Climate change has been a constant reality for many Filipinos, with impacts ranging from extreme weather events to periodic droughts and food scarcity. The most affected populations are coastal residents and rural communities that lack proper disaster preparedness.

Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan. Credit: The Guardian

According to the Center for Global Development, the Philippines is the world’s fourth most vulnerable country to the direct impacts of extreme weather events. Averaging 20 tropical cyclones a year, it may be the world’s most storm-exposed nation. Last November, Supertyphoon Haiyan, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded, claimed more than 10,000 lives, affected over 9 million people, and left over 600,000 Filipinos homeless. With both the oceans and the atmosphere warming, there is broad scientific consensus that typhoons are now increasing in strength.

Like most developing countries, the Philippines plays a minor role in global carbon emissions yet suffers an inordinately higher cost. With over a third of its population living in poverty, the country emits just 0.9 metric tons of carbon per capita, compared to the United States’ 17.6 metric tons. “We lose 5% of our economy every year to storms,” observes Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano. The reconstruction costs of Haiyan alone are estimated at $5.8 billion.

As the Philippines embarks on a long road to recovery, sustainability is key for post-Haiyan rebuilding. “We must build back better and more resilient communities,” says Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Philippines’ Senate Committee on Climate Change, who was named a Regional Champion by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “We must prevent disasters and be prepared for the next natural hazards. This disaster also tells us about the urgent need to save and care for our environment.”

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Climate Change, emissions reductions, energy, low-carbon, philippines, renewable energy, sustainable development, Typhoon Haiyan

Heavy rains over the past two weeks have caused severe flooding and landslides in the Philippines, killing at least 540 people. Flooding in India caused a reported 250 deaths and displaced millions. In 2008, Hurricane Nargis killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Climate change has quadrupled the number of natural disasters over the past 20 years. As global greenhouse gas emissions increase (click here to read “Climate Change Accelerates,”) the frequency and severity of natural disasters, including hurricanes, cyclones, severe storms, floods, landslides and avalanches, are also increasing (click here to read “Weather-related Disasters Dominate.”)

Climate change will worsen the intensity and effects of natural disasters

Climate change will worsen the intensity and effects of natural disasters

Natural disasters not only affect the physical environment, but also social, political, economic and even security aspects (click here to read “The Security Dimensions of Climate Change.”) Socio-economic factors may exacerbate destruction from natural disasters. Deforestation, for example, may worsen and even promote the occurrence of landslides, flooding and erosion. Overall, it has become clear that less developed, highly populated countries are more prone to risks of natural disasters. Poor people have fewer resources to cope with natural disasters and are therefore the worst affected. It is also a fact that women are disproportionately affected by natural disasters due to a lack of social and economic rights (click here to read “Women and Climate Change.”)

Wednesday is the United Nations’ International Day for Disaster Reduction, to promote awareness and advocate disaster prevention. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are crucial in reducing the frequency of natural disasters and improving human and environmental resilience to its effects. Climate change is not only a future reality, its consequences – the Earth has already warmed by 0.7 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution – can be felt today, and ever more quickly than previously projected. Countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives are campaigning for their “right to survive” and Inuit communities in the Arctic are already being displaced. As Copenhagen nears, natural disasters demonstrate in a dramatic way why it is so important to “seal the deal.”

Click here to purchase the articles highlighted above, including the 2009 edition of Vital Signs, and 2009 State of the World.

bangladesh, hurricane nargis, India, natural disasters, philippines