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Overlooked key word

/ 07:45 AM August 28, 2012

Survival is the key word within the kilometric title of  Republic Act 10171. It authorizes President Benigno Aquino III to sign a check up to P1 billion annually to ward off weather gone out of whack.

The “People’s Survival Fund law” was sidelined by headlines on Secretary Jesse Robredo’s death. That is understandable. Roberedo towered amid today’s moral pygmies. “Here was a Caesar!” as a Shakeapeare play says. “Whence comes such another?”

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Unprecedented weather changes pose life or death issues. Typhoons or bagyos here are of increasing severity. Many were washed away to sea when typhoon “Sendong” corkscrewed its way into northern Mindanao. A final death count was not possible.

The term bagyo goes back to 1911. A storm dumped what was then a record rainfall of 46 inches within a 24-hour period on Baguio City. In contrast, 10 hours of Sendong’s  torrential rains saw flood waters rise by 11 feet in less than an hour.

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RA 10171’s title is a mouthful:  “An Act Establishing the People’s Survival Fund to provide long-term finance streams to enable the government to effectively address the problem of Climate Change, Amending for the purpose Republic Act. No. 9729 otherwise known as the Climate Change Act of 2009,” and for other purposes.

The new law  is a useful, albeit first response to growing clamor for action. Show urgency in dealing with climate change, the World Bank  urged back in April 27 last year. The WB reiterated an offer of $250 million to help “better handle extreme weather conditions” and develop clean energy sources.

Stronger typhoons, rising sea levels and an increase in global temperature loom ahead,  Andrew Steer, WB  special envoy for climate change warned. “The real challenge of the Philippines, and it’s important that citizens are aware… that over the coming decades, unless the world takes tougher action, certain things will happen that are not good.”

In 2010, the Climate Change Vulnerability Index produced by Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm, identified 16 countries as being at extreme risk. Aside from the Philippines, other countries threatened include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan.

“Climate change affects everyone,” Carola Donner-Reichle of Asian Development Bank cautions. “But it does not affect everyone equally.” “There is a need to mitigate the social and economic impact of climate change, particularly on the poor and most vulnerable.”

But is time less than helpful for the Survival Bill? Look at these new scientific reports. Efforts to stop global temperatures were now”unrealistic, admits Professor and Sir Bob Watson of Britain. He used to chair the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and served as senior adviser to former Vice-President Al Gore.

“I  look back to  summits at Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban and to be quite candid conclude: Any hope of tamping down average temperaturerise to 2 degrees celsius  is out the window.” Will temperature rise as high as 5 degrees? Consequences would be dire. Impact on human health, the availability of food and water, the loss of coastlines becomes progressively worse as the average temperature of the planet rises.

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The 2 C target was agreed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2010. Most countries preferred a lower target of 1.5C. That  proved wishful thinking. A number of analyses have concluded that the 2C target would be missed. The most recent was by the International Energy Agency earlier this year.

“Trees fail to flower,” Aetas huddled at the Bataan mountaintop meeting told Fr. Shay Cullen. “Bees are disappearing. Storms blow away our nipa huts as never before.”

The Aetas echo what scientists elsewhere note. Large numbers of bats, who pollinate plants, are threatened, says the Mamamal Review. At  the Univesrity of Bern experiments of 1,634 plant species show. “Spring flowering and leafing advances 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming,” they report in the journal Nature. Additional water needed by a plant community that sprouts a week earlier is staggering.

Only 4 percent of coral reefs here remain in pristine condition. Other countries with equally threatened reefs are Haiti, Grenada, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji and Indonesia.

“Accelerated” changes include the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Here “expect sea waters to rise by at least 20 centimeters in the next 40 years,” estimates Dr. Wendy Clavano in  Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization.

The severest threat stretches “along the Pacific seaboard from Samar all the way down to eastern Mindanao.” Include the Zamboangas and the island provinces of Romblon and Marinduque in the Sibuyan, says Clavano, a PhD holder from Cornell University.

Create a “vulnerability index.” This could undergird mitigation programs for what initial data pinpoint as high-risk areas. That sweeps in Lingayen Gulf (La Union and Pangasinan), Lamon Bay (Quezon and Camarines Norte), Camotes Sea (western Leyte, northern Bohol and northeastern Cebu).

Add to that list the Guimaras Strait (along northwestern Negros Occidental and Guimaras), central Sulu Sea (Cuyo Archipelago), Iligan Bay (in particular Misamis Occidental), Zamboanga del Norte and Bislig Bay (Surigao del Sur).

Any tool to help sharpen awareness would be welcome. For now, most local officials assume tomorrow will be another today. We overlook  “key words” like survival at our peril, the late Jesse Robredo would have told us.

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TAGS: Climate Change, People’s Survival Fund
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