July 27, 2021
Despite being the critical decade for climate action and despite President Duterte claiming to prioritize this in his first SONAs, no mention of climate action was made in his last. The Philippines consistently ranks at the top of climate risk indexes, a reality reflected by the countless livelihoods and lives lost by Filipinos to floods and droughts yearly. However, our crisis of climate suffers the same fate as our crisis of heath: a lack of concrete plans ultimately spelling a failed response. While we communicated our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat earlier this year, our commitments remain to be translated to action. Still, a chance remains for the administration, in its remaining days, to deliver on its promises.
The Philippines has always been a strong advocate for climate justice, demanding reparations from the world’s top emitters. But we cannot call for climate justice while continuing to greenlight projects that harm our climate and environment. These calls must be substantiated with strong policies against environmental destruction that are also strictly implemented. Our Ecological Solid Waste Management Act passed 20 years ago could have prevented the plastic pollution crisis our country now faces had it been properly implemented. Today, bills such as the Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act are constantly discussed but remain unpassed, signaling a lack of urgency from our legislators as well.
The Philippines championed the recent declaration of the United Nations Human Rights Council that climate change is a human rights issue. In his SONA, President Duterte also recalled his promise to implement a human approach to development and governance in various areas, including health, education, respect for culture, and environmental preservation. It is thus painfully ironic that we are among the countries with the highest incidence of human rights violations, topping Global Witness’ 2019 list of the most dangerous countries for environmental defenders in Asia and ranking second worldwide, next to Colombia. The right to a balanced and healthy ecology is a constitutional right defended by our environmental frontliners: our foresters, fisherfolks, farmers, activists, and Indigenous Peoples. Implementation of laws such as the Extended National Integrated Protected Areas System Act and Indigenous Peoples Rights Acts will help protect the rights of nature while also protecting the lives of these staunch defenders.
The pandemic coupled with the climate impacts our countrymen suffer are clear indicators that our old normal was ineffective, and we cannot go back to it. We need a better reality through a recovery plan anchored on science and justice. We need a government that makes good on its promises, including, in the President’s own words, to “[a]ssert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people.” In its final days, the administration’s real legacy hinges on its design and implementation of a green and just recovery from the pandemic. This is its final chance to steer the Philippines towards being a truly resilient, low-carbon, sustainable country.