Tough Choices: The Road to Sustainability and 1.5°C
John Leo Algo
The release of the “Special Report on 1.5°C of Global Warming” is poised to be a game-changer for climate action worldwide. Published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it provides policymakers, businesses, and climate advocates a timeline and clear targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the worsening of the impacts of climate change, including super-typhoons, droughts, and sea level rise.
Yet an overlooked portion of the report is the implications of climate change on sustainable development. Specifically, mitigation and adaptation options would impact the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C or higher would make it easier to attain many aspects of sustainable development, as represented by the SDGs. Avoiding impacts of higher temperature increases could help reduce poverty and vulnerability to climate-related risks, which is especially vital for developing countries.
The IPCC reports that shifting to renewable energy may result in co-benefits towards sustainability. Such measures would help towards achieving good health (SDG 3), cleaner energy (SDG 7), more responsible production and consumption (SDG 12), and healthier oceans (SDG 14). Accelerating energy efficiency, which also reduces further greenhouse gas emissions, would result in additional synergies with more sustainable industries (SDG 9) and cities and communities (SDG 11), along with stronger partnerships among different sectors (SDG 17).
On the other hand, all countries need to adapt to a 1.5-degree warmer world through more sustainable economic practices, most notably in agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors, and strengthen the capacity of local communities to deal with both sudden and slow-onset impacts of climate change. Adaptation practices would specifically lead to lower poverty (SDG 1) and hunger incidences (SDG 2), good health (SDG 3), cleaner waters (SDG 6), equality among various sectors (SDGs 5 and 10), and stronger institutions promoting peace and justice (SDG 16).
While it is still feasible to achieve both the 1.5-degree limit and the SDGs, many challenges remain. There is no single exact blueprint for attaining both goals. Multiple accounts of project implementation related to climate action show that the actual integration between mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development is difficult as it requires reconciling trade-offs across spatial and sectoral scales.
For instance, installing more solar farms in the Philippines would reduce the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, which currently comprises two-thirds of the national energy mix. While this results in cleaner energy (SDG 3), large areas of land would be needed for their installation. Without proper planning, this could compromise food security (SDG 2) and land biodiversity (SDG 15), which are both vital for strengthening resilience in local communities.
A similar case is observed with afforestation, which is one of the means used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If new forests are not situated in stable environments, its multiple benefits can be easily outweighed by adverse impacts such as reduced local biodiversity, the modification of nearby terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, reduced stream flow, and lost income from agriculture.
This report also reveals that mitigation and adaptation costs would be higher in scenarios limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C. While developing countries have been pressuring industrialized nations for guaranteed financial and technological support to help them deal with climate change, the findings of the IPCC gives them more urgency and basis for pursuing such international aid.
To complement this, governments can also create policies that directs finance from private institutions towards investments in infrastructure for adaptation and mitigation. This may include mobilizing private funds from development or investment banks and the provision of public funds. Policies that reduce the risk of low-emission and adaptation investments can also lead to said mobilization and enhance the effectiveness of other public policies.
It is important to remember that 1.5°C of warming is not paradise. The impacts of such temperature increase would highly impact the disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors through food and water shortages, higher prices of commodities, income losses, poorer health conditions, and population displacements. The drastic changes in natural ecosystems could lead to irreversible losses of resources that would affect even big businesses in the long run.
Yet through preventing a more drastic warming, it would allow the global economy more time to shift towards more sustainable practices. It would save billions of lives from unjustly living in extremely poor conditions and open more opportunities to alleviate, if not eradicate poverty. It is undoubtedly more beneficial for nations to spend more now on mitigation and adaptation measures to prevent more long-term losses in finances and natural resources, which are both needed for sustainable development.
However, perception of climate change in the Philippines remains as merely a sectoral issue instead of an overarching threat to national sustainable development. In the current Philippine Development Plan, climate change is barely mentioned as a serious threat to national socioeconomic growth. On both local plans and programs from several national agencies, actions against climate change remain focused only on sudden onset impacts such as super-typhoons and flashfloods.
Furthermore, current government expenditures for climate change only accounts for around five percent of the national budget, demonstrating the lack of attention being placed on it outside of the Climate Change Commission. The lack of cohesion and cooperation between government agencies hinder existing climate change-related actions, especially in terms of sharing data and information and funding allocations.
Addressing climate change and sustainable development both require long-term planning and an inclusive, collaborative approach involving all stakeholders. They both necessitate an unprecedented shift in lifestyles, behaviors, and attitudes, from top to bottom.
With only two to three decades left to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the Philippines needs to initiate a societal transformation from being one of the most vulnerable to climate change to being among the most resilient, sustainable nations. What lies ahead is not an impossible challenge for the Philippines and the world to achieve. It would not be easy, but in a rapidly-changing climate, mankind needs to adapt and mitigate to survive and thrive.