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Some 40 individuals from churches, faith-based groups, community-based organizations, academia and the government will gather in the Philippines on 11 December for a consultation entitled The Right to Food and Life in the Context of Climate Change.

The consultation is being convened by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

Friday 11 December is also the last official day of the United Nations (UN) climate conference (COP 21) that began in Paris on 30 November.

Participants in the consultation will discuss struggles linked to land, water, food and the rights of indigenous people. They will also revisit national campaigns on climate change and reiterate a call to global leaders to lift up the link between climate change and food sovereignty. The consultation will offer a discussion on the links between climate change and the state of global, national and regional perspectives on the right to food and nutrition.

As the group lifts up challenges and achievements, they will consider the outcomes of COP21 as they suggest ways to move forward, said Athena Peralta, WCC consultant for economic and ecological justice.

“We hope to promote networking and nurture collaboration that will result in collective action,” she said. “The church has a role in helping ensure that we hold the international community to the commitments they make.”

The group will adopt and release a “Call to Action to Global Leaders, National Government and Faith Communities.”

Philippines location significant

As a location for the consultation, the Philippines is significant in that it is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries, ranked second out of 171 countries on the 2014 World Risk Index and second out of 181 countries on the 2014 Global Climate Risk Index.

“In the Philippines, climate change poses serious challenges to meet current and future demands for food,” said Peralta. “The livelihoods of marginalized communities, rural women, farmers involved in rice cultivation and fishing communities — all of whom are crucial to food security — are also threatened by these changes.”

Access to food and clean water remains a huge challenge to many in the Philippines, with 13.5% of the population being undernourished and 30.3 % of Filipino children under the age of five experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition, according to the Global Hunger Index.

As one examines the history of temperature as well as rainfall in the Philippines, one finds there has been a corresponding increase in landslides and floods. The Philippines is also considered the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms. “Evidence suggests that the Pacific warming – possibly at its fastest rate in 10,000 years — has already led to increased severity of storms,” said Peralta. “Our islands are battered by at least one major storm a year. Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which remains one of, if not the strongest, storm on record, claimed more than 6,500 lives, rendered homeless hundreds of thousands more, and wiped out rural and coastal livelihoods in Leyte and Samar.”

Impact on farmers and fisher folk

In the Philippines, with its coastline of nearly 60,000 kilometres, 60% of the people live in low-lying areas prone to flooding. Sea level rise is highly likely in a changing climate, and low-lying islands are expected to face permanent inundation in the future. The livelihood of communities living in low-lying areas is threatened, compromising fishing opportunities as are productive agricultural lands due to saltwater intrusion. There is a significant decrease of rice yield associated with increase of temperature.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates declines of up to 50% for staples such as rice, wheat and maize in some locations over the next 35 years due to the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change adds tremendous pressure on the small farmers and the artisanal fisher folk, compounding the systemic injustices they face currently, not just in the Philippines but worldwide,” said Peralta. “Smallholders and peasants make up almost half the world’s population, and they grow at least 70% of the world’s food. They are also a vital part of our food diversity. They must be supported.”

Building climate-resiliency in the agriculture and fishery sector is therefore key. This entails adequate, transparent, reliable and predictable financing. “The climate talks in Paris must result in a commitment by rich, industrialized nations – who are historically responsible for climate change – to provide funds that will enable impoverished farmers in countries like mine to adapt to the inescapable impacts of climate change,” added Peralta. “It is a matter of justice.”

“Leave no one behind”: COP21 must tackle climate risks of the poorest and most vulnerable (WCC press release of 7 December)

Christians gather amid UN talks to pray for Creation at Notre Dame in Paris (WCC press release of 4 December)