage crops and destroy farmers' homes and equipment, further endangering the already vulnerable sector. 

This will only give rise to a new demographic of poor Filipinos. 

"Those who are right now still able to keep above the poverty line by subsisting on their crops will be driven below the poverty level," said Arances.

Climate change traps them from another direction. As it compromises farmers' ability to harvest crops, it also makes food less affordable for them.

"All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability," said the IPCC report with "high confidence."

Increasing food demand brought about by increasing global population (expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050) will only threaten food security further – and jack up prices higher. 

"Risks to food security are generally greater in low-latitude areas," including tropical Philippines, reads the report. 

These threats from global warming will only make the government's goal to achieve rice self-sufficiency harder, said Arances. 

With rising rice prices and reports of rice smuggling, the present and future of Filipino farmers look particularly dire.

Even the urban poor are affected. Not having access to grown crops puts them at the mercy of food prices which can rise in times of shortage – a phenomenon made more frequent with climate change in the picture.

This triggers "new poverty traps" and makes urban areas "emerging hotspots of hunger," says the report.

Social justice and climate change

Marine ecosystems will also fall victim to climate change.

The IPCC report foresees that by years 2051 to 2060, the maximum catch potential of Philippine seas will decrease by as much as 50% compared to catch potential in 2001 to 2010. 

A World Bank study corroborates this, saying that by 2050, fish catch in Southeast Asia will have dropped by 50%. The study jumps off from the observation that at least 30% of seas in the region experiences acidification or a change in pH levels that could kill some species of marine life and lead to coral bleaching – when corals turn white and lose their ability to create habitats for fish. 

Ocean acidification particularly threatens some species of mollusks, echinoderms, and reef-building corals.

Stressors like over-fishing and the use of illegal fishing methods only compound the problem.

The just-released IPCC report emphasizes how climate change is very much a social justice issue. While people from all levels of the economic ladder are affected by extreme weather events linked to climate change, the poor definitely bear the brunt and stand to face the deadliest of consequences. 

The poor are less equipped to adapt their way of life and livelihood to climate change and are less able to bounce back after the phenomenon's effects hit them.

The panel recommends building resilience among the poor as one way to help them adapt to climate change. 

It suggested insurance schemes, social protection programs and disaster risk reduction as ways to enhance long-term resilience among the marginalized. But for this to happen, governments have to be willing to spend more on climate change adaptation.

"Global adaptation cost estimates are substantially greater than current adaptation funding and investment…suggesting a funding gap and a growing adaptation deficit."

US$100 billion, the target Green Climate Fund to be given to developing nations, may not be enough to protect the poor from the worst of global warming.

Climate justice advocates like Arances cite the new report as a compelling reason for developed countries to help poorer nations become more resilient in the face of climate change. 

"Developed nations caused climate change through their large carbon emissions. It's their obligation to help developing countries who are bearing the brunt of climate change."

Transfer of technology to help farmers predict weather, sharing of new techniques to protect crops and funding for government programs are ways richer countries can help. – 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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