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The Philippines: Prospects in pursuing climate justice, eradicating poverty and inequality

Posted on 4 September 2019

The climate crisis has drastically increased the occurrence of weather-related disasters, affecting
millions of families especially those in the global South and causing billions in losses and damages
annually. Institutions and actors are forced to reevaluate accustomed frameworks of development, and
incorporate sustainability and environmental policies. However, civil society organizations (CSOs) are
concerned that economic and political policies remain incoherent with the climate agenda.

The Council on People’s Governance and Development (CPDG) hosted Addressing Poverty and Inequality
Towards Agenda 2030: A Policy Forum last August 23, 2019 at the International Center for Public
Administration, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

Agenda 2030 was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 in line with its principles of
sustainable development and involving 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Various people’s
organizations, civil society organizations, and government actors attended the forum to lay their stakes
and vision towards sustainable development.

Among the CSOs that participated were Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives
(CCNCI) and the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) who talked about climate justice in
the Philippine context and in relation to people’s right to development. In their statement, CCNCI and
CEC showed how environmental policies and programs are frustrated and undermined by the country’s
supposed development framework, with political and economic policies that endorse the exploitation of
natural resources and, in turn, heighten the vulnerability of affected communities.

Limits of current climate change policy in the Philippines

To supposedly corroborate its commitment to the SDGs and to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsby 2030
under the Paris Agreement, the Philippines enacted the Climate Change Act (Republic Act 9729) which
established the Climate Change Commission (CCC). RA 9729 was amended as RA No. 10174 in 2011 to
create the People Survival Fund (PSF) which will finance climate change programs and projects based on
the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change (NFSCC) 2010-2022 drafted by CCC.

The NFSCC is the basis for the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2011-2028, with the latter
having identified seven priorities to attain climate resilience: food security, water sufficiency, ecological
and environmental sustainability, human security, climate-friendly industries and services, sustainable
energy, and knowledge and capacity development.

The “ambitious mandate” of the CCC is limited in scope. CCC coordinates, evaluates, and monitors its
own policies and programs, but policies and programs of other agencies that negatively impact the
environment and heighten people’s vulnerabilities are outside its mandate. Such policies and programs
include the Mining Act of 1995, ongoing Manila Bay reclamation, the Build Build Build infrastructure
program, continuing land and water use conversions, expansion of mono-crop plantations, among
others. While the PSF, which is supposed to support community-based climate change adaptation
strategies, is hampered by its highly technical requirements that impedes its use by local government
units and people’s organizations.

Incoherent policy
CCC’s priorities for climate resilience involve issues and concerns that are not covered by its scope. For
instance, food security cannot be achieved without genuine agrarian reform and fisheries and aquatic
reform. Until now, national agriculture and fisheries and aquaculture are disposed to development
aggression, and import-oriented policies and programs; while agricultural workers remain landless and
struggle against landlord monopoly, and fishermen and aquaculture workers compete against industrial-
scale fishers. Water services in the country are privatized and, thus, are costly or inaccessible to many

Ecological and environmental sustainability are unattainable with continuous liberalization of

environmental policies that urge exploitation of our natural resources. Climate-friendly industries and
services are largely corporatized; and innovations do not cater to the needs of vulnerable communities.
There are no commitments to shift to sustainable energy, as industries are still reliant on coal-fired
power plants with 17 existent power plants, and 24 more projected. While there is an attempt to
mainstream discourse on climate change, resources are inadequate to implement and facilitate
systematic and extensive climate change education.

Deadliest country for environmental defenders

Overall, the poor who are largely dependent on climate-sensitive industries like farming and fishing have
limited access to basic social services and disaster response, and simultaneously, are the most
vulnerable to climate change. Moreover, liberalized and profit-oriented policies that deprive people of
social services exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change.

Environmental defenders and development workers who openly criticize and mobilize people against
liberalized environmental policies and large-scale destructive projects risk their lives. According to the
2018 Global Witness Report, the Philippines is the deadliest country in the world for environmental
defenders with 30 activists killed in the same year.

Ways forward: Rethinking assumptions

The government must reassess its pledge to reduce GHG emissions to a nationally determined
contribution (NDC) of 70% below “business-as-usual” (BAU), given that the Philippines has a minimal
contribution of 0.39% to the global GHG emissions (as of 2015). Reducing GHG emissions to NDC of 70%
is not a viable climate change mitigation strategy, as this will negatively impact the country’s

Instead, the government should redirect its resources and fortify its commitment to the protection and
conservation of the country’s natural resources as its major contribution in climate change mitigation. It
should also hold developed countries accountable for their historical GHG emissions and to challenge
and oppose neoliberal development policies that compromise prospects of sustainable development. A
step towards climate justice is putting pressure on developed countries to change their BAU pathway as
they are foremost responsible for climate change.

The government should also review political policies and programs that compound the exploitation of
the country’s natural resources and displace and heighten the vulnerability of affected communities.
Economic and environmental policies and programs must be transformed to address the needs of the
people and drive national development. The efforts and strides of people’s organizations and civil
society organizations must also be recognized and engaged by the government as steps to eradicate
poverty and inequality to be able to work towards sustainable development. ###