Klima Kabisayaan: Democracy and climate change

By Paula Bernasor


Unsa ang imo pagsabot sa demokrasya? Para sa kadaghanan, walay krimen ug walay rebelde pero ang demokrasya mas lawom pa.


Ang demokrasya naga-tras, ang sibikong kawanangan nagkagamay, ang pagkawalay pagsalig, sayop ug di mao nga impormasyon nagkadako samtang ang mga hulga sa kagawasan sa mga environmentalist, mga abogado, mga tigbalita ug mga trabahante sa media nagkadako sa matag adlaw.

Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society, and individuals can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.

Climate change poses a great challenge to democracy and its endurance, probably the greatest challenge it has ever seen. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and global warming is not kept within the targets set in the Paris Agreement, the impact on populations, infrastructure, and nature will be dire. At the same time, governing systems and democratic frameworks will be brought under severe stress. 

Global warming is expected to exacerbate natural hazards, such as heatwaves, droughts, and sea level rise, which could potentially lead to significant social conflict and institutional collapse. Crises or emergency situations could, in some cases, have positive effects on democracy, bringing people together and providing opportunities for regime change, but they could also be used as an excuse for autocratic or hybrid regimes to curtail democratic freedoms, as experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We might pride ourselves as a democratic nation however, we have been consistently listed as one of the lowest-scoring countries for environmental democracy in the Environmental Democracy Index.

Environmental democracy is rooted in the idea that meaningful public participation is critical to ensure that land and natural resource decisions adequately and equitably address citizens’ interests. At its core, environmental democracy involves three (3) pillars:

  • Transparency: Openness and transparency are required to help citizens, civil society, media, businesses, the courts, and the international community understand what is happening in relation to the environment and how their governments are responding.
  • Participation: The public, particularly those most affected by climate change and environmental degradation, need to be able to voice their concerns and influence policy-making for the right decisions to be made and for these choices to have legitimacy.
  • Justice: If enforcement of environmental legislation and treaties is to have meaning, and people’s human rights are to be respected, then there must be effective mechanisms for challenging the action – or inaction – of governments in acting as environmental stewards for current and future generations.
Protecting these rights, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable, is the first step to promoting equity and fairness in sustainable development. Without essential rights, information exchange between governments and the public is stifled and decisions that harm communities and the environment cannot be challenged or remedied. Establishing a strong legal foundation is the starting point for recognizing, and protecting and enforcing environmental democracy.
Climate change already has an impact on democratic governance through its effects on food security, conflicts, and water scarcity, migration, and natural disasters, among other consequences.
Access to nutritious food is a prerequisite for human well-being and development and is also a precondition for freedom and democracy. In a society where nutritious food is affordable and abundant, democracy is in a better position to thrive. The consequences of rising global temperatures will, by all accounts, be negative for the economy. The economic consequences of climate change will be particularly difficult for developing countries since they have fewer resources for adaptation, and for this reason, climate change will claim a higher percentage of their GDP. Research has also shown that climate change can increase gender inequality, particularly in the developing world. Women are often more dependent on agriculture for income, and they are charged with securing water, food, and fuel for cooking, making them more vulnerable to natural hazards. Moreover, the economic, social, and political disadvantages of women make climate change a greater burden for women than for men (UNDP 2013).
In terms of maintaining social cohesion, the pandemic is an ominous forewarning of the climate crisis. When it comes to democratic development, this is most troublesome. Democracies can be in a better position to deal with climate injustice, allowing people to mobilize and fight for human rights issues and social welfare. 
However, research shows that economic and social gulfs often undermine the faith in democracy and the interest in becoming politically engaged. 
Not only that, income disparity also tends to undermine the mutual trust people have in one another. Polarization increases. That is why it becomes more difficult to garner support for welfare and social insurance policies, so inequalities tend to be self-perpetuating. In unequal societies, corruption, criminality, and social unrest increase too (Han and Chang 2016; Mounk 2018).
Overwhelming evidence shows that human activity has a dangerous impact on the climate and our ecosystems. Yet, most political systems have failed to address climate and other environmental crises. Strong environmental governance and rule of law are crucial to supporting sustainable development as well as inclusive democratic governance.
The groups who will be most severely affected by the resource scarcity caused by climate change and environmental degradation are the same groups commonly excluded from political decision-making – the poorest, slum residents, subsistence farmers, rural women, minorities, indigenous groups, and young people. Ensuring that they are included in political processes and that decision-makers listen to their political voices is critical.
In addressing the causes and effects of climate change, the institutional capacity of a state is of great importance. State capacity is consequently crucial in dealing with the complexity and urgency of the climate crisis. In this regard, the issue of corruption is obviously a great challenge. 
Several studies show the detrimental effects of corruption and state weakness on environmental and climate policies. When the state is weak, the institutions are incapable of drafting and enforcing environmental policies and regulations. The price of complying with regulations might supersede the costs of bribing and polluting. Also, corruption has an impact on the capacity of public authorities to monitor and prosecute illegal activities and environmental crimes. It leads to erosion of tax revenues, further affecting governance capacity (López and Mitra 2000; Fredriksson and Svensson 2003; Welsch 2004).
Citizens, political parties, journalists, and legislators need the capacity and resources to use the extensive evidence available on climate change and environmental degradation to inform and influence policy development.
As Visayans, we can take part in upholding environmental democracy through these:
  • Inviting citizens to participate in formulating climate policies
  • Involving youth in the political consultations and making them part of the advisory boards
  • Fighting corruption 
  • Ensuring transparency, accountability, and public oversight in the implementation of climate policies
  • Counteracting disinformation
  • Overcoming polarization 
  • Representing future generations by proxy
  • Pushing for our local governments to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions
  • Empowering citizens to participate in the discussion and decision-making process on the allocation of public funding
  • Maintaining equality in the response to climate effects
  • Strengthening gender equality
  • Counteracting aggressive lobbying and policy capture of the fossil fuel industry
Democracy can contribute to progressive climate action. However, as long as many democracies are suffering from their institutional failures, they will not be able to deliver adequately. 
The failure to act on the climate crisis has created a situation of intergenerational injustice. Future generations might not be able to live under conditions that enable a healthy and prosperous life. 
Climate change also tests the ways democracies cooperate and collectively confront issues of relevance to humankind. Democracies need to formulate and put in place effective measures to climate change to respond to the needs of the current and future generations.
There are strong links between action to address climate and environmental crises and action to strengthen democracy. Huge changes to all levels of society, politics, and businesses are required to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change and environmental degradation. This means we need durable, effective, and responsive democratic institutions, accountable governance systems, and strong political will.
We need to rethink how we see democracy and realize the connection it has with our changing and threatened environment. 





Paula Bernasor is the Visayas Coordinator of The Climate Reality Project Philippines. She is a Climate Reality Philippines Leader and Mentor, Chapter Director for Startup Grind Cebu, and a volunteer for Project Sharklink and Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project. She previously worked as an Associate for Partnerships for Rare Organisation’s Fish Forever in the Philippines. She started Project Library in the Philippines, a grassroots movement that helps underprivileged communities in remote areas gain access to books and reading materials, as well as Ocean Love Philippines, which uses social media to spread awareness on pressing environmental issues and to promote a sustainable lifestyle and the circular economy. 


Klima Kabisayaan is a space that aims to amplify the climate stories and initiatives of the more than 300 Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders in Visayas.

It is one of the monthly columns launched by The Climate Reality Project Philippines to elevate the climate discourse and strengthen climate action across all regions in the Philippines.