Keynote Speech: Climate Reality Project: The Filipino Youth on the Road to Paris Forum

September 1, 2015

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Climate Reality Project: The Filipino Youth on the Road to Paris Forum
Bantayog ng mga Bayani Auditorium, Quezon City
1 September 2015


“The day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come—generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life. [1]


I have just quoted the Philippine Supreme Court in its landmark decision 22 years ago that upheld the concept of inter-generational responsibility—the responsibility of every generation to ensure that succeeding generations will continue to enjoy a balanced and healthful ecology.


Today, those lines are prophetic. In the next generation, when the adverse impacts of climate change will have become more evident and practically irreversible, the message will ring even truer.


It is thus important for you, the youth of today, to discuss issues such as sustainable economic development and climate resilience because they will define your future and even your children’s future.


According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperature has risen 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880 and each of the last three decades, from 1983 to 2012, has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.[2]


In December in Paris, at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, nations including the Philippines will gather in the hope of achieving an ambitious and legally binding agreement that would limit the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.


According to The Earth Institute’s Director Jeffrey Sachs who was in Manila recently, we need to decarbonize if we are to achieve this goal. Coal-fired power plants emit 1,100 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour produced. If we want to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, there should only be about 50 grams per kilowatt-hour by mid-century.[3]


He adds that under a business-as-usual scenario, global temperatures could increase to about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius.


The World Bank projects a grim scenario if global temperatures would get warmer by four degrees Celsius.  Coastal cities will be inundated. Dry regions will become drier, while wet regions will be wetter. There will be extreme heat waves, water scarcity, stronger tropical cyclones, and loss of biodiversity.[4]


The IPCC has suggested that 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.[5]


Climate change is the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time. The phenomenon is so complex and overreaching in its impacts that we should now begin calling it the ‘climate crisis.’


This climate crisis affects food, water, settlement, jobs, livelihood, human welfare, safety and security, poverty reduction, economic growth, and, consequently, our overall pursuit of sustainable development.


Aside from the intensified periods of El Niño that we are currently experiencing, climate change has also caused other extreme weather events such as 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 in Central Philippines.


According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), crop yield potential is estimated to decline by 19 percent in Asia and rice yield in the Philippines by as much as 75 percent toward the end of the century with lack of climate change mitigation and adaptation programs.


What has brought about the state we are in today?


The IPCC is 95 percent certain that human activity is 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 have passed numerous laws not just to demand accountability for environmental issues but to also provide impetus to incorporate environmental concerns into planning and policy making. The presence of these laws, however, does not automatically guarantee results.


The United Nations has lauded the country’s laws on climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) as 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.


It has been 14 years since the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was enacted, but latest available figures show that only nine out of 17 local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila have submitted a solid waste management plan, and only 414 of 1,610 LGUs nationwide, or only 25.7%, have complied with the national plan.[6]


The state of the Philippine environment continues to be on the decline as illustrated by estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that forest area in the country has declined from 12 million hectares in 1960 to only about 5.7 million hectares.  The UNEP World Atlas of Coral Reefs also reports that 97 percent of reefs in the Philippines are under threat.


Holding government, businesses, and the public at large to greater accountability for their actions is expected; but more than that, our laws and the circumstances that led to their passage, must be appreciated by everyone. Effective enforcement emanates from everyone’s understanding and appreciation of responsibility and accountability.


Protecting our environment is not the duty of the government alone. It is everyone’s responsibility, the youth included. Young as you are, I believe that you are the most active partners in challenging development norms, politics, governance and leadership.


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.


The COP 21 will be a life-changing conference, a world-changing event. Its outcome is crucial to the survival of this generation and the succeeding ones, and of Earth itself. We hope that it will be more than just the usual dialogue of leaders; that world leaders will declare or renew their commitment to lead our people out of the crises and uncertainties brought about by climate change; that political will would finally match the call of climate science.


All nations would need to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)—individual plans for reducing emissions after the year 2020 with the objective of limiting the increase in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


As a developing nation that contributes a mere .03 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, 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.


As the third highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to weather-related extreme events based on a 2013 World Bank study, and following its acceptance of the presidency this year of the Climate Vulnerability Forum—a South-South cooperation platform involving 20 countries highly vulnerable to a warming planet, the Philippines must lead by example among developing countries and submit to the UNFCCC Secretariat an INDC that highlights its commitment to pursue climate justice and equitable growth for all.


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.


In July, more than 40 religious, environmental, cultural and political leaders gathered in Paris, France for a Summit of the Consciences for the Climate convened by French President Francois Hollande.


We were all asked, “Why do I care for the planet?” Because before we even talk about what nations must do to save the world from the threats of climate change and agree on a universal climate deal on greenhouse gas emissions, 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.


This month, we will hold the Philippine Summit of Consciences for the Climate, an adaptation of the Paris summit. I invite you to support this endeavor as well. 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 dwellers and 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.


Thank you.


[1] Supreme Court En Banc Decision, Oposa vs. Factoran, G.R. No. 101083 July 30, 1993.

[2] IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)

[3] “Economist Jeffrey Sachs rallies against coal at ADB meeting”,

August 4, 2015

[4] Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. A Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, November 2012.

[5] IPCC 4th Assessment Report (AR4)

[6] NEDA, 2012