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Speech: “Climate Change and Environmental Protection”

September 16, 2016

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Rotary Club of Makati EDSA Joint Meeting
“Climate Change and Environmental Protection”
16 September 2016 | Asian Institute of Management, Makati City

 

It is with great pleasure that I take part in this gathering to encourage Rotarians to take a more active role in finding solutions to the growing social, economic and development challenges caused by environmental degradation and disasters arising from natural hazards made stronger by climate change.

 

Today, we are celebrating the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer and we have a very good reason to celebrate because the ozone layer is starting to heal.

 

Scientists have confirmed that the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica is beginning to close and according to recent research by the University of Leeds and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the hole may close permanently by 2050.[1]

 

This success is due to the unity of nations in not only adopting the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, but also turning commitments into action, particularly by phasing out substances that are responsible for ozone depletion such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

 

This is definitely good news and although I would want to dwell on it, there is an urgent concern we need to address now—the climate crisis.

 

Nations are scrambling to limit global warming to less than 2°C as sea level rise threatens to submerge island nations; 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.

 

What has caused this constant warming of the Earth’s temperature?

 

Key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that climate change is “unequivocal” and that there is 95 percent likelihood that human activity is the cause of global warming.[2]

 

Human activity released 545 gigatons of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas from 1750 to 2011. In the last decade, 90 percent of rise in carbon dioxide levels was due to burning of fossil fuels.

 

Unless drastic cuts are introduced, global temperatures are projected to increase by 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

 

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.

 

It was not an easy journey during the Paris Agreement negotiations yet we continue to move forward through the challenging path of pushing for its ratification.

 

At this point, 27 of the 197 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have ratified the Agreement, including the US and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG). They represent 39.08% of global GHG emissions.[3] For the Agreement to enter into force, at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC representing 55 percent of global GHG emissions must ratify it.

 

I am hopeful that it will not take long for our own government to realize the wisdom of completing our process of ratification.

 

But even as the Paris Agreement has been hailed by many as a landmark agreement, its aspirations will not happen on its own.

 

Bending the global warming curve to 1.5°C is a moral imperative, because it means saving the lives and livelihoods of millions of people; it means upholding the human rights of the poor and vulnerable; it means ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.

 

The Philippines has committed to a 70% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 from business as usual scenario from energy, transport, waste, industry and forestry. We also committed to building the resilience of our communities and promoting inclusive growth in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Delivering on our commitments to these global frameworks is our way of telling and showing the world that though we are vulnerable to natural hazards and climate impacts, we are not incapable of action.

 

We need to strengthen the capacity of our government and apply the whole-of-society approach in integrating responses to climate change within national to local policy frameworks and programs of actions.

 

The Philippines has among the world’s best laws on climate and disaster resilience such as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, the Climate Change Act, and the People’s Survival Fund Act. The greater challenge, however, is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.

 

Our government has already been undertaking the process called Climate Change Expenditure Tagging (CCET), wherein government agencies identify, report and track programs, activities and projects that are responsive to climate change adaptation and mitigation. This is done during the budget preparation and once the National Expenditure Program and the General Appropriations Act are approved.

 

Moreover, in my capacity as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, we were able to transform the 2016 national budget into one that is climate-adaptive and disaster-resilient. We have mainstreamed provisions that ensure that the implementation of government programs would contribute towards building resilience. We will continue to do this in the 2017 national budget.

 

But promoting sustainable growth is not the duty of the government alone. It is everyone’s responsibility. It is thus important to put communities at the heart of relevant programs and policies and gather collective action that is rooted in a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility.

 

The private sector is encouraged to promote green policies and put resilience at the core of their business strategies.

 

Morgan Stanley has started treading on the sustainable investments path. From being a traditional investment banking group, it created its Global Sustainable Finance Group about seven years ago, in response to emerging markets and covering areas that supported sustainable living generally but as diverse as clean energy, green bonds, or even affordable housing.

 

In Nigeria, for instance, Morgan Stanley supported a can manufacturing business that used to import empty cans from Canada and filled the contents of the cans in their Nigeria factory. Now that the company is able to manufacture its own cans, they produce less carbon emissions and create more quality jobs.

 

Here in the Philippines, we should encourage investments in sophisticated sustainable energy technologies as these will reduce harmful emissions, protect health and the environment, and sustain economic growth.

 

It is clear that we need to act now. We must decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal, and shift to renewable energy; we must veer away from the throwaway culture and aim for zero waste economy; we must turn our back on extractive and consumptive practices.

 

We can all do this together, but we have to embrace the concept of a simple, sustainable, healthy and resilient lifestyle. We go back to the basics of a quality life. We start with ourselves, because the only way to inspire others to take action is to do it ourselves.

 

Let me speak from my experience.

 

Recently, I introduced physical changes in my office because I wanted to transform it into a common open space conducive to interaction, and to demonstrate that environmental upkeep starts with our homes and offices. To achieve this, I had all the cubicles removed, and in their place, I put a long table constructed out of discarded pallets of solar panels. I took out the steel cabinets, and in their place now are old wood and antique capiz windows to cover the compartments – illustrating that recycling builds, rather than destroys. Garbage bins that are properly marked guide the staff in segregation and all lights have been changed to LED.

 

These examples highlight the value of creating the conditions by which we can change behavior and attitude toward supporting the goals we want to achieve.

 

Yes, we need laws to govern us, but the law itself cannot change people’s behaviors and mindsets. They set policies that are meant to inspire. Leaders and community members give life to these policies.

 

As a long-time environmental advocate, I know how hard it is to convince people to protect our environment. People act when there is threat and fear; but that is not how we should live. People need to be inspired and feel that they are part of a shared cause.

 

Thirty years ago, we were panicking over ozone layer depletion. But the positive signs that the ozone layer is starting to heal prove that when nations unite and work together, we can fight even such a great challenge. This should inspire us now as we address the climate crisis.

 

We live in only one planet and by now climate change should make us realize that we are all connected and we suffer the consequences of this crisis together. This is not the time for restraint; this is not the time to wag the finger of indictment; this is not the time for apathy and indifference. This is the moment for collective and urgent climate action.

 

If we start today, there is no promise that we will be lucky enough to see the undoing of the damage within our lifetime, but at least, we leave our world, we leave our children and grandchildren with the gift of hope for a better, kinder future.

 

Thank you.***

 

[1] Hole in ozone layer is closing and will be ‘healed’ by 2050, scientists say, The Telegraph, 30 June 2016

[2] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report

[3] http://unfccc.int/2860.php