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Waking up countries to the state of the planet


Vegetable growers in Candaba, Pampanga are reporting declines in their farm harvests as crops reportedly develop diseases in the face of changing climate conditions.

Leaves and fruits of vegetable plants, a recent report in the SunStar Pampanga said, tend to warp and develop “yellow spots” amid intense sunlight, which eventually curtail the growth and productivity of the plants.

As such, Candaba vegetable farmers are now apprehensive about recovering their investments in their crops, the newspaper report said.

Severe floods and landslides in other parts of the archipelago caused by typhoons in recent months are other reminders of the real effects of climate change on the Philippines.

Halfway around the globe, “hotter, drier weather” is blamed for the deaths of large numbers of “the oldest trees in the world” in North America, as well as in the Amazon region, according to an opinion piece in The New York Times this week written by Jim Robbins, the author of a book on the importance of trees due for release soon.

At a UN Food and Agriculture Organization conference late last month in Hanoi, Vietnam, climate change was identified as one of the “major challenges for ensuring food security in the long run.” Also tagged were water scarcity, land degradation, and increased resource competition for biofuel.

While the demand for food is steadily growing, the FAO conference pointed out, the supply of food has been “constrained by lack of productivity growth for major cereals, limited expansion of arable land and declining soil quality and water resources.”

“Increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, partly related to climate change, market imperfections and inadequacies of infrastructure and support services for agriculture as a result of years of underinvestment in the sector are other factors contributing to food price volatility,” it said.

Indeed, when a group of 3,000 scientists—with expertise in a wide range of fields and concerns—met in London recently, they agreed that, among other things, the world’s temperature is rising at an inexorable rate and that unless contained soon the negative effects of this global warming could reach an “irreversible” stage.

At the end of their “Planet Under Pressure” conference, the experts—in such fields as climate change, environmental geo-engineering, international governance, the future of the oceans and biodiversity, global trade, development, poverty alleviation, food security—declared that “the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk."

“Consensus is growing that we have driven the planet into a new epoch, the Anthropocene, where many planetary-scale processes are dominated by human activities. It concludes society must not delay taking urgent and large-scale action,” the scientists said in their “State of the Planet” declaration.

The Earth has only one decade to “change course in some fundamental way” to avoid environmental “tipping points” at which the damage becomes irreversible, the declaration said.

These tipping points include the disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic, permafrost in Arctic regions releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest.

“If these tipping points are crossed they can increase the likelihood of going beyond other thresholds generating unacceptable and often irreversible environmental change on global and regional scales with serious consequences for human and all forms of life on the planet.”

The London conference recommended a number of initiatives that governments and all others with varying interests in these issues can take.

These recommendations include: 1) going beyond GDP by taking into account the value of natural capital when measuring progress; 2) a new framework for developing a set of goals for global sustainability for all nations; 3) creating a UN Sustainable Development Council to integrate social, economic and environmental policy at the global level; 4) launching a new international research program, "Future Earth," that will focus on solutions, and 5) initiating regular global sustainability analyses.

The conference also previewed the first “Inclusive Wealth Report,” which was based on a new economic indicator that measures natural, human and produced capital. It goes beyond GDP and can provide guidance for economic development towards sustainability, the scientists noted.

Also proposed by the scientists is the development of platforms that facilitate cooperation with all sectors of society to develop a new strategy for creating and rapidly translating knowledge into action.

“Such interactions should be designed to bring societal relevance and trust to science-policy interfaces, and more effectively inform decision-making to keep pace with rapid global change,” they said in the declaration.

Whether governments and policymakers were listening to the scientists’ call remains to be seen. For the Philippines, there is obviously at lot at stake, given that global warming has already had severe effects on the local environmental conditions and on people’s livelihood.

Speaking of sustainable development, a recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Global Footprint Network probed how nations have been using resources at their disposal towards sustaining both economic and ecological security.

The project’s lead researcher, Rashid Sumaila, explained that through an “ecolonomics index, or Eco2 Index”, the study measured and ranked the overall economic and ecological health of 150 countries to remind them of the need to reduce not just fiscal deficits but also “ecological deficits” for the sake of future generations of people.

After analyzing their current economic and ecological deficits, the countries were ranked using the Eco2 Index. The ecological deficit, says Sumaila, represents the “level of resource consumption and waste discharge by a population in excess of locally sustainable natural production and assimilative capacity.”

“In other words, the ecological deficit is the difference between a given population’s effective ecological footprint and the geographic area it actually occupies,” Sumaila, who is also UBC Fisheries Center director, said in launching the study’s findings recently.

The study used “financial deficits” data as reported by the International Monetary Fund, which Sumaila defined as the ratio of national financial deficits to GDP.

Timor-Leste emerged as the top performer in the Eco2 Index rankings with its lowest level of ecological deficit that pushed up its overall score. Other countries with “good” Eco2 Index ratings were Gabon, Bolivia, Angola, Central African Republic, Namibia, Paraguay and Argentina.

On the other hand, the “worst” performer in the index was Singapore, which was number 150 with an ecological deficit of minus-14323.52204 points, despite registering a relatively high economic deficit record.

Other industrially advanced economies were also near the bottom of the rankings. Japan was No. 144, the Netherlands was No. 139, Italy No. 135, United Kingdom No. 129, Germany No. 119, and the United States No. 103. They all had ecological deficits ratings of minus-105 points and lower.

Despite a positive record on the economic side, the Philippines scored an ecological deficit of minus-109.366 points, which ranked the country at No. 98. It was the poorest rating among the Southeast Asian countries, with the exception of bottom-dweller Singapore.

Controversial as they may be, the results of the Eco2 Index study could be worth looking into, if only to evaluate the sustainability of current economic growth trends on the state of the nation’s environment. - GMA News

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