Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Climate Change Educational Forum
25 October 2016 | Ateneo School of Law, Makati City
What does the future hold for us—a nation greatly vulnerable to the ill effects of climate change?
We are walking on thin ice. Our future is uncertain because we are facing a crisis that we cannot resolve on our own.
Sea level rise threatens to submerge island nations and even our own coastal towns; ocean acidification is causing irreversible damage to our coral reefs, while the sudden shifts from hot temperatures to incessant rains pose uncertainties to agriculture, greatly affecting our food security. The warming climate is now one of the most significant risks for World Heritage Sites, including our own Ifugao Rice Terraces. Extreme rainfall and heavy floods constantly threaten lives, livelihood and development.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius increase in global mean temperatures from pre-industrial levels threatens extinction of 20-30 percent of all species.
The World Bank projects that under a 2°C scenario, there will be a 20 percent decline in water availability for many regions and 15–20 percent decrease in crop yield.
Moreover, with warming of up to 2°C, sea-level rise is projected to be around 70 centimeters. Sea level rise, floods that damage fish farms, and the increased acidification of the oceans by 2050 could reduce farmed fish yield by 90 percent.
We have also been experiencing harsh weather events. Aside from the intensified periods of El Niño in the past months, climate change has also caused more frequent and stronger typhoons like Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, which inundated almost the whole of Metro Manila; typhoon Pablo in 2012, which killed more than a thousand people in Mindanao; and supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and caused massive destruction, among many others.
If the world goes business as usual, there will be 6 million deaths per year by 2030, close to 700,000 of which will be due to climate change.
Clearly, climate change is the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time. It affects food, water, settlement, jobs, livelihood, human welfare, safety and security, poverty reduction, economic growth, and, consequently, our overall pursuit of sustainable development.
What has brought about the state we are in today?
The IPCC points to human activity as the main cause of global warming. Human activity released 545 gigatons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from 1750 to 2011. Of the carbon dioxide emitted, two-thirds was due to the burning of fossil fuels with one-third caused by deforestation and land-use change. In the last decade however, 90 percent of the rise in carbon dioxide levels was due to burning of fossil fuels.
We must realize that we are living in a world with finite resources and yet generations have lived over the centuries like there is no tomorrow.
Our natural environment has been compromised. Our biological diversity has been significantly reduced and the general health of our environment is conceded to the greed of some. We cannot keep a blind eye to this.
Our ecosystems have been altered more rapidly in the name of development; but the poor have remained poor and their numbers are increasing notwithstanding the emergence of megacities and the increasing “GDPs” of nations.
The irony here is that, the things we want to gain and develop through the use of ecosystem services, are the very same things we lose due to exploitation and unsustainable use of our natural resources.
We are already experiencing the impact of climate change and if we do not act now, we will start to feel its grave effects in 15 to 35 years from now, or even earlier.
Clearly, what is at stake here is your future and your children’s future.
You have the right to demand from us, your parents and your leaders, decisive and urgent action to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It is our duty, under the concept of inter-generational responsibility, to ensure that you and the future generations will continue to enjoy a balanced and healthful ecology.
This is why nations, especially those highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as the Philippines, pushed for the inclusion of the 1.5°C global warming limit in the drafting of the Paris Agreement.
In the Agreement, our commitment is to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2°C. The 1.5°C warming limit is an aspiration; but we must do everything not to go beyond that, because the 1.5°C goal is a matter of survival.
The Philippines, as Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum then, was among the most influential in the crafting of the Agreement. That is why it is ironic that, with the imminent entry into force of the Agreement following the ratification of more than 55 countries representing more than 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we are taking our time.
We need to ratify the Paris Agreement so that we can access the Green Climate Fund, which will help us finance our climate adaptation programs, and receive other technical and financial support from developed countries.
But while we await such opportunity, we should not stick to ‘business as usual’ in the way we pursue development, especially since we have also committed to building the resilience of our communities and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth in accordance with the Sendai Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals.
We have passed numerous laws not just to demand accountability for environmental issues but also to provide impetus to incorporate environmental concerns into planning and policy making. The United Nations has lauded our laws on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction as among the “best in the world.” However, the UN also noted that the challenge is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.
Effective enforcement emanates from everyone’s understanding and appreciation of responsibility and accountability.
Protecting our environment is not the duty of the government alone. Young as you are, I believe that you are the most active partners in challenging development norms, politics, governance and leadership.
It is important for you, the youth of today, to discuss issues such as sustainable economic development and climate resilience because they will define your own future.
Fundamentally, leaders must re-think development – the kind of development that transcends traditional economic yardsticks such as GDP; and the kind founded on sustainability and socio-economic progress, ecosystems protection, and good governance.
We need to progressively decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal, and shift to renewable energy. We need a paradigm shift from an extractive and consumptive economics to sustainable development. We should veer away from the throwaway culture and aim for a zero waste, low-carbon economy.
Each of us should have a personal reflection on what we can do to contribute to protecting the planet. We can no longer delay action. You are the future of this country. You are the frontliners in the overall action towards climate action and resilience.
In closing, I wish to impart this message: Climate change is now in our midst and it imparts to us the lesson that we do not own the planet, but are mere stewards of its resources.
Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future. We must take hold of the opportunity to responsibly manage our environment and lead the way towards resilient and sustainable development.