Keynote Speech: Meaningful Participation in the 10-year Anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth

May 24, 2016

Keynote Speech Senator Loren Legarda
Meaningful Participation in the 10-year Anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth
24 May 2016 | University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu City


We are gathered here today to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth. A lot has changed since that year, 2006, especially on how we perceive the climate change phenomenon.


I recall that during that time, climate change was still considered an issue that was best left for scientists. It was not easy to make people understand the link between climate change and the economy, agriculture, health, and development. Even those in government did not easily recognize that this is a gut issue.


In 2008, as part of my commitment to the 2008 Manila Call for Action, I filed a resolution recommending the creation of a standing committee on climate change in the Philippine Senate.


There was defiance at first. Some of my colleagues then thought it was not necessary because there was already a committee on environment and natural resources. But I stood my ground because I knew that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is an all-encompassing threat to our basic human rights.


In December 2008, the Senate Committee on Climate Change was created to ensure the implementation of laws as well as the sustainability of initiatives for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Philippines.


In 2009, the Philippine Climate Change Act was passed into law. This measure created the Climate Change Commission, headed by no less than the President of the Philippines, and tasked to mainstream climate change adaptation in policy formulation.


The passage of the Climate Change Act was followed by the enactment of the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. Representing a shift from mere response in times of disasters, the law promotes a comprehensive National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan that strengthens the capacity of the national government and the local government units together with partner stakeholders, to build the disaster resilience of communities.


The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) hailed these two measures as among the world’s best laws on disaster resilience. The greater challenge, however, was to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.


Even with these laws, it had to take extreme weather events such as Ondoy and Pepeng, Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda, the habagat-induced rains, and the stronger episodes of El Niño, among many other disasters, for us to realize that climate change is real and our nation is among the most vulnerable to its impacts.


The world will continue to get warmer, which will result in extremely harsh weather events, heavy flooding, declining fish catch, water scarcity, declining agricultural harvests, health issues, extinction of animal and plant species, displacement of people, and even the demise of low-lying areas, among others.


Last April 22, 175 countries, including the Philippines, formally signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Agreement was the result of the climate negotiations in Paris culminating last December.


Now, we await the affirmation of commitments through the completion of ratification or accession processes of each country.


The Philippines has joined calls for the early entry into force of the Agreement by ensuring that at least 55 nations representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions will ratify the Agreement within the year.


But while nations await the Agreement’s entry into force, governments must already start the work to implement their respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement.


The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to limit global temperature rise within the century “well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”


Vulnerable nations, especially the member states of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), fought for the inclusion of the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit in the Paris Agreement. We must not go higher than that because the additional 0.5 degrees Celsius could spell the difference between survival and extinction.


Global warming has already breached the 1°C level with unprecedented warming in the past months. We have already borne countless tragedies and losses from recurring impacts of extreme weather events under a 1°C global warming. How much more with higher temperatures?


The World Bank projects that under a 2°C scenario, there will be a 20% decline in water availability for many regions and 15–20% 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%.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed 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.


The half a degree difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius matters. The 1.5°C is not a mere aspirational goal. It is the minimum deliverable. It is non-negotiable. It is a matter of survival.


Even the success of attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is at risk if we do not limit warming to 1.5°C.


We certainly cannot go business as usual.


The world cannot afford further delays, more so the vulnerable people who end up as climate refugees in their own communities, they who suffer again and again from tragedies brought about by a climate crisis not of their own doing. These vulnerable sectors include indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk, persons with disabilities, women, children and the elderly.


For the sake of the vulnerable, we seek climate justice now to restore the dignity of those suffering and to strengthen the resilience of the poor and recovering.


For the sake of future generations, we seek a commitment to act now and to implement a holistic solution.


There is no reason to hesitate or delay action on a challenge so compelling, on a threat to humanity so clear and present.  For every second that ticks away is but a second closer to the next calamity.


The Philippines should achieve its goal of 70% greenhouse gas emissions reduction under its NDCs. The government must commit to this and draw sectoral roadmaps that will lead to this goal, especially in energy, transport, forestry and agriculture.


As a developing nation, it is understandable that the Philippines needs more power, but it cannot be “we need power at all costs and we will develop at all costs.”


They say that coal is cheap. I say, coal is not cheap. Coal affects our health, kills biodiversity and the environment, affects our waters and pollutes the air we breathe.


We are a country rich in renewable energy—the amount of sun and wind is more than enough to power our entire country many times over. We have the Renewable Energy Law and though we may not totally ban coal, we should have a good energy mix where there is a bias for renewables.


We must all work towards building a sustainable and resilient community, one that respects biodiversity and corrects the misconception that natural resources are infinite. Our extractive and consumptive practices must change. Greed must cease.


We all live in one Earth. 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 lead the way towards meaningful change—change in the way we think, change in the way we live, and change in the way we pursue the development and the future we long for—for our children and grandchildren, for all of humanity, for all species in the world, and for Mother Earth.


Thank you.