climate change

[OPINION] The true test begins in the Philippines’ fight vs climate change

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] The true test begins in the Philippines’ fight vs climate change

Illustration by DR Castuciano

'As difficult as the formulative stage has been, the road gets even tougher from here on out'

The Philippines finally took a long-awaited step in its fight against the climate crisis. 

On April 15, nearly four years after ratifying the Paris Agreement, the country officially submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), a self-determined pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhance adaptive capacity and resilience. It is a sign of commitment to join the rest of the world in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, a point that if crossed could lead to irreversible loss and damage.

The compliance has been made, but is the Philippines’s commitment in the NDC enough to address the climate crisis?

Willing and committed 

The Philippines plans to pursue mitigation or GHG reductions as a function of adaptation, given that it emits less than 1% of global emissions and is also one of the most vulnerable nations to the climate crisis. 

That said, this situation also gives the country the moral imperative to avoid following the pollutive development pathways by industrialized nations that largely caused global warming. With scientific findings projecting an even warmer world and hazards more destructive than what the world has already felt, every ton of emissions avoided or reduced matters. 

Under its NDC, the country commits to reduce and avoid GHG emissions by 75% from 2020 to 2030, compared to the business-as-usual scenario. It aims to implement this primarily in the sectors of agriculture, waste, industry, transport, and energy. Around 37% of its GHG emissions come from the energy sector, currently dominated by coal. Agriculture and transport accounts for 29% and 16%, respectively.

Another sector, forestry, plays a key role in reducing further pollution. Climate change mitigation is not only about reducing and avoiding potential GHG emissions. It also involves removing GHGs that have already been emitted into the atmosphere and oceans; these can be accomplished by forests and other natural carbon sinks. Protection, conservation, and restoration of forests is also recognized under the NDC.

The Philippines also expressed its aspiration for its emissions to peak by 2030 then decrease, aligned with its ASEAN neighbors. It plans to accelerate a just transition to a more sustainable economy, marked by the delivery of green jobs and increased resilience of infrastructures and communities to typhoons, droughts, sea level rise, and other climate-related hazards. 

To achieve these goals, the Philippines plans to implement policies and measures largely with international support from developed countries. This is based on the concept of “climate debt,” wherein richer nations that emitted most of the GHGs that cause global warming owe developing countries, which are not as capable to deal with its impacts. These means of implementation come in the form of finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building, which the country can avail of as a signatory to the Paris Agreement.

From words to actions

Despite these features, the Philippines’s first NDC is underwhelming in many aspects. While the 75% emissions reduction may seem an ambitious target, there is a lack of transparency on how to achieve this reduction or what sectoral contributions will be. It is also unclear how the interlinkages between sectors and other cross-cutting issues, such as poverty eradication, gender, health, education, and COVID-19 recovery, would affect the country’s ability to fulfill its own pledges.

While this may be seen as a negotiating tactic with developed nations in securing means of implementation, it is gravely concerning that some government agencies have not presented a clear roadmap on how to achieve their sectoral targets at this stage of national action. This is symptomatic of a lack of transparency and meaningful engagement with non-government stakeholders such as vulnerable communities and civil society organizations, which significantly affected the NDC development for years. 

There are also issues regarding the coherence of existing policies and measures with achieving targets in the NDC. For instance, the Department of Energy included “highly efficient coal technologies” in its proposed policies and measures under the NDC. This is despite the known role of coal and other fossil fuels in global warming and air pollution, among other impacts, and its own moratorium on new coal plants issued last October. This would also offset the mitigation benefits of developing the country’s renewable energy resources under RA 9513, whose full implementation only began a decade after being enacted into law. 

As difficult as the formulative stage has been, the road gets even tougher from here on out. The Philippine government must learn from mistakes seen in previous years. With the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement already started, it must now present a clear decarbonization strategy to Filipinos, with evidence-based sectoral policies and measures. This is necessary to successfully negotiate the much-needed means of implementation to achieve the 75% reduction target. 

Addressing the climate crisis requires long-term continuity in planning, implementation, and monitoring of mitigation and adaptation strategies. It must be prioritized in national and local development plans, which necessitates the active participation of non-government actors throughout the process. 

Any exclusion of marginalized communities or the prioritization of false solutions that further social injustices will be a failure not just of implementing the NDC, but of the mandate of the State to uphold the constitutional “right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

The first Philippine NDC lacks meaningful ambition, but its positive impact on our development does not have to be. For the sake of all Filipinos in the present and future, we must get our act together. The true test finally begins. –

John Leo Algo is Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has been representing Philippine civil society in UN regional and global climate conferences since 2017.

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