7 national priorities on climate change
Will President Aquino’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, this Tuesday, September 23, be an exercise of climate leadership? Or will it just be ignored as run-of-the-mill, one of the 150-plus speeches to be delivered during the summit?
As Rappler has reported, the Philippine climate justice movement hopes President Aquino will make these demands in his 4-minute speech: (1) lower temperature targets; (b) more ambitious emission reduction targets from developed nations; (3) that climate change adaptation funds to be given to vulnerable, developing nations; and (4) that the issue of “loss and damage” be discussed in the 2015 Paris meeting where a new global climate change agreement will be adopted. In addition, climate justice advocates have asked President Aquino to announce more ambitious Philippine targets.
All of the demands, except for the last, are international in character. I support all of them but I think we should start with what we are doing and what we need to do at home. If we don’t do that, we have no moral authority to make such big demands on other countries.
This article proposes what we can do at home – 7 national priorities for our response to climate change. True, the Philippines is not a big contributor to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere but we are a major victim. And in the future, it is likely we will be emitting more. We cannot afford to be in a situation where we are contributing to our own destruction.
First, we must integrate climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and implement them synergistically and effectively.
The country is one of the most vulnerable to climate change in the world, with the negative effects on livelihood, health, food security, and impacts on our lives becoming far-reaching and extreme. That the Philippines is ranked so high in the World Risk Index may actually seem both fitting and ironic. It is fitting because given the country’s high exposure to the risks brought about by climate change, the government must respond quickly by putting in place policies aimed at addressing these risks.
Ironically however, while we have enacted climate change and disaster risk reduction laws quickly as a result of our recent climate disasters, our laws have not been very effective. This is because we do not have an integrated approach to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM). Unless we address this dichotomy, our climate change and DRRM institutions will continue to fail us.
We should also take note, as Secretary Lucille Sering emphasized in the budget hearing of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), that climate change is not just about disasters: "We have no idea what an increase in temperature will do to our food security. In areas that we went to, local communities have already cited incidents where their crops are decreasing or wilting. Aside from human activities like overfishing, they're seeing a reduction in fish yield. We do not have thorough studies on this yet. The Department of Agriculture [DA] has been targeting production without looking at the impact of weather and the increase in temperature."
Second, we cannot avoid doing mitigation and we can do this by being serious in moving toward a clean energy future.
We need to push our politicians and public officials, and private sector leaders as well, to address the need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by increasing investments in renewable energy.
The Aquino administration, however, has also given the green light for 17 coal power plant contracts. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Aside from environmental hazards, it also poses health risks.
In shaping the energy path for the country, public officials need to provide the specifics of a plan that will make the Philippines transition to an energy future that minimizes fossil fuel use. While recognizing the looming power and energy crisis, we must not make the mistake of being wedded to a fossil fuel pathway that is both expensive and destructive. We will also lose our moral high ground if we insist on following such a pathway.
All of these should then be translated into Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) that can also constitute our proposed intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) of the Philippines for the Paris agreement.
Third, the climate change impacts on land use – agriculture, forestry and biodiversity – must be emphasized; at the same time, opportunities for mitigation in these land use sectors should be identified and maximized.
It is imperative to examine the actions and policies of government, especially the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in agricultural, mining and forestry, and address climate change in terms of both adaptation and mitigation. Citizens must ask – where does the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity fit in the development strategy? The country already has national action plans on biodiversity and climate change, for example, and citizens could ask how these action plans can be implemented more effectively. This scrutiny could promote continuity and coherence in the steps taken by the government, in maximizing opportunities provided by these land use sectors for climate change adaptation and mitigation. This effort could be done through the Convergence Initiative, and led jointly by DENR and DA, and Agrarian Reform (DAR).
One area the Philippines could excel in is on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), a voluntary mechanism that compensates developing countries that voluntarily promote the sustainable management of forests. It also integrates human rights protection and participatory governance in its safeguards, including for indigenous peoples. We should make use of this approach to address not just climate change but also biodiversity, development, and human rights concerns.
