Thinking Beyond Politics

Last Dec. 12, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a climate summit, two years after the historic COP 21 Climate Change Agreement in Paris. Said gathering was called the “One Planet Summit,” where emphasis was placed on climate finance or how to ensure the availability of the reported more than $200-billion annual funding in compliance with the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

The call of the French leader was for nations, especially the developed ones, the private sector, the scientists and civil society groups to act faster in keeping the global temperature down. In response, several commitments were made, particularly from private corporate entities, thereby providing renewed optimism to make the Climate Pact work. Unfortunately, the government of the United States, under President Donald Trump, considering their huge contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and great capacity (and responsibility) to chip in into the climate fund, was sorely missing in the Summit.

Without question, the industrialized countries have the substantial accountability, along with the private sector, to address climate change. Calling the Summit “One Planet” is apt and should provide a realization that all of us, regardless of economic standing, will ultimately be adversely affected by the changing climate. Thus, the onus is for the “big boys” to lead the fight by looking inward first, as well as providing assistance to developing nations to build resiliency, most especially the vulnerable ones.

For the Philippines, such a gathering must again highlight the call for climate justice being a nation ranked among the most vulnerable to extreme weather, yet not a major source of GHG emissions. The availability of funding mechanisms will definitely go a long way in establishing the resilience of the country. Although entitlement to such funds cannot be mistaken, the Philippines’ pursuit of climate justice will have another dimension if the effects of the changing climate is linked to human rights. To this end, every nation is obligated to address human rights violations, including those brought about by extreme weather, held to be anthropogenic.

Putting in context the Philippine’s contribution to climate change should grant a good insight to policy makers on where to double efforts in combating extreme weather. The paper entitled: “Blameless in Stratosphere: Carbon Footprint, Manufacturing Growth, and the Fuel Mix Debate in the Philippines,” presented in a Stratbase-ADR Institute roundtable discussion, is most enlightening. In the presentation, Dr. Raul Fabella highlighted that the Philippines has a very small carbon footprint with a per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions even less than African countries such as Angola, Congo and Djibouti. Moreover, Dr. Fabella, et al. looked at other Asian countries in their respective years of comparable development to 2011 Philippines. Interestingly, the country’s 0.9 metric tons per capita CO2 emissions was significantly lower than 1968 levels in Singapore (2.7 metric tons), 1982 South Korea (3.6 metric tons), and 2004 China (4.1 metric tons). In this comparison, the Philippines, at 2011 development levels, was closest to Thailand in 1991 and Indonesia in 2008, both at 1.8 metric tons of per capita CO2 emissions. With such a small carbon footprint, the Philippines is said to have remarkably outweighed its CO2 emissions share by its renewables share from 1990-2014. Surprisingly, such renewables share is observed to even surpass almost all of the top 10 carbon emitting countries in the same period. Lastly, it is important to note that the transportation sector accounts for the largest average of CO2 emissions in the Philippines at 36.43%, followed by “other industry” at 20.22% in the same period of 1990-2014.

With this backdrop, our policy makers should focus the climate change mitigation efforts of the country on the transportation system. Obviously, the still worsening traffic situation in almost all urban centers uselessly burning away tons of fossil fuel, not to mention the dire public health implications.

Worse, the handful of rail transits we have in this country are not expanding, but in fact deteriorating. Thus, if we are to curb our share of CO2 emissions to help in the climate action, our government has to quickly make good on its promise of a massive infrastructure program that should introduce modes of transportation that are less dependent on fossil fuel. In this regard, mass transportation should be the priority.

On the climate change resiliency front, one cannot dismiss the value of adapting to extreme weather for such a vulnerable country like the Philippines. Again, being able to tap a fund to build resilient communities will be a tremendous step towards facing the so-called “new normal.” A significant action, however, which is independent of third-party action and immediately doable, to promote adaptation is effective dissemination of climate-related data, or any risk data for that matter.

The government can vastly improve our disaster risk management by enabling all concerned to readily and freely access data and information that will heighten the awareness of vulnerable communities and instill a mind-set of readiness for natural calamities. Used wisely, knowledge is power, but power in the wrong hands, in this case, is disastrous.


Lysander N. Castillo is an Environment Fellow at the Stratbase ADR Institute and Secretary-General of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST).