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Climate crisis strikes the most vulnerable hardest

Climate crisis strikes the most vulnerable hardest

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Boris Johnson, British Prime Minster, addressed world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow. He made a strong case for collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

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“When it comes to tackling climate change, words without action, without deeds are absolutely pointless,” Johnson told the assembled world leaders, government ministers and scientists. “And our record on deeds so far is not exactly stellar.”

The gathering, formally known as the Conference of the Parties, but commonly referred to as COP26, is widely seen by scientific experts and many governments around the world as the last chance to prevent the planet’s surface temperature from rising 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists warn that global warming will lead to environmental disaster.

The summit host made a passionate plea on behalf the developing countries most affected climate change. “Those that are on the front line, the countries that face cataclysmic inundations, the countries that face the hurricanes, they really will not forgive us,” Johnson said. “They are looking at what’s happening at this COP, and we need to think about them and take action now to prevent loss and damage on a truly catastrophic scale. We’ve got to take action on their behalf.”

Stark message

Addressing world leaders on the opening day of COP26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a stark message: “We are digging our own graves.”

All countries that have signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change must submit updated plans for reducing their emissions. The secretary-general reminded world leaders that their official plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply aren’t good enough. “The last published report on Nationally Determined Contributions showed that they would still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7 degree increase,” he said.

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“We are still heading for climate disaster.”

Like Johnson, the secretary general addressed the vulnerability of developing nations at the frontline of the climate emergency. “Over the last decade, nearly four billion people suffered climate-related disasters,” he noted. “That devastation will only grow.”

The community of nations “must do more to protect vulnerable communities from the clear and present dangers of climate change,” Guterres continued, making the case for climate adaptation programs.

“Early warning systems save lives,” he asserted. “Climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure save jobs.” And when it comes to financing climate adaptation, he said that COP26 “must be a moment of solidarity.” To that end, he said that “all donors must allocate half their climate finance to adaptation.”

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the world’s wealthy nations agreed to collectively underwrite climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. But wealthy nations have failed to fulfill their commitment to provide $100 billion annually through 2025.

“The US$100 billion a year climate finance commitment in support of developing countries must become a $100 billion climate finance reality,” Guterres said at Glasgow. “This is critical to restoring trust and credibility.”

Canada increased its contribution to climate finance by $2.65 billion to $5.3 million over the next five-years. Johnson appointed Canada and Germany to lead the international effort to reach the $100 billion goal.

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“I welcome the efforts led by Canada and Germany to help us get there,” the secretary-general declared in his address.

Front line

The Philippines is one example of a developing nation that is at the forefront of climate emergencies. According to a country profile prepared by the World Food Program, the Philippines “ranks fourth among countries most affected by climate risks in a 20-year period.”

According to the WFP’s website, food insecurity in the country is “exacerbated by the combined effects of man-made and natural disasters that include earthquakes, typhoons and armed conflict.”

What is the Philippines’ food security situation?

The Philippines is a middle-income country that is experiencing food insecurity, Brenda Barton, the WFP’s country director in the Philippines, replied. Many children in the conflict-plagued Mindanao suffer from stunting.

According to the World Health Organization’s website, “stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.” And the WHO notes that “children are defined as stunted if their height for age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.”

The threat of malnutrition has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, because the global health crisis has curtailed development work and “undermined proper assessment” of nutrition needs in the Philippines, Barton told the Whig-Standard in a voice interview via WhatsApp.

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“We know that people are swapping out less-nutritious foods,” the Canadian-born WFP staffer said of the negative coping strategies that people have adopted during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.  “They’re skipping meals.”

How does climate change adversely affect food production?

Barton said that the typical cyclone season is being replaced by a longer and more intense storm cycle. The typhoon season in Philippines used to end in September or October. She stated that the season now lasts two to three more months.

“Last year, for example, two typhoons hit within two weeks — one at the end of October and then November.  This is the threat from climate change. It is a sign that weather patterns are changing,” she said.

In response to increased storm activity, farmers are harvesting their crops earlier, “because they’re afraid if they don’t, they could lose it in the next typhoon,” Barton continued. In addition, more intense tropical cyclones are generating destructive storm surges that result in the “encroachment of sea water” on farmland.

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Malnutrition

How does climate change affect low-income women, and their children, specifically?

Barton said that climate change is making it harder for farmers and their families make a living. “It means that their crops are being wiped out.”

According to the WFP staffer, “the three Cs” — conflict, COVID-19 and climate shocks — have combined to make an already precarious food security situation even more difficult for families. Although WFP has not yet compiled the statistics, Barton said that “anecdotally, we know that people are spending a large part of their income on food, and food prices have gone up.”

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Are you seeing malnutrition in your children?

“The Philippines has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world already,” Barton answered. She explained that “when people lose their income, there is no money to grow food.” And that means parents cannot feed their children nutritious foods. “And it creates this vicious cycle.”

Barton said that stunting affects 48% of children in certain parts of the country.

What is the World Food Program doing to address the climate crisis in the Philippines

“We respond when needed, and when the government calls on us to help with cash handouts in the wake of a disaster,” Barton replied.

“On the other side, what we’re really working on is the participatory action to try to work with the government to be better prepared (for disasters). Some of that involves identifying communities that are most vulnerable to climate shocks and getting them registered already (with the WFP).”

“At the same time, we do send truckloads of food from an emergency food facility when it is needed.”

Will the WFP be capable of responding to climate crisis as it worsens?

“Absolutely,” Barton said without hesitation. “This is what we are. We are moving with this trend. We are aware of the fact that climate change is here. We know that the climate crisis is driving hunger.”

Follow Geoffrey P. Johnston @GeoffyPJohnston

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