This map shows why the Philippines is so vulnerable to climate change

November 12, 2013

The Philippines is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change for two main reasons: geography and development. As my colleague Brad Plumer points out in an excellent piece on what the Philippines' experience with Typhoon Haiyan tells us about global efforts to adapt to climate change, a recent United Nations report identified the country as the third-most at-risk from climate change in the world, ranked behind the South Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and Tonga.

But the Philippines isn't just susceptible to climate change because it's an island nation located in a part of the world that gets a lot of big tropical storms. This map, from a report by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, shows how other specific geographical factors contribute to its particular vulnerability. Regional wind patterns, for example, can worsen the risk posed by extreme rainfall events.


The map divides the country's offshore areas into 11 zones and identifies specific risks for each  of them from the effects of climate change. These are the five different risk factors  it identifies:  a rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall events, extreme heating events, increased ocean temperatures and a disturbed water budget. Given the Philippines' vast shorelines and built-in geographic susceptibility, any one of these could be disastrous.

Tropical storms, which hit the country on average eight to nine times a year and are expected to increase in severity because of climate change, exacerbate the risk. Some of the worst damage from these storms comes from surging sea levels. As levels rise -- about eight inches by 2050, some studies project, and an additional three feet by 2100 -- storms will be much more dangerous.

But it's not just geography -- some developmental factors make the Philippines susceptible as well. "Owing to their proximity to the sea, island states are particularly exposed to the natural hazards of cyclones, flooding and sea level rise," the U.N. report explains. "Very high exposure is a significant risk driver, although a high development level can counteract this substantially, as the example of the Netherlands shows."

The kind of infrastructure necessary to reduce the damage of regular natural disasters is really expensive -- see, for example, Japan's tremendous spending on earthquake-resistant office buildings. But it's not just about national wealth.

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Max Fisher | November 12, 2013