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The climate change challenge

October 16, 2015

While the Philippines is in the list of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, many of us Filipinos seem oblivious to the threats to lives and properties by the new weather phenomenon called climate change. Sadly, our government officials pay only lip service to what state agencies are doing to mitigate the