By Henrylito D. Tacio
When it learned of the findings of United States- based physicist Dr. Josefino Comiso that climate change and the melting of polar ice caps in the Arctic region can lead to the flooding of Manila, the Malacañang branded it as “doomsday scenario.”
During a recent conference held at the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Dr. Comiso said the Philippines is not spared from the destruction that will likely to happen as a result of global warming.
Dr. Comiso, a senior research scientist at the Cryospheric Sciences branch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Goddard Space Flight Center, a space research laboratory in Greenbelt, Maryland, is working on a project to monitor the effects of
global warming in the Philippines.
He said the country’s sea levels could rise to seven meters or 23 feet. He knows what he is talking about. He has a 25-year-long research on climate change, which has taken him to the Arctic and whose paper correctly predicted the decline of polar ice caps.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 2,000 scientists (including Dr. Comiso) which advises the United Nations, said the rising of sea level is one of the most certain outcomes as a result of global warming.
“A continuing rise in average global sea level would inundate parts of many heavily populated river deltas and the cities on them, making them uninhabitable, and would destroy many beaches around the world,” the UN panel said.
With a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, the Philippines is very vulnerable to sea level rise. Since 1965, the government weather bureau reported of “an increasing trend in the sea level rise.”
This has been supported by a study conducted by Greenpeace, an international environment watch group. In a report titled, The Philippines: A Climate Hotspot, it said that all of the country’s 16 regions are vulnerable to the one-meter rise in sea level that is projected to happen in 2300 and onwards.
An increase in sea level, for instance, would accelerate flooding in the northwest delta plain of the Manila Bay, which is experiencing subsidence (or sinking of land) at an alarming rate of three centimeters a year.
A study conducted by the Philippine Country Study to Address Climate Change found that the Manila Bay is already subjected to several hazards, including flooding and storms. “Shoreline changes due to reclamation for housing, ports, coastal roads, buildings and other
urbanized development are high, adding to an increased threat of inundation,” the study said.
Sulu is the province with the highest land area that is highly vulnerable to the sea-level rise. In this southern Philippines province, 90 percent of the land area of Pata municipality, and 34 percent of the land area of Marunggas municipality are vulnerable to the rise, according to the group.
Aside from Sulu, the other provinces vulnerable to sea level rise are Palawan, Zamboanga del Sur, Northern Samar, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Cebu, Davao del Norte, Bohol, Camarines Sur, Quezon, Tawi-Tawi, Masbate, Negros Occidental, Camarines Norte, Capiz, Catanduanes, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, and Maguindanao.
“Not only will great numbers of our people be displaced, entire communities including their source of livelihood, their cultures and traditions will likewise be changed and dislocated forever,” deplored Heherson T. Alvarez, the convening chairman of the Asia-Pacific
Leaders’ Conference on Climate Change held in Manila in 1995.
“The Philippines is extremely vulnerable to the ravages of climate change,” the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said. Dr. Comiso pointed out that slight changes in ocean
temperature will definitely affect the country’s coral reefs.
Increased temperature is one stressor that can cause “the tropical rainforests of the sea” to bleach, which in turn diminish their growth and threaten critical habitat for fish and other marine resources.
“An increase of one to two degrees Centigrade can cause corals to bleach, as they expel the algae that provide them with food and lend them their vibrant colors,” explained Molly O’Meara, a staff researcher at the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. “Sustained
increase of 3-4 degrees Centigrade can cause significant coral death.”
In the Philippines, an estimated 10-15 per cent of the total fisheries come from coral reefs. “Coral reef fish yields range from 20 to 25 metric tons per square kilometer per year for healthy reefs,” says Dr. Angel C. Alcala, former environment secretary.
According to the international marine watchdog group Reef Check, fish species are already starting to disappear from Philippine waters as delicate coral reefs, some of the biggest in the world, are destroyed in the archipelago. In a report last year, the group said coral reefs were already suffering from severe bleaching.
Increasing sea level rise would endanger the drinking water quality and agricultural productivity, weather specialist Rosa Perez said. This is due to possible salt intrusion in coastal soils and fresh water aquifers.
Using simulation in climate change, a PAGASA team has found that the water supply from both Angat Dam in Luzon and Lake Lanao in Mindanao would be at a serious deficit by 2050. Angat Dam supplies most of the water requirements of Metro Manila and irrigates 28,000 hectares of farms. Lake Lanao account for 90 percent of the total hydropower of
Mindanao and serves domestic and irrigation water needs as well.
Climate change also threatens the wildlife species. “If climate zones shift, existing national parks or protected areas would no longer preserve the habitat for plants, fish and wildlife for which they were established,” noted Lulu Bucay in a primer circulated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Few forests, for instance, could keep up with the predicted temperature change causing hard consequences on the species that depend on them.”
As Dr. Comiso puts it, rising temperatures could reach a point where “various living creatures” would start to die in large numbers. “Such temperatures would vary from species to species,” he said. “But the deaths of these creatures would gravely affect the food supply chain.”
Another consequence: spread of diseases. Greenpeace Philippines said climate change could amplify the proliferation and transmission of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever because of changes in water distribution, rising temperature and the increase of
“Global climate change will have diverse, escalating impacts on human health,” said Tony McMichael, a professor at Australia’s National University, who launched an international effort to study global environmental change and health.
Global warming refers to an increase in average global temperatures, which in turn cause climate change. “To completely understand why global warming happens, it is important to know that our atmosphere, which is made up of gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide as well as water vapor, has a profound influence on Earth’s surface temperature,” explains the Worldwatch Institute.
Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat, thus reducing the amount that escapes back to space. “As the atmosphere absorbs heat energy,” Worldwatch notes, “it warms the oceans and the surface of the Earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect. Without this effect, the Earth’s atmosphere would average about 50 degrees Fahrenheit colder, making it impossible to sustain life on Earth. Rising levels of heat absorbing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase global temperatures (called global warming).”
“The consequence of global climate change are so pressing that it doesn’t matter who was responsible for the past; what matters is who is responsible for the future – and that means all of us,” declared actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California. “The rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities. But one responsibility we all have, and that is action… action, action, action!”
“The issue is not stopping global warming – this will almost certainly not be possible within most of our lifetimes,” notes Worldwatch’s Christopher Flavin. “Rather, the challenge is to slow the production of greenhouse gases immediately, so as to avoid the most sudden and catastrophic climate changes. If trends continue unabated, only radical, draconian measures would be sufficient to save the climate later on.” — ***