By Angelica Y. Yang

ADDRESSING climate change and protecting the environment will reduce the risk of disease outbreaks, with a government official saying that disrupted climates pose an open-ended threat with a range of impacts on public health greater than the threat posed by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019).

“I think it’s right to say that climate change is more dangerous than COVID-19 in different ways… Climate change is happening over a longer time frame. There’s no clear start and end to this. It has been happening for many years. And of course, it’s not going to stop,” Dr. Ronald P. Law, the chief of the Preparedness Division at the Department of Health’s Emergency Management Bureau, told BusinessWorld in a video interview.

He added that while the COVID-19 problem is serious, with far-reaching consequences to public health and the economy, “the end is technically in sight” for the pandemic with numerous companies working towards developing effective vaccines.

“Once we attain a sufficient number of people immune, the so-called herd immunity, and of course with the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine, somehow, we can say that the end is in sight, technically. But we cannot say that for climate change,” Mr. Law said.

“(The) increasing temperature leads to our extreme weather events that are experienced through meteorological hazards,” he said, citing the casualties caused by heavy flooding during typhoons Rolly and Ulysses” (international names: Goni and Vamco).

According to Mr. Law, climate change also has indirect impacts on life support systems such as food and water. As a result, numerous diseases related to the phenomenon were on the rise. “Dengue, malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis — these are familiar cases to us but much of these are pretty much determined (or) exacerbated by impacts of a changing climate,” he said.

Gerry C. Arances, the executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, said Mr. Law’s position is well-supported by health experts who have warned of the threats to health posed by climate change.

“For a member of the medical community to say that the pandemic is of less threat than climate change just goes to show how deep the ecological crisis we are in is… As devastating as COVID-19 is, it really is but a symptom of the bigger disease that is a polluting, exploitative economic system that fuels worsening climate disasters while exacerbating threats to the lives and health of vulnerable sectors,” Mr. Arances told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview.

He hoped that Mr. Law’s observations serve as a wake up call to ensure that “pandemic recovery plans… aid the climate-vulnerable Philippines.”

Addressing climate change and protecting the environment will help reduce the risk of disease outbreaks, according to Lia Mai Torres- Alonzo, the executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines.

“As climate change and environmental destruction worsen, we can expect the emergence of more diseases that could cause other pandemics. Apart from the plethora of negative impacts of climate change, the aggressive trend of encroachment of human activities on forests and other ecosystems causes the spillover of pathogens,” she told BusinessWorld in a separate e-mail interview.

She said climate change and COVID-19 should “not be treated separately.”