The Consequences of Inaction
Statement delivered by Senator Loren Legarda at the forum
“Towards COP 21: The civil society mobilized for the climate”
26 February 2015 at the National Museum, Manila
President François Hollande,
Secretary Albert del Rosario,
Special Envoy Nicolas Hulot,
Commissioner Lucille Sering,
I am grateful to President Hollande for the opportunity of addressing this forum.
This assembly bears a mark of distinction. Forty-three years ago on this day, then UN Secretary-General U Thant signed the Earth Day Proclamation. Margaret Mead, one of the co-signatories of the original proclamation, succinctly described its importance when she said, “EARTH DAY uses one of humanity’s great discoveries — the discovery of anniversaries by which, throughout time, human beings are reminded of the need for continuing care which is vital to Earth’s safety.” Today, we are not just reminded. We are compelled to take action.
I have been asked to speak on the consequences of inaction against climate change, which is so complex and overreaching in its impacts that we should now begin calling it the ‘climate crisis.’ We are not here today to discuss the theoretical merits of doing something versus doing nothing. The signs are all around us. The numbers speak for themselves. It is no longer an issue of taking action, but rather of how much action we need to take.
Each year, five million lives are lost due to climate change and the health impacts of its chief driver — fossil fuels. A US government report indicated that “Estimates in the climate economics literature suggest that inaction that results in warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels could increase economic damages by approximately 0.9 percent of global output.” The World Health Organization estimates direct damage costs to health alone at between 2 and 4 billion dollars each year by 2030.
We have been warned and we continue to be warned, but we are just not listening enough.
As early as the late 1800s, science has been trying to give us dire warnings that industrial coal burning enhances the greenhouse gas effect. The warnings remained unheeded, notwithstanding the imperious voice of science.
In fact, the world’s actions of the past decades betrayed the fundamental merits of these warnings. The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change upheld this observation by concluding that “about half of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2011 have occurred in the last 40 years.”
The same report concludes that greenhouse gas emissions have “continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute increases between 2000 and 2010.” It is not that we did not act. The world just decided to look the other way.
Between 1880 and 2012, average global temperatures increased by 0.85 degrees Celsius. With larger absolute increases in GHG between 2000 and 2010, one can only imagine how much we have really pushed our world into the brink of irreversible destruction. Again, it is not that we did nothing. We just did the opposite of what we should have done.
The consequences are telling.
The world will continue to get warmer and with this comes long lasting changes in our climate system. Ordinary people have limited understanding of this, until they are painfully introduced to their impacts via extremely harsh weather events, flooding, declining fish catch, water scarcity, declining agricultural harvests, exacerbating health issues, extinction of animal and plant species, displacement of people, and even the demise of low-lying areas, among others.
The Philippines is at the top of the list of the Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 — the latest list of countries most affected by weather-related disasters like storms, floods, and heat waves. The top 10 countries are all developing countries, underscoring the fact that the vast majority of these impacts are felt in developing countries because they are the least prepared to deal with the climate crisis.
Our country has been the recipient of technical assistance and aid from developed countries to help us with our adaptation to the new normal. We are grateful for this; however, we cannot submit to the notion that our survival will be defined by the charity of others. I do not mean to undermine the nobility of the giver, but what is the meaning of this contribution if the survival of future generations, including our own, is threatened?
As I speak, the debate continues on whether to act now or to delay implementing mitigation policies until a future date. In the meantime, lives continue to perish. The irony does not end there. Others who choose not to act, justify inaction in the name of development.
One thing is clear. Delaying action only “shifts burden from the present to the future.” By then, as in cancer, it might be too late to reverse the disastrous effects of global warming.
As a developing nation that contributes a mere .03 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, we have done our share to the world’s mitigation efforts and we ask, “Why have others not?”
We implore the world’s largest economies to deliver their concrete commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. This is not the time for restraint or for wagging the finger of indictment. This is the moment for collective action.
I started with a recollection of an event forty-three years ago that paved the way for our yearly celebration of Earth Day so that we are constantly reminded of our responsibility to the only world we have.
Let us also be reminded of our responsibility to ensure that the future generations will have the benefits of a balanced and healthful ecology. Inter-generational responsibility needs to move from being an idea to a plan of concrete and urgent 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 with the gift of hope for a better, kinder future.
 Climate Vulnerability Monitor, 2nd Edition, DARA, 2012.
 “The Cost Of Delaying Action To Stem Climate Change,” Executive Office of the President of the United States, July 2014.
 Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, Summery for Policy Makers, Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1.
 S. Kreft, D. Eckstein, L. Junghans, C. Kerestan and U. Hagen, Global Climate Risk Index 2015, Germanwatch, November 2014, 7.
 Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, Summery for Policy Makers, Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change