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Filipinos count cost of climate crisis as typhoons get ever more destructive | Global development

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A few days before Christmas, Super-typhoon Rai – known locally as Odette – ravaged the Philippines. The morning after the onslaught, on my way back to Iloilo City from San Jose, Antique, I could see the ocean still boiling; houses blown away and great trees knocked down, making roads impassable. The sights were terrifying.

Lost lives continue to climb two weeks on. Vast numbers of buildings were destroyed – from houses to schools; food crops lost to flooding. At first, I did not know what to feel – anger, helplessness? Later, I knew what I wanted: climate justice.

On average, 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines each year and they are growing progressively more destructive. The culprit is greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities. The Philippines contributes less than 0.4% to the climate crisis; the global north is responsible for 92%. The Philippines pays the price for problems produced in the north.

In 2019, the Philippines made a strong statement to the world when it sent 1,500 tonnes of illegally dumped rubbish back to Canada.

However, Cop26, heralded as the world’s last chance to avert disaster, was seen as a failure by many climate activists. Commitments were not delivered. The final agreement saw a watered-down stand against coal, and prioritised profits over people and the planet.

Despite the Philippines’ small part in the worsening climate crisis, the threat to the country is huge. Rising sea levels from global heating will submerge parts of the country, creating thousands of climate refugees. Drought and flooding will hit agricultural production and destroy ecosystems. The risk and intensity of health emergencies, such as dengue and diarrhoea, will increase.

The Philippine government romanticises the suffering of the affected communities to conceal inefficiency and inaction with its “Filipinos are resilient” rhetoric.

When my family and I lived in a slum above a river in Iloilo City, we would leave our shanty houses before a typhoon made a landfall and shelter in a nearby chapel. When the storm had passed, some of us would be grateful to see our houses still standing. Others would be saddened to see theirs blown to bits by the wind or taken by the waves. There was no resiliency here.

Families would have to start from scratch, rebuilding their homes, only to see them destroyed again by the next typhoon. We lived in fear and carried the trauma from the danger the calamities posed.

On 17 December, I learned that my cousin, a freshly graduated seafarer, was missing with at least 10 other crew members of the tugboat M/V Strong Trinity, after the typhoon hit the port city of Cebu. According to the owners, the boat had sought shelter, but the wind and waves were too strong and washed away the tugboat and those on board. The coastguard has found no trace of the vessel, so far.

A woman holds a baby while an older woman and a child sit in the ruins of their house
A family in the ruins of their home in Carcar. Photograph: Victor Kintanar/AFP/Getty

Citizens were quick to point to the ill-preparedness of the government, saying it had not learned the lessons from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the strongest typhoons on record to hit land – despite the fact that this time round there was a system to disseminate information about the storm’s arrival through text messages, social media and on news channels.

However, the role of media has been curtailed in the country. The regional stations of the Philippines’ biggest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, which were on the frontline during previous natural disasters, have not been in service since 2020 due to what many see as a politically motivated denial of their franchise renewal.

Telecommunications were interrupted. Filipinos were left in the dark waiting for news. People created Facebook groups with updates on the hardest-hit areas, information on missing people, and appeals for help. Facebook news feeds were flooded with posts from those in need. People wandered the streets with signs saying they were hungry and thirsty. Many died of dehydration. Flooded cities have become ghost towns; houses have been buried by landslides.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has declared a state of emergency in several cities and towns where power and water supplies are still cut off; more than 5.4 million people were affected. More than half a million have been displaced. Last week’s official figures put the death toll at 397 with 1,147 injured and 83 missing. There were more than 535,000 houses destroyed and €350m (£290m) of damage caused to agriculture and infrastructure. People from communities in “danger zones” are unable to return.

Despite years of such disasters, natural defences have not been protected. Dams have been built on ecologically important rivers; dolomite mining continues, and new coal-powered plants are still being built. A few days after the typhoon, a four-year ban on open-pit mining was lifted to help economic recovery, disregarding the contribution of mining to the typhoons and rainfall that are battering the economy in the first place.

The Philippines has elections in May, when Filipinos must choose a leader who has an unwavering will to tackle the climate crisis by demanding accountability from the global north and strengthening the country’s defences.

Poor countries and poor communities remain the victims of anthropogenic climate injustice. The process of ending the human activities responsible is weak and slow; there is only disaster risk-reduction management and mitigation in place. As long as the world does not address the root cause of this crisis, we will not be prepared for what is coming.

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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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