Finally, Congress must enact a national land use policy that supports climate change adaptation and mitigation as soon as possible. Time is of the essence as the impacts of climate change become more insidious.
NAMAs and INDCs for the land use sector can also be identified and proposed for the Paris agreement.
Fourth, we must address the legal, policy, and institutional gaps identified in the 2013 Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR).
The CPEIR identified several areas of concern or improvement in the Philippines’ local climate change policy regime. As a whole, to address identified gaps in, or barriers to, climate action, and to ensure effective planning, decision-making and implementation with regard to climate policies, the review stated that the government should strive to meet the following goals: (1) “Ensure that the enabling environment is firmly in place by completing and implementing the remaining pieces of the core climate change reforms; (2) “Formulate, enact and support complementary sector and local-level policy and institutional reforms; (3) “Enhance planning, prioritization, design, and reporting of climate programs, activities, and projects to improve their effectiveness; and (4) “Through the above reforms, increase efficiency of resource use and provide support for higher levels of financing.”
We must review the Climate Change Act, enacted in 2009, the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change and the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP), adopted in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Among others, the release of the 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and our recent experiences of climate change disasters have changed many of the premises of the above-mentioned laws and policy documents.
We must revisit the idea of making a commission headed by the President as the anchor of our climate change governance system. I am now of the opinion that we need a department-like entity to lead the response to climate change, an agency with both regulatory and implementation mandates while continuing to be tasked with coordination of the effort of all the relevant agencies.
According to the CPEIR, the broad scope and many responsibilities of the CCC itself have hampered its ability to streamline and operationalize the NCCAP and complete certain tasks. As stated in the review, “the CCC is solely responsible for a number of key functions, such as leading climate policy making and coordinating, monitoring and evaluation climate programs and action plans. Because of its wide array of responsibilities, the CCC has not been able to divert enough resources to advocate effectively for immediate action on climate change.”
In addition, the review notes that CCC has “limited local presence, and lacks the capacity to engage with all LGUs,” that “[no] clear organization model exists to execute and deliver climate results across the various Departmental structures and needs,” and that “coordination on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is difficult due to overlapping responsibilities and action plans.”
Complementary to the reconceptualization of the main climate governance body, we also need to create an independent DRRM agency as the current system is also woefully inadequate and designed to fail.
Fifth, climate finance – budgeting and spending – must be rationalized and made more transparent and accountable.
Pillar 1 of the CPEIR addresses what was identified by the review as a major weakness in the country’s present climate policy and budget institutional framework, namely the need for a unifying mechanism for all climate change activities. To do this, the reviewers deem it necessary to (i) strengthen the budget planning and execution framework to better manage climate Projects, Activities, and Programs (PAPS); (ii) align plans and strengthen implementation to achieve climate change goals; and (iii) rationalize and harmonize climate financing instruments.
This means that climate change must be integrated into the budget planning process, and that the climate-screening guidelines developed by the CCC and the Department Budget and Management to tag PAPs aimed at climate adaptation and mitigation should be updated and implemented based on clearly defined processes.
A shared climate program must be established by aligning NCCAP priorities with national plans and strategies, departmental work programs and local climate plans. The development of a “results-oriented operation business plan” would likewise ensure the strengthened implementation of climate change plans.
It is important for all sectors to have a more thorough understanding of the difference between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management. It follows then that “the policy convergence on CCA and DRRM needs to be reflected in implementation strategies, institutional arrangements, and financing by simplifying and integrating the vulnerability and disaster risk assessment tools so that they focus on short-to-long-term climate risk management; developing common indicators for monitoring progress; and standardizing reporting on climate-related disaster activities.”
Climate change must also be incorporated into development and investment plans at the local level, where progress is more easily observed and tracked, and actions are felt more directly by local residents.
It is also paramount that the use of climate and disaster funds be a public concern. A citizen monitoring watch initiative has been introduced to track the flow of funds and it is imperative that the results of this project be made known to the public so as to keep the issue alive in the political radar. In the case of Yolanda, for example, billions of aid poured in from donors and the government is also set to release billions more for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by the storm.
Sixth, capacity building is urgent – not just at the national level – but even at the level of local governments and community organizations.
This final pillar in the CPEIR pertained to information dissemination and building capacity to ensure the proactive participation between and among all the agencies and the public. The Philippines is one of the first few countries that came out with definite climate change policies, and had actually enacted laws on climate change. At the same time, however, it is ironic because despite such an acknowledgment of these risks, there still seems to be a rather raw understanding of climate change in general, and what is needed to address it.
The importance of capacity building for both the public and people in the government is beyond question. On the government side, increasing staff capacity would hasten the implementation of climate actions and reforms, while “a targeted information, education, and communication campaign can increase the adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable populations.”
Citizen organizations were identified as having particularly relevant roles in capacity building, as they raise the public’s awareness of the issue, build trust in communities and exert pressure for more transparency in government policies, actions and procedures.
Seventh, we must become, as Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Saño has said, a moral voice in the global climate change negotiations.
Climate change impacts are in specific places, and local actions are necessary to address them. But those measures must be enabled by global actions led by those who have contributed and are contributing most to the problem – the richest countries of the world, whether from the North or South, who have historically contributed or currently contributes (or are rapidly increasing their contribution) the most to cause climate change. These big countries must take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in supporting vulnerable countries like us. This is why the Philippines must prioritize the international negotiations on climate change.
In my humble opinion, the following considerations, also 7 in number, should guide our negotiating strategy for Lima (this year’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and Paris next year.
- We must work for an ambitious outcome in Paris while at the same time conscious we cannot return home without an agreement. There is, in this case, no better alternative to a negotiated outcome as a lack of agreement means another lost decade in responding to climate change. The Philippines must go to the negotiations remembering the wisdom of the adage: “The enemy of the good is the perfect.”
- We must walk the talk and offer our own NAMAs and INDCs. We cannot avoid making commitments so we must now prepare for taking them. We should offer both energy and land use NAMAs and INDCs and use the climate change negotiations as an opportunity to mobilize resources for our strategies and programs in these sectors. We would also want to excel in our adaptation programs that we should also feature in the package we will offer in Lima and Paris.
- All our NAMAs and INDCs, adaptation programs, and all our interventions in the climate change negotiations must be based on good and solid science. We must involve our scientists in the negotiations process and be guided by them even as we consider political factors in formulating our positions.
- We must play a more facilitative role in the negotiations, helping resolve difficult issues with the broadest consensus possible. This means we find a way to mediate between the developed countries and the biggest developing countries. Our voice is not needed by the other developing countries; in fact, another voice is needed that would urge moderation and compromise.
- We must distinguish ourselves by bringing into the process innovative ideas that will result in practical solutions. In Paris, we should concentrate on norms and processes that are implementable and that over time will help countries adapt and mitigate climate change. We must be open to others, including from outside the official process, offering good ideas.
- We must have a clear idea of our alliances, our strategy with our negotiating partners, what we will do inside the Group of 77 and China, our main negotiating bloc, other developing country coalitions, and developed countries. I suggest we look for coalitions that cut across traditional North-South divisions.
- We must go to Lima and Paris, and in all forthcoming inter-sessional meetings, strong and united. Ideally, all the government agencies that are critical should be represented in the Philippine delegation. This will make our commitments in Paris doable. These include the CCC, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), PAGASA, the DENR, DA, DOE, the National Economic Development Authority, the NDRRMC, and other relevant agencies. Citizen organizations should also be tapped by the government to assist in the negotiations, especially those individuals who have had a long history in participating in these negotiations.
The leadership of the DFA is critical in ensuring we have the strongest delegation possible in the climate change talks. Perhaps DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario can appoint a senior diplomat to lead our delegation or recommend to the President the appointment – from the government or the private sector – of a special envoy, on climate change.
A united Philippine delegation backed up a Philippine government and society that knows its priorities on climate change will surely make a difference in Lima and Paris. – Rappler.com