On the Challenges of Climate Change and What Should be the Agenda of the Young Progressives in the Region

On the Challenges of Climate Change and What Should be the Agenda of the Young Progressives in the Region

Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao, Akbayan Partylisyt

YSPEA Conference on Climate Change

September 17, 2010

Delivered at 88 Resort, Calamba Laguna

Magandang araw sa inyong lahat, ako si Kaka Bag-ao, ang bagong kinatawan ng Akbayan Party-list sa Kongreso.

Let me begin by saying one simple fact about climate change – that the scientific evidence proving the changes in the earth’s surface temperature is overwhelming such that the debate on the existence of the phenomenon is now an exercise in futility. Now is the moment to take action, and while we can no longer reverse some of the damage that we have wrought over our planet, there are steps that can be taken – and should be taken promptly – to mitigate its impacts.

All over the world, climate change will pose grave threats. Our patterns of consumption, energy use, and yes, the obstinacy of our short-term political interests over the sustainability of our own planet and even of human life have tipped a delicate balance in our ecosystem, catalyzing a momentum of changes that is now difficult to alter.

Global warming will change geographic landscapes. It puts at risk human settlements and wildlife due to extreme weather, rising seas, persistent drought, fire and floods. New diseases will crop up, and those that we have already eliminated might re-appear with new strains.

The impact of climate change is such that even the political terrain would be altered. As a global phenomenon, climate change is bound to highlight the unevenness and inequality between and among nations. The poorest countries, those that have the least say in the affairs of the world and of the affairs of the wealth nations, would suffer the most despite the fact that they contribute only 10 % of the world’s carbon emission, the cause of global warming. The economic loss would be great and would be experienced by all, yet it would be more painful to the poor, who’d have less access to remedies.

Over 3 billion people living in poverty would be made more vulnerable by climate change. The change in geographic landscape caused by rising sea levels would create climate change refugees. They rely on natural resources for their income, not on technology, and therefore declining crop yields and extreme weather situations would be devastating.

A consensus on climate change is therefore urgent. Skepticism on its nature and causes has been a convenient excuse for the rich few to continue their policy of greed, aggressive consumerism, and irresponsible consumption at the expense of strategic and progressive steps to address the issue.

Here in the Philippines, the impact of climate change can be seen in changing weather patterns. Over the last ten years, we have noted an increase in frequency and intensity of storms. From 1990 to 2004, several extreme typhoons were recorded: there were 32 tropical cyclones that entered the country in 1993, the highest in terms of frequency in our history. We have seen a year ago the devastation caused by Ondoy, a typhoon that brought intense rain in the country, submerging several communities in Luzon, and killing dozens of people.

An archipelago like the Philippines – and in fact, the same is true in all Southeast Asian countries – is vulnerable to calamities brought by climate change. Rising water level, whether in the South China Sea or the Mekong River, could take over and reclaim occupied lands, destroying homes and agricultural communities. It would threaten our survival and food security. In short, the inequalities that we see today will be compounded and hardest to address because of climate change.

We have already made steps to mitigate the situation. The Kyoto Protocol, which sets the global template in reducing greenhouse gas emission by 5.2% from the 1990 level, gives us the right political tool and a foundation for a global consensus on climate change. Here, the Philippines has established the policy environment that is admittedly not enough but constitutes the right step towards the right direction. We have, for example, already enacted the Clean Air Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, and recently, the Renewable Act – three policies that should define the track that the Philippines could take to address the issue.

The problem is the lack of political leadership. The policies are there, but what’s lacking is the political commitment. We have all the instruments that we need, and yet the enforcement is oftentimes compromised by short-term political and economic vested interests. We have signed the Kyoto protocol, we have enacted the Clean Air Act and the Renewable Energy act and yet we are approving the establishment of coal-fired power plant left and right. The same lack of political leadership can seen worldwide – countries that have the greatest carbon emission have refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, and have refused to condone the debts of poor countries that could use economic remedies to promote sustainable development.

This is where the role of young progressives is important. We need to shift the debate from the short-term interests of the old to the long-term imperatives of the young. The inequalities that we see are unsustainable, and they are pushing our own existence to oblivion. Greed is not sustainable. Countries should be able to relate to each other on equal terms.

The debate should be framed according to the requirements of sustainable existence, one where consumption is defined by the future and by the needs of all, and not by greed. We must put premium on imagination as our currency to solve a daunting task – after all, our collective survival is at stake. I hope that you’d begin your conversations on climate change with hope and the right amount of optimism, with the perspective that we can still change the world, and we have the power to do so. Magandang hapon at maraming salamat sa inyong lahat!

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