By: Chuck Baclagon
“Rice and corn plants as far as the eye can see are flattened. Many houses were destroyed. I saw one school building crushed under a large tree. It was as if our house was being pulled from its foundations.”
These were the words of Villamor Visaya, a teacher in the northern city of Ilagan, Isabela as she lived through the havoc of Typhoon Haima, which finally exited the Philippines last Thursday, leaving behind at least four people dead and nearly 100,000 displaced overnight.
In Tuguegarao, Cagayan, the storm’s strong winds blew the destroying homes, bringing down power lines and felling trees which rendered some roads impassable because of the debris.
The local government eyes placing the city under a state of calamity. It said the storm damaged around 80 percent of the city’s households and businesses by flattening the rice and cornfields that supply majority of the country’s production.
Following this, social media is again abuzz with images of seemingly post-apocalyptic landscapes of destruction in the communities affected by Haima’s onslaught. Emergency services and relief agencies have begun the work of rebuilding communities.
But as the skies begin to clear, something equally dire and ominous lurks in relation to the Philippines’ future as far as global climate action is concerned.
The brewing storm of inaction
Speaking before typhoon survivors in Cagayan on Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte rightfully blamed rich and industrialized nations for harmful emissions that have led to climate change and extreme weather disturbances. However, things took a downturn when he thumbed down initiatives to reduce the country’s emissions, stressing that it’s the industrialized nations that should cut down on theirs because of their larger carbon footprints –sending a clear signal that the Philippines will not be ratifying the Paris Agreement.
While there is truth in the President’s claims, we also need to understand that the solutions to the climate crisis requires action in an unprecedented scale. Doing so demands action from everyone while keeping in mind that not everyone is equally responsible for the crisis. All high-emitting countries will have to do more to close this emissions gap, and this can be done in a fair way. Richer emitters must reduce their emissions substantially and must contribute to more emissions reduction and adaptation efforts by poorer countries by providing additional finance and technology access, which can only be made accessible if we become party to the agreement.
Locally, several key government agencies including the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health, the Department of National Defense, the National Economic Development Authority, the National Security Council, and the Metro Manila Development Authority have already endorsed the ratification of the Agreement as a basis for the Philippines to ensure aggressive measures to shift towards a just transition to renewable energy systems and free up financing to protect the most vulnerable from worsening climate impacts.
In Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Lao People’s’ Democratic Republic, Brunei, Thailand and most recently Indonesia have already ratified the Agreement. Even China has already joined the global community in ratifying the agreement and has gone to the point of halting the construction of 30 large coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of 17 gigawatts.
The most to lose and little to gain
Our stubbornness to resist common sense and lack of development foresight in jumping the low-carbon economy bandwagon serves as an impediment to real global action in responding to the climate crisis.
Climate change does not recognize geopolitical borders nor interest. Our failure to ratify sends a clear message of justifying inaction and pollution from countries and industries that have profited the most from the burning of fossil fuels, to the detriment of those who have burned the least and whose economies have benefited the least from fossil-fueled development.
We have the most to lose and very little to gain if we pursue the myopic track of seeing emissions reduction as an obstruction to development.
We need to further strengthen our resolve to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. This all begins with a concerted effort in the Philippine government to assert a place for itself at the negotiating table by ratifying the Paris Agreement.
The vulnerable who have contributed the least to global warming should have the most say in how the global community should respond to the climate crisis. Climate change is a symptom of a broader crisis, one that has brought about ‘development’ at the expense of people, communities and ecosystems. By imagining limits on human consumption and by proposing ways to share resources and effort between peoples, we can treat the causes of that crisis whilst addressing climate change but we can only do so by becoming a party to the global climate deal.
We need to go beyond surviving. We need leadership in the government to speak in our behalf and show that not only is our survival non-negotiable; our perseverance to face the extremes that this crisis has brought us should be met with justice. We need to ensure that beyond all this, we should thrive as a people.