climate change

[OPINION] The Nationally Determined Contribution: Looking back at the Philippines’s climate promise

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] The Nationally Determined Contribution: Looking back at the Philippines’s climate promise

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'For a nation so used to hearing one broken promise after another, the NDC must not follow in those footsteps'

April 15th marks two years since the submission of the Philippines’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This policy document is important in setting the nation’s course for addressing the climate crisis.

The NDC is a self-determined commitment of all countries that signed the Paris Agreement to reduce their pollution and implement other solutions to slow down global warming and resulting climate changes. The pollution in question is in the form of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which largely come from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

The NDC is produced through an assessment of each country of their own needs, resources, and capacities. All NDCs should be aligned with the need for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, a level experts say is a critical point when climate change impacts could start becoming irreversible.

What we promised

Under its first NDC, the Philippines pledged to reduce its GHG emissions by 75% from 2020 to 2030 relative to a business-as-usual scenario, or without any solutions being implemented. A large portion of this (72.29%) is “conditional,” meaning the country needs means of implementation (i.e., finance, technologies, capacity-building) from developed nations to successfully lower its pollution.

The “conditional” clause is based on the principle that as highly-vulnerable countries like the Philippines did not contribute much to the climate crisis, they should be assisted in their solution implementation by high-income countries, who are the biggest polluters. It is also aligned with the nation’s championing of climate justice at the global policymaking arena.

It must be highlighted that the NDC commitments are based on the Philippines’s development objectives and priorities, which include sustainable industrial development, poverty eradication and inclusive growth, energy security, and social and climate justice. 

Are we keeping up?

Based on observations, some of the mitigation policies and measures that would contribute to the NDC’s fulfillment are already being implemented. Among these are ongoing programs and activities being enforced across the sectors of agriculture, waste, industry, transport, and energy.

It should be noted that adaptation is the nation’s primary mode of climate action, given its high climate vulnerability and low contribution to global GHG emissions. As a result, some of the proposed NDC policies and measures are focused on adaptation, with co-benefits on enhancing mitigation.

Perhaps the most vital to attaining the 75% target is successfully transforming the Philippines’s energy sector from fossil fuel-reliant to renewable energy (RE)-dependent. Energy remains the highest-emitting sector, partly due to the dominance of coal in the country’s power generation. This necessitates the significant acceleration of RE development to increase its share in the country’s energy mix.

However, achieving the self-imposed target would be difficult, given current policy directions. The current regime has strongly advocated for natural gas, another fossil fuel with similar circumstances to coal, as a stopgap before fully committing to RE-centric development. Discussions for building nuclear power plants, which is not among the proposed NDC measures, would also pose not only a potential roadblock for RE growth, but also safety and security risks in an already-vulnerable nation.

Questions also remain regarding how to implement mitigation policies in a just manner. An infamous example of this is the ongoing Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program, which has earned a lot of criticism for the past few years. While emphasizing the environmental benefits of modernizing jeepneys and buses, the two most recent administrations have failed to adequately respond to concerns on how PUV drivers and operators can afford the expensive costs. 

Ensuring a “just transition” is also a challenge in the energy sector, given the necessary scale of transformation of both the supply and demand side. With the inherently-conflicting vision of a RE-dominated sector that is needed to attain the NDC target and the current preference for seemingly any other fuel source than RE itself, the burden would ultimately be shouldered by Filipino consumers, who are already enduring one of the highest electricity rates in the Asia-Pacific.

With the Philippines’s NDC being largely conditional, only three “unconditional” measures have been declared (as of 2022). These endeavors cover the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Program, rail programs under “Build, Build, Build,” and the Manila Bay Coastal Management plan. Without securing more support from developed nations, the country’s ambitious goal of reducing its climate pollution will never be realized.

Keeping our word

The following call has been made for years, and it must be repeated: the Philippine government must present to the public a comprehensive decarbonization plan to reduce the country’s GHG emissions by 75%. This, at the bare minimum, should include mitigation pathways covering different scenarios and how each of the main economic sectors would respond to potential challenges and opportunities for climate action.

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The principle of “just transition” must not be forgotten in the NDC implementation process, and in all aspects of climate action. Trade-offs between benefits and consequences always exist in any proposed solution, and must be studied carefully and integrated into the planning process to ensure that no one will be left behind on the road to a more climate-responsible economy and society. To do otherwise results in false solutions and even more injustices.

When securing the means of implementation from developed countries, the Philippine government needs to ensure that these agreements would come without strings attached. Based on the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” and “polluters pay,” our nation should be getting these modes of support such that the terms do not slow down our pursuit of sustainable development and trigger even more loss and damage.

As it stands, the Philippines’s implementation of its NDC leaves a lot to be desired. There are still many pieces that need to be acquired and placed yet the window of opportunity to turn our country into one capable of addressing the climate crisis is not getting any bigger. 

For a nation so used to hearing one broken promise after another, the NDC must not follow in those footsteps. – Rappler.com

John Leo Algo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a member of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas and the Youth Advisory Group for Environmental and Climate Justice under the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016.

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