ADB: Phl at great risk from climate disasters

By Ted Torres
ADB: Phl at great risk from climate disasters

The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand are viewed as high risk in terms of climate-related disasters, according to a study done by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

All three countries average seven climate-related disasters a year, and studies have linked these disasters to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The study entitled “Global Increase in Climate-Related Disasters” said that any further increase in CO2 would hit these countries hard, as well as other disaster-prone countries such as Bangladesh, Costa Rica and Mauritius.

“Scientific evidence has already established the association between greenhouse gas emissions and changes in climatic conditions. The findings in this study go further by adding a connection between climate change and the frequency of intense natural disasters – after taking into account the contribution of density of population and people’s income,” the ADB study indicated.

It further pointed out that if CO2 concentrations continue to rise by the current annual rate of two parts per million (or by 0.5 percent) from the already high 400 parts per million, that would see a doubling of the frequency of floods and storms in 17 years.

The first half of the decade saw deadly climate-related disasters, among them the great floods in Thailand in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in the United States in 2012 and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines in 2013. 

The year 2014 was the earth’s warmest in 134 years of recorded history, and 2015 could well turn out to be even hotter. While scientists hesitate to link any one of these events to climate change, the association is compelling, the report said.

More frequent floods, storms, heat waves and droughts are connected to greater extremes in temperatures and rainfall.

In a global analysis spanning the last four decades, the study showed that the rise in climate-related disasters is linked not only to people’s increased exposure and vulnerability, but also to changes in temperature and rainfall resulting from rising greenhouse gases.

The study, published as an ADB Economics Working Paper, is timely given the recent warnings by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other climate monitors that global temperature is already halfway to the “two degree warming” threshold for limiting catastrophic climatic impacts.

Released just ahead of the United Nations climate change meetings in Paris in December, these findings add fresh urgency to cutting emissions.

Three implications are inherent in these findings.

First, climate impacts are not just concerns for the distant future, but are already being felt.

Likewise, climate-related disasters result in heavy damage in all countries, rich and poor. But the death toll has been especially high among the poor who are more likely to live in harm’s way, such as in flood-prone areas.

And third, it is a mistake to think that climate action – such as switching from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner renewable sources – will hold back economic growth.

Vinod Thomas, co-author of the study and director general of Independent Evaluation at ADB, said policymakers and economic advisors have long held the view that climate action is a drain on economic growth.

“But the reality is the opposite: the vast damage from climate-related disasters is an increasing obstacle to economic growth and wellbeing.”

The study finds that the frequency of intense climate-related disasters over the past four decades is associated with population exposure, measured by population density and with people’s vulnerability to these events, measured by their income levels.

“The evidence is telling us that hazards of nature are increasingly turning into disasters because of human action,” said Ramon Lopez, co-author of the study and professor of economics at the University of Chile. “We found that disasters are exacerbated by climatic impacts at the local level as well as by climate change globally.”