Privilege Speech: Taking on the Climate Change Challenge Together

August 8, 2023

Senate of the Philippines

Senate President Pro Tempore

“Taking on the Climate Change Challenge Together”

08 August 2023

Mr. Senate President, dear colleagues, my beloved fellow Filipinos:

Long before Ondoy and Yolanda, I sounded the alarm in the halls of the Senate on the dangers of climate change. Now I stand before fellow lawmakers of the 19th Congress yet again as climate change and its impacts continue to worsen and bear down heavily on us all.

Climate change is undeniably the global governance challenge of our generation. And we are called upon to act quickly and make certain that the required transitions are happening. It is global, as it affects the global community – no country can stand and survive alone; it is systemic, as each specific part is as important as the greater whole; and it is historic, as the challenges of today are compounded consequences of inaction and repeated neglect of those historically responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions.

We have established policies and systems. In 2009, we created the Climate Change Commission, to comprehensively integrate policies and actions by all state and non-state actors, and to provide direction towards resilience based on science and evidence.

As a fruit of inter-agency and multistakeholder coordination, we have set our national climate agenda. Articulated in our National Climate Change Action Plan, Nationally Determined Contribution, and even the Local Climate Change Action Plans, together, we have been paving the road toward greater strength.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., since the beginning of his Presidency, has put climate change as our national priority. We have seen an improved budget allocation for climate actions. Government agencies, civil society, and the private sector are all doing their part.

But we still need to ask the hard questions – How far have our decisions taken us? What else needs to be done? How much quicker should we act?

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded its sixth assessment report (AR6) cycle, issuing the latest findings and analysis on the science of climate change. AR6 cited with “high confidence” the following:

First – Human activities caused global warming with temperatures reaching 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise due to unsustainable energy use, land practices, and consumption patterns worldwide;

Second – Climate change is already impacting weather extremes and ecosystems globally. Vulnerable communities, that are least responsible for climate change, suffer the most from its consequences. Despite progress, there are gaps in adaptation efforts, and certain ecosystems and regions face limits to cope with climate change impacts;

And third – Policies and finance flows fall far short of meeting climate goals across all sectors and regions, hindering if not making ineffective any implementation, particularly in developing nations.

Against this backdrop, the UN Secretary General said: the AR6 is “Code Red for Humanity.” This demands immediate and drastic action to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Most alarmingly, AR6 warns that drastic reductions made today will still cause some irreversible changes that are already set in motion, demanding adaptation measures to cope with the consequences.

Hence, we ask – How much more science and evidence do we need before we change our minds – from procrastination to action, from stagnation to innovation?

Mr. President, colleagues:

The Philippines now stands as “ground zero” for climate change. The observed temperature in the country, according to PAGASA, is rising at an average rate of 0.01°C per year and is projected to increase by 1.8°C to 2.2°C by 2050. Higher temperatures are generally expected for all regions of the country by 2050, with the rates doubling compared to 2020 levels.

Scientists from the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that last July was the world’s hottest month since record-keeping of global temperatures began.

I agree with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said, and I quote: “Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”

Indeed, the latest reports on climate science tell us that we are running out of time to secure a livable and sustainable future for all. Enabling rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems in this crucial decade will determine impacts and climate realities now and for the next thousands of years. These are not only accelerating, but they are also exhibiting feedback loops that increase that acceleration.

Mr. President; colleagues:

Those who are least responsible are the most affected. And those who are most responsible, therefore, need to do more. This is an issue of climate justice.

We have barely recovered from Odette and Paeng. We have not even accounted for losses in ecosystem services due to these disasters, as if only crops and infrastructure support our economies.

For this issue, the imperative of Loss and Damage financing has never been clearer. Our adaptive capacity as a country has its limits. Despite our best efforts, there are climate-induced losses and damages that we cannot avoid or recover from.

Without support for and investments in rapid, deep, and sustained mitigation and accelerated adaptation actions, losses and damage will continue to increase, including projected adverse impacts in Asia, and will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations.

Between 2011 and 2021, the Philippines incurred damage amounting to 673.30 billion pesos due to tropical cyclones alone. And from 2010 to 2019, a total of 12,097 deaths due to extreme weather events and disasters were recorded.

Just recently, Typhoon Egay left 27 people dead, 52 injured and 13 others missing, and caused P3.5B worth of damage to infrastructure and P4.47B in agricultural losses in 50 provinces. Again, we have not even started to account for damage to our protected areas and wilderness, reefs damaged by waves, and siltation.

By 2030, under a business-as-usual scenario, our loss and damage from climate change is expected to increase up to 7.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and 13 percent by 2040.

These numbers are not merely statistics — they are real and heart-wrenching experiences for our people. The Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) Flagship study projects that by 2030, more than 100 million people in developing countries, including the Philippines, will live below the poverty line resulting from the impacts of climate change. This is less than seven years from now. And while our population is largely unaware of these threats, their daily toil and their dreams will be so severely affected that our obligations are clear.

There is hope. The same study asserts what has been defined as the “adaptation triple dividend” — that with proper adaptation interventions, we can “avert future losses, spur economic gains through innovation, and deliver social and environmental benefits to everyone, but particularly to those currently affected and most at risk.”

We need to make sure that the commitments of developed countries are delivered and mobilized. We need to ensure that the establishment of a loss and damage funding facility will materialize at the soonest possible time.

We also need to bolster the call of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), for major polluting nations to increase their ambition by reviewing and strengthening their targets for 2030 under their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

We need to accelerate the way we “course-correct” and safeguard the 1.5°C of the Paris Agreement—our climate threshold to survive and thrive.

Mr. President, colleagues:

The recent State of the Nation Address underscored the importance of disaster resilience and climate action and has made this a clear priority of his Administration, stating that progressive, livable, and sustainable communities can only be achieved by taking responsible action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We must always consider our duty to future generations.
Our Philippine Development Plan (PDP), with its dedicated chapter on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP), and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) lay out crucial strategies and solutions for us to act upon. But we have to keep asking if these are sufficient and if they guide the rest of the budget.

Individually and collectively, we must ask — are we part of the problem or the solution? We need to ask ourselves if our shoulders are on the wheels or if we are obstacles to the transition. There are a good number of practical approaches moving forward as a country and as part of the global community.

One – Adopt a transformative mindset in governance, mainstream science, and cascade opportunities to our Local Government Units (LGUs), the climate frontliners who bear the brunt of climate impacts and are expected to manage local climate risks and hazards.

Two – Accelerate decarbonization efforts and ensure timely implementation of our Nationally Determined Contribution, without being restricted by the 2.71% unconditional share. Let us aim for higher ambition by embracing the Net Zero scenario, and its imperatives to combat further warming while ensuring access to more advanced, climate-benign technologies.

Three – Revisit our environmental laws, especially the Clean Air Act, which no longer meets the World Health Organization 2005 and 2021 guidelines on air quality, and push for other key legislation, such as circular economy, blue economy, ecosystems regeneration, and forest management.

Four – Optimize convergence between agencies and stakeholders, working with a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, and whole-of-world approach to maximize resources and impact for every Filipino.

Five – Green our budgets. In the coming months, let us scrutinize the budgets of government agencies and see whether they are truly espousing President Marcos Jr.’s vision of a climate-smart and climate-resilient Philippines.

Are we considering climate science in agency budgets? Are we budgeting for transformation, ensuring that every peso spent brings us closer to a sustainable future? Is our large infrastructure budget climate-proof? We have to consider if the reclamations consider sea level rise as well as cumulative impacts on hydrology.

Mr. President, colleagues:

I ask all my distinguished colleagues in this chamber: We may have done well in policies and legislation, but what else do we need to do?

From ground zero, let us work hard to build the Philippines which is the center of resilience and strength felt through each community.

Let the Philippines be known as a nation that did not surrender to the impacts of climate change but in fact, emerged stronger and smarter. The Philippines, as it were, is not a lesson learned but a best practice for the rest of the world.

Let us work continuously, conscientiously, and collectively – moving and transforming our nation and society from a state of fragility to one of agility.

Patuloy tayong magbayanihan para sa klima; para sa buhay, kabuhayan, at kinabukasan ng ating kapwa Pilipino. Para sa Pilipinas, sikapin nating iangat ang katatagan ng bawat isa laban sa nagbabagong klima.

Thank you, Mr. President.