The impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines sparked a humanitarian disaster, with thousands dead and millions affected. While the link between climate change and a single “natural” disaster might be disputed, it is consistent with the reality of an increasing number and more frequent extreme weather events, which climate scientists forecast. Calls have been raised to have developed nations responsible for heavy emissions be held accountable. The Climate Change Conference in Poland got the message. Read more
Philippine typhoon disaster puts focus on climate debt
By CleanBiz.Asia Staff (14 November 2013):
While the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda) looms large at the UN’s COP19 conference in Warsaw this week, activists in the Philippines are demanding compensation from economically developed countries for the damages experienced in the developing world due to climate change-related disasters.
With a Filipino elected as board co-chairman of the UN’s Green Climate Change Fund – mandated to support developing countries’ shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways, to the tune of USD100 billion – “climate debt” is on many lips.
“The message is simple: the developed countries should owe to their responsibility of over-emissions of greenhouse gases, which result in bigger, more disastrous storms,” declared Gerry Arances, national co-ordinator of green group Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), at a rally held by Filipino environmentalists in Manila on Monday to coincide with the opening of COP19.
“We bear the brunt. Yolanda is a wakeup call not only for Filipinos, but for these countries as well.”
The demand for accountability was echoed by Philippine President Benigno Aquino during a CNN interview: “Especially to the most developed countries that are contributing immensely to global warming, there has to be a sense of moral responsibility that what they wreak is playing havoc on the lives of so many others incapable of defending themselves,” he said.
To what extent climate change “caused” last week’s super typhoon and other recent climate disasters is, however, a matter of considerable scientific debate.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in September, found that there was “low confidence in attribution of changes in tropical cyclone activity to human influence” so far. The report also had “low confidence” that there would be increases in intense tropical-cyclone activity over the next few decades, and found that it was “more likely than not” that such a signal would be seen by the end of the 21st century.
On the other hand, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) believes that the effects of climate change are making the impact of severe storms like Typhoon Haiyan worse. It says Australia’s record-breaking summer helped push average global temperatures higher this year, and rising sea levels worsened the situation in the Philippines.
“The impact of this cyclone was definitely significantly more than what it would have been 100 years ago because of the simple mechanical fact that the sea level is higher,” WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud told the ABC on the fringes of COP19. “Storm surges have a much more devastating effect than they would have had decades ago. The same typhoon 50 years ago would have had less impact because the sea level was lower.”
Filipina environmentalist Lidy Nacpil, who is in Warsaw for the UN climate talks, say the US and other developed countries owe countries like the Philippines “a huge climate debt”, according to Philippine social news network Rappler.
Climate debt is based on the idea of “natural commons” which states that the Earth’s atmosphere is collectively owned by all humans. This means its benefits must be shared equally among everyone and responsibility to protect it is also collective.
The concept stems from the idea of ecological debt, first conceptualized in 1999 within the Millennium movement for (financial) debt cancellation. At the COP15 climate summit held four years ago in Copenhagen, the climate debt concept was submitted by Bolivia, with formal support by over 50 countries and the Group of Least Developed Countries.
Total climate debt comprises of two distinct elements: adaptation debt, which represents the compensation owed to the poor for the damages of climate change they have not caused; and emissions debt, which is compensation owed for their fair share of the atmospheric space they cannot use if climate change is to be stopped.
While Bolivia’s climate debt proposal was not accepted for inclusion in the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change – not least because calculating the debt remains the territory of theoreticians – it can be seen as the antecedent of the agreement reached at COP16 in Cancun the following year to create the Green Climate Fund.
“They’re pledging USD100 billion right now for the Green Climate Fund. But it’s not enough for all the developing countries,” PMCJ’s Arances said.
According to Rappler Joey Salceda, governor of the Philippine’s Albay province and the Asian co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, has remarked that so far, only 2.4 billion pesos (USD55 million) is in the fun d, “a far cry from the 604 billion Peso economic impact it has cost the Philippines, which is equivalent to 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Those attending the Manila rally on Monday feel the United States should shoulder the greatest share of climate debt. “Around 44 percent of the power supply of the US is from coal. They have the biggest coal industry with 1,400 coal-fired power plants. Imagine the burning they do,” said Arances who initially planned to hold the rally in front of the US Embassy.
In fact, China is, by far, the world’s largest coal consumer, burning about 4 billion tonnes of the back stuff every year, seven times more than the US gets through. With the US shale gas boom coal-fired power plant are giving way to natural gas. Coal now accounts for around 40 percent of the country’s generating capacity, according to the latest statistic from the US Energy Information Administration. This compares to 52.8 in 1997.
Meanwhile, in common with most of Southeast Asia, the Philippines is moving toward an energy market that uses a lot more coal. Meanwhile, in the Philippines the Department of Energy’s outlook is still very much coal-oriented despite the Renewable Energy Act which calls the government to pursue renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.