In my four months under community quarantine due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), last week was the first time to visit the office to participate in a strategic planning workshop. While in continued self-isolation, one of the many climate-related activities that I joined and participated in was a virtual interview with a good friend, George Vincent Gamayo, from Panahon TV.
Here are the insights I shared during the virtual interview:
Question: How does climate change impact global health?
Answer: In my paper titled “The Interconnectedness of Health, Climate Change and Society” published by the Stratbase ADR Institute in May 2020, I stated that: “climate change would affect human health via pathways of varying complexity, scale and directness and with different timing. Similarly, impacts would vary geographically as a function both of environment and topography and of the vulnerability of the local population. Impacts would be predominantly negative. This is no surprise since climatic change would disrupt or otherwise alter a large range of natural ecological and physical systems that are an integral part of Earth’s life-support system.”
In addition, according to the World Health Organization, climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health — clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
The direct damage costs to health, excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation, is estimated to be between $2 to $4 billion per year by 2030.
Areas with weak health infrastructure — mostly in developing countries including the Philippines — will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transportation systems, food choices and use of renewable energy can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.
Q: How is the Philippines vulnerable to Covid-19 coupled with climate change?
A: Most vulnerable sectors to climate change and natural disasters are also vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic due to their lack of capacity to access health care services and facilities.
The Covid-19 pandemic, being the worst health crisis the country is facing, continues to challenge our level of resilience and capacity as number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise every day, making our health and governance systems operating at maximum capacity.
To control the spread of the virus, the country has imposed quarantine and physical distancing measures that tremendously affected our economy as businesses are forced to close affecting over 2 million workers, and 22 million students temporarily are out of school due to the pandemic.
With these scenarios, the Covid-19 pandemic made the displaced victims of typhoons Tisoy and Ambo, earthquake and Taal volcanic eruption even more vulnerable.
Initially, due to our closed economic links with China, the Philippines, together with other Asian countries, has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to a possible Covid-19 outbreak, according to the paper titled “Economic Vulnerabilities to Health Pandemics: Which Countries are Most Vulnerable to the Impacts of Coronavirus” published by the London-based Overseas Development Institute a month before our government declared an community quarantine.
(The latest update revealed that, as of July 22, 2020, the Philippines with over 70,000 total reported cases is leading among Southeast Asia and ranked 30th among 213 countries and territories affected, according to www.worldometer.info.)
Q: Why is there a need for the country to declare climate emergency?
A: The country’s declaration of climate emergency will further advance the urgency of addressing the climate problem.
We should not forget that the new study titled “Digital News Report 2020” of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford revealed that “8.5 out of 10 Filipinos think that climate change is very or extremely serious.”
Lest we forget that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.
Although emitting less compared to the total global carbon emissions, our status as vulnerable and developing country compels us to devise measures to stop human-induced global warming and mobilize our people, institution, and resources to enhance its ability to prepare and even prosper amid the climate emergency.
And unknown to many, last February, the Climate Change Commission-National Panel of Technical Experts, chaired by Carlos Primo David, called for the declaration of a climate emergency in the Philippines through a resolution titled “Declaration of a Climate Emergency and the Immediate Need to Consolidate Government Data to Generate a Nationwide Climate Risk Assessment” adding to many other voices globally that have urged their respective governments.
The resolution urged the government to mobilize its people, institutions and resources to identify cities and municipalities that are most at risk from the prevailing climate emergency.
We are bound to lose more if we remain complacent to the prevailing climate emergency. We should raise our voice and act with sense of urgency and in unity.
The author is the executive director of the Young Environmental Forum and a non-resident fellow of Stratbase ADR Institute. He is one of the Climate Reality Leaders selected globally to mentor during the first-ever virtual Climate Reality Leadership Corps Global Training happening until July 26, 2020. He completed his climate change and development course at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) and executive program on sustainability leadership at Yale University (USA). He can be reached at [email protected]