By Seana K. Magee
NEW YORK, April 22, Kyodo
World leaders should be more ambitious and reduce global warming to below the 1.5 C aim in an agreement signed by 175 countries on Friday at the United Nations, according to co-head of the Philippine delegation at the signing ceremony.
"I would like to push it further to say let's go below 1.5 degrees," said Loren Legarda, who sits on the Senate Committee on Climate Change in her home country.
Under the hard-fought agreement reached in Paris last December, 196 countries and two observer states pledged to reduce global warming to well below 2 C, aiming for 1.5 C.
Keeping the global average rise in temperature to below 2 C is seen as crucial for avoiding further serious consequences of climate change, such as droughts, floods, melting glaciers and rising seas.
Britain's Met office, which is one of the world's three major global temperature-monitoring bodies, released data in January showing that 2015 smashed all previous annual average temperature records, being 0.75 C higher than the long-term average between 1961 and 1990.
"When you think about it we have hardly breached the 1 degree (mark) and we are experiencing catastrophes like we have never seen them," Legarda told Kyodo News in an interview at the United Nations.
She said her country is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, and over the last decade has been hit by typhoons of increasing strength.
What is most worrisome, she said, is the intensity of the typhoons. Super storm Haiyan, which struck in November 2013, was the most destructive storm to ever hit the Philippines, taking nearly 7,000 lives and forcing up to 4 million from their homes.
"Haiyan was really an eye opener," she said of the category 5 typhoon.
One of the hardest-hit cities was Tacloban, which she said now stands as a testament to the spirit of human resilience. The city wants not only to serve as an ecological model, but also aspires to be known for its efforts at solid waste management.
"The world visits Tacloban because it is the symbol of what nature's wrath can do to a people," she said. "It really wants to be an ecological city...so Haiyan has been an eye opener not just for the Philippines but for the world."
She also warned of the danger of ignoring the reality of climate change and its impact on countries such as hers as well as small island nations in the Pacific that are at risk if the greenhouse gas emissions are not stemmed.
As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of countries disproportionately affected by global warming, the Philippines has used its position as one of the founding members to press for more countries to sign and ratify the climate agreement as soon as possible.
Of the 15 countries that deposited their instruments with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, many are from small islands that are most susceptible to climate change and face severe threats if changes are not made.
An important dimension to that involves helping to finance those countries to mitigate the ill effects, she explained.
"We just don't cry about being vulnerable, but we also create the mechanism that could bring us closer together," she said, stressing the emphasis the group places on both mitigation and adaptation.
While Legarda is pressing all nations to do more, she is optimistic about the agreement that was reached. Particularly promising to her was the pledges made by the world's top two emitters -- China and the United States. Last month they agreed to sign and ratify the agreement.
"Now with statements like that (from China and the United States) and with vigilance of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, I can see that the world is changing," she said.
The Philippines submitted a goal of 70 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2030 to help fight climate change.