At the 26th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), ongoing until Nov. 12, 2021 in Glasgow, Ireland, the Philippines plays a key role — that of a cautionary tale.
In the Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2021 prepared using 2019 data on extreme weather and its resultant socio-economic losses, we rank 17th on the list of countries most affected by the impacts of extreme weather. It is a big plunge from our rank in the previous index where, based on 2018 data, we placed second, thanks to Typhoon Ompong, a category 5 typhoon and the world’s most powerful in 2018.
But being 17th at COP26 in Glasgow, from being second most vulnerable at COP25 in Madrid, next only to Japan and immediately followed by Germany, is no consolation. Along with Haiti and Pakistan, the Philippines is categorized in the Global CRI as a country continuously affected by extreme weather. In fact, in the long-term CRI, whose results have been drawn from annual averages over a 20-year period (2000-2019), we are the world’s fourth most vulnerable.
The numbers are grim. From 2000 to 2019, the Philippines underwent a total of 317 weather-related disasters, the highest among the countries most affected by climate change. In the same period, we ranked seventh in terms of death toll, with an average of 859.3 deaths per year. Even worse, based on a report issued in 2019 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, “Between 1958 and 2014, the Philippines experienced a 0.62°C increase in yearly average mean temperature, with the rate of change increasing over time.”
It’s no fault of ours, at least not wholly. Not only is the Philippines located in the Ring of Fire, characterized by active volcanoes and earthquakes, it is also directly on the path of storms brewing in the western Pacific. Climate change does not help our geographical disadvantage, even as our contribution to the planet’s total greenhouse emissions is no more than 0.3 percent, a drop in the bucket compared to the contributions of China (about 28 percent) and the US (about 14 percent).
For the world, but particularly for developing nations like the Philippines, time is running out. Already, as revealed by the Department of Finance headed by Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, who is also chairman designate of the Climate Change Commission and head of the Philippine delegation to COP26, extreme weather driven by climate change has cost the country ₱506.1 billion, roughly $10 billion, over the past decade, from 2010 to 2020.
Many of the negotiations at COP26 will involve climate accountability and climate justice, including ensuring that the pledge of developed nations to raise $100 billion a year for those most exposed to climate-related hazards isn’t just so much hot air.
Most crucial, however, aside from securing net-zero emissions goals, is to keep the world within 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
As Alok Sharma, president at COP26, said in his opening speech, “that window is closing…We know that this COP, COP26, is our last best hope.”
For the Philippines and other equally vulnerable nations, the stakes could not be higher.