THE PHILIPPINES ARE located across 7,107 islands forming an archipelago in southeastern Asia, east of Vietnam. The country lies squarely in the typhoon belt, and is affected by an average of 15 storms (five to six of them direct strikes) annually. Most of the population of 91 million is at risk from landslides, flash flooding, and tsunamis. The Philippines face severe environmental problems, ranging from water pollution, soil degradation, deforestation, and loss of coral habitat, and are expected to suffer from rising sea levels and increased storm intensity.
The Philippines have already been feeling the impact of oscillations in Pacific sea temperatures known as El Niño and La Niña. In El Niño periods, the islands tend to see a decrease in rainfall, leading to droughts. During La Niña periods, rainfall can come in intense bursts, leading to landslides and flash flooding. Supertyphoons are also on the rise, with 2007 bringing a number of category 4 and category 5 cyclones into the Pacific basin.
Deforestation, both in the rainforest and the country's vast mangrove swamps, is another serious environmental issue for the Philippines. After a series of devastating landslides in the 1980s, the government instituted a ban on timber harvesting. Still, the country lost a third of its forest cover to logging 1990-2005. Deforestation has slowed to 2 percent annually, and the government has been more aggressive about pursuing illegal loggers.
With over 36,000 km. of shoreline, a rising sea level will have devastating consequences for the Philippines. Some models show a 100 cm. rise in ocean levels on the Philippine coast by 2080. In the heavily populated capital city of Manila, this rise would potentially displace up to 2.5 million people, and put millions more at risk for flooding from storm surges.
The Philippines is home to southeast Asia's second-largest coral reef system, covering 9,676 sq. mi. (25,060 sq. km.) As temperatures rise, coral bleaching events are expected to become more severe, leading to the eventual death of the reef. The impact will be felt in several ways: it will signal the end of an important habitat; it will destroy the livelihood of more than a million fishermen along the coast; it will reduce an important source of food from the Philippine market; and it will make the coast more vulnerable to storm surge and rising tides, as bleached reefs have been shown to be less of a buffer to sea level rise.
Carbon emissions rose 40 percent between 199098, but with CO2 emissions at 1,000 metric tons per capita in 1998, the Philippines is not a significant contributor to global carbon emission totals. An estimated 73 percent of emissions come from liquid fuels, 18 percent from solid fuels, and 9 percent from cement manufacturing. Climate change has already cost the Philippines billions in lost agricultural production, reduced fish yields, storm damage, and a reduction in tourism. The government is taking steps to educate the public and to institute sustainable policies.
sEE ALsO: Deforestation; El Niño and La Niña; Hurricanes and Typhoons; Sea Level, Rising.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. "Climate Change Scenarios For the Philippines," Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, www.cru.uea.ac.uk (cited October 2007); "Crisis or Opportunity: Climate Change in the Philippines," Greenpeace, www.greenpeace.org (cited October 2007); "Philippines Loses Billions to Climate Change—Philippines Today," Philippines Today, www.philippinestoday.net (cited October 2007).
Heather K. Michon Independent Scholar
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