As the United Nations General Assembly opened last week, world leaders — including President Duterte — pointed to the ever-increasing risks brought on by the climate change crisis, even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
Their collective concern foreshadows the agenda of COP26, the UN Climate Conference that opens in end-October in Glasgow, Scotland. The Philippines has submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution, committing to a target to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2030. President Duterte also declared a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants and a directive to explore anew the nuclear energy option.
But the biggest moves would have to come from the countries that contribute most to global warming on account of their massive greenhouse gas emissions, namely: China, the United States, India and Russia. As monitored by the UN, global temperature is already 1.2 degrees of warming. Under current emissions commitments from countries, a 16 percent increase in emissions in 2030 compared to 2010 levels is likely.
Left unchecked, this means that the earth could warm to 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels, a “catastrophe” that should be avoided at all costs, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Over the past two years of the coronavirus outbreak, climate change has fueled natural calamities: wildfires, drought, hurricanes and floods in the US; deadly floods in China and Germany; and wildfires, too, in southern Europe. In Asia-Pacific, continuing efforts to contain COVID-19 competed with “multiple biological and natural disasters, such as cyclones, landslides, heatwaves and volcanic eruptions.” Last year, the Philippines experienced a series of year-ending typhoons and sporadic eruptions of Taal Volcano that displaced thousands.
While the global spotlight has always been beamed on climate change mitigation, it is equally important to focus attention on adaptation measures that need to be undertaken by countries and communities. Strong mitigation efforts need to be complemented by effective adaptation programs to minimize negative impacts.
Mangroves and coastal areas need to be continually developed to fortify natural barriers to massive floods in low-lying communities and reduce their vulnerability. Reforestation and tree planting provide vital safety nets. Government must not allow indiscriminate land conversion that depletes forest cover and increases vulnerability to floods and soil erosion.
Early on, children and youth must be taught and trained on their responsibility to sustain the environment and create eco-friendly communities. Last year, the Department of Education announced that the basic education curriculum would be modified to increase climate literacy.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) points out that environmental education needs to be refocused toward competency, action skills and problem solving that would bring about achievable behavioral changes. “Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth” and “switch off the lights when you leave a room” could definitely achieve more than mere admonitions to “save water” or “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Just like learning to drive a car or playing a musical instrument, learning pro-environmental behavior takes practice, too. Fostering behavior that sustains the environment begins in our homes and communities.