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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Recognizing the climate emergency – not alarmism, just science

On Sept. 20, an estimated 4 million people around the world participated in the global strike for climate. Led by young people such as Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, these actions served as a kick-off for a week of worldwide protests that will culminate on Sept. 27.

The specific demands and goals of the strike participants are as varied as the languages used by the protesters. However, there is one demand common to all actions from Melbourne to Manila and from New Delhi to New York: we must act like there is a climate emergency, because there is one.

Detractors have dismissed such demands as “alarmism.” However, the science is very clear: Our global civilization has to rapidly undergo drastic changes in order to prevent the worst impacts of a climate catastrophe. Denying the reality of a climate emergency is nothing short of denying science.

Before reviewing the science, it helps helps to see where the Philippines is situated in all of this.

Here in the Philippines, the national organizers of Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines listed among their demands the “phase out of coal and other fossil fuels” in the Philippines’ energy supply and the safeguarding of “the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental defenders.”

Consistent with these and their other demands is the one that is first on their list: the declaration of a climate emergency in the Philippines.

These demands were echoed by strike participants from Ilocos Norte to Cotabato City and every other area in between where a strike was held.

In the statement of their demand, the organizers cited two things. First, the fact that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts. Second, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on 1.5 degrees, which builds the case for a global climate emergency.

The IPCC report is the basis for recognizing the fact that what we are going through is a climate emergency. However, we should always remember that the IPCC report is not one study. Rather, it is a summary of the best and most up-to-date science that we have on the state and most likely evolution of the climate.

In fact, the IPCC report was based on a review of more than 6,000 research papers authored by thousands upon thousands of climate scientists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, ecologists, and scientists from more than a dozen disciplines. According to IPCC’s own estimates, if all those research papers are stacked on top of each other, they would be about as tall as a four-storey building! 

Just think about the amount of data and theoretical analysis needed to come up with each of those research papers. Think of brainpower and raw research work needed, all the hours in the lab and in the field. Then think of the endless back and forth between the study’s authors and the expert reviewers before those papers are published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

Now multiply that by more than 6,000. 

Add to all of that the fact that those more than 6,000 scientific papers were reviewed by an expert panel comprised of 91 top climate scientists from 40 countries, one of them being Filipino climate scientist Dr. Rosa Perez.

What is the conclusion of the IPCC report based on the massive body of evidence? Here are a few of them.

First, the report recognizes that the world is undergoing global warming due to human activities. This warming has already led to disruptions in the Earth’s climate in the form of more extreme weather and many other things.

Second, it shows that the warming is likely to rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the coming decades. This increase in the warming will lead to the worsening of the climate disruptions we are already experiencing.

Third, it shows that if we allow warming to go beyond 1.5 degrees and reach 2 degrees, it will lead to catastrophic impacts. For example, the number of people exposed to deadly heat waves will more than double with a 2-degree warming, while the number of people threatened by rising sea levels will increase by a staggering 10 million.

Fourth, the report shows that we have little over a decade left to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent to get a chance to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. We are also required to have net zero emissions by 2050 to reach this target.

That is not a pretty picture, but that is the picture that comes out if we examine all the best lines of evidence. We really are in a climate emergency. It is time we stop denying it and start uniting behind the science if we want a livable planet for the next generation.

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