[OPINION] Concrete ways young Filipinos can help divest the world from fossil fuels

Ten years ago, Typhoon Ondoy brought unprecedented devastation to Metro Manila and surrounding provinces. This disaster was a grim reminder for Filipinos of what happens when we fail to address the impacts brought by climate change. 

Despite more reminders that our world has experienced since then, climate action has only progressed slowly. Some political leaders and business tycoons refuse to prioritize measures to solve this crisis or even acknowledge the severity of its impacts. Our economic system is reaching a point where money is being made not to address the basic needs of the people, but rather to make even more money. (READ: 'How dare you?' Greta Thunberg asks world leaders at U.N.

This is evident in how Philippine banks, especially BPI, BDO, and Metrobank continue to finance the development of coal-fired power plants, which worsens global warming. Despite scientific consensus and a growing public outcry, these banks continue to take advantage of faulty economic policies that make coal still attractive to investors. They choose to keep the few elitists happy and richer instead of supporting long-term development where everyone benefits. (READ: [OPINION] It's time to stop investing in climate change)

If you or your family are one of the millions of clients of these banks, is this how you want your money to grow? What is the point of investing if it would lead to the suffering of others? Why invest for your future when that future is filled with more extreme weather events and a lower quality of life, which is partially caused by irresponsible banking?

This is why it is important for the Filipino youth to actively campaign for divestment from fossil fuels. It is their future that would be negatively affected by the climate crisis should unsustainable financial practices continue. Their involvement would also help in the development of morally-responsible future generations that can end the culture of exploitation and greed that prevails in our society.    

In the Philippines, divestment efforts have started picking up. Last July, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) joined 140 other Catholic institutions around the world in committing to shift its financial assets away from fossil fuels into renewable energy. Among banks, the Development Bank of the Philippines is among the 131 institutions worldwide that have committed to align their business with the goals of the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. These banks hold $47 trillion in assets, or a third of the world’s banking sector.

But this is nowhere near enough to prevent further man-made global warming and climate change. There are many ways in which the Filipino youth can help the world in divesting from dirty energy.

One way is to join the climate strikes. For months, millions of youth advocates worldwide have been marching on the streets to demand from governments and businesses a rapid and just transition to renewable energy and justice for the victims of climate-induced disasters. (READ: [OPINION] Why the Philippines should declare a climate emergency)

Contrary to its negative perception in the Philippines, strikes that are genuinely and properly conducted can exert public pressure that triggers widespread change. In Negros, youth climate strikers played a key role in stopping the construction of a 300-megawatt coal plant sponsored by SMC Global Power Holdings Corporation. The same could be done applying pressure to the country’s major banks, which have yet to pronounce timelines for completely abandoning their coal investments.

Another way is to directly pressure their academic institutions to divest. It is unethical for colleges and universities, whose mission is to educate the leaders of tomorrow, to invest in businesses with practices that compromise the future of their students. 

Youth leaders can engage with their school administrators to check portfolios, know where their tuition fees are being betted on, and persuade them to live up to the image of role models. They may also conduct case studies and socioeconomic analyses to show that investing in renewables, whose demand is increasing by the day, is the best long-term move for their institution. 

Lastly, the Filipino youth can convince their families to avoid investing in banks and other financial institutions that fund dirty energy projects. They may also persuade them to engage in stockholder consultations, where they can directly engage with banking officials and pressure them to commit to the kind of sustainable business practices that they deserve.

The climate crisis is not just about preventing more disasters; it is also about reducing the inequalities that unjustly place the marginalized sectors in harm’s way of its worst impacts. Banks and other businesses should not be allowed to continue the “business-as-usual” attitude that has led to the poor state of the world.

The message is clear: No profit is more worthy than the long-term health of the planet and its people. And if they do not listen, it’s up to the leaders of tomorrow to make them. – Rappler.com

John Leo Algo is the Program Manager for Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI) and the Science Policy Advisor for Living Laudato Si Philippines. He is also an environment researcher and citizen journalist.