Climate crisis is above all a moral challenge
NEW YORK—At Glasgow’s Conference of the Parties’ 26th summit (COP26) to address the existential threat of climate change, the gathered delegates from 154 countries concluded the two-week conference with a global pledge to keep at 1.5 Celsius the maximum tolerable increase in global temperature, beyond which this planet we call home will reach the tipping point and we slide irrevocably into uninhabitability.
In short, we humans will have wrecked the Earth.
Responding to calls from worldwide protests and from those countries most vulnerable to climate change, COP agreed to phasing down fossil fuels as well as to double their financial support for developing countries by 2025.
Additionally, 130 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, encompassing 90% of the world’s remaining forests. Unfortunately, this last has been undercut by Brazil’s concealing the fact until the last minute that, under President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation of the Amazon—described as the planet’s lungs—has been the worst in 15 years.
While acknowledging that some progress has been made, climate activist Greta Thunberg labels COP26 “a failure.” She points out that more needs to be done, and, scientists say, done right away. The proposed incremental changes, even if all are carried out, won’t keep up with the disastrous consequences of rapidly occurring climate change.
It is in the Global South primarily, where most of the poorer countries are, that ecological havoc is most evident.
In the Philippines, the poorest communities such as farmers, fisherfolk, and coastal populations regularly contend with the worst impacts of climate change: heatwaves, flooding, hurricane-force winds and rising sea levels—the veritable four horsemen of the apocalypse.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Philippines is pummeled by “more typhoons than any other country in the world: roughly half of the 20 that emerge in the region every year will cut across the archipelago. It constantly ranks among the most at-risk countries due to climate change despite its small contribution to its causes and is the second-most affected by events of weather-related loss according to data from the Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2020.”
“Such conditions drive migration decisions of Filipinos. In 2020 alone, the Philippines witnessed 4.4 million people newly displaced by disasters inside their country, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This is the second largest figure for 2020 at the global level, only trumped by China. But this is not a new trend. The Philippines has been ranking first or second at the global level on the number of persons affected by internal disaster displacement in the last 5 years, with 4.1 million in 2019, 3.8 million in 2018, 2.5 million in 2017, and 2.6 million in 2016.”
Another scientific survey estimates that the archipelago is sinking four times faster than the global average.
And yet, the island nation accounts for only three-tenths of one percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
In short, extreme weather events have become the new normal, expected to become more frequent and more intense unless climate change is dealt with decisively.
What has Manila’s response been?
Last November 9, the government’s Secretary of Finance and Chairman-Designate of the Climate Change Commission, Carlos G. Dominguez, issued an eloquent statement portraying the severity of the problem and the concrete steps the Duterte administration plans to take to be “a world leader in this fight against climate change.” The target? Reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent in 2030.
The proposed policy changes and goals are laudable but can the government deliver?
The country doesn’t lack for laws protecting the environment, and while it’s true that much of the environmental ills plaguing the country are due to the industrialized Global North, Manila has never been consistent in safeguarding our forests, lands, and seas. Enforcement has always been haphazard, minimal and often nonexistent. Why? Simple: corruption endemic to the system. Corruption has helped denude the nation’s forest cover; pollute its ocean, rivers, and lakes; and reduce arable land for mindless, primarily, urban development. A few have grown fabulously rich at the expense of the many.
And this has continued under Duterte who, during his campaign for the presidency in 2015 promised, like all other presidential candidates before him, to end corruption and better the life of the common tao. Instead, corruption continues, unabated.
Grandiloquence won’t do anything to reduce the despoilation of the country’s natural resources. Honesty and the political courage to do the right thing will.
(To Be Continued)
Copyright L.H. Francia 2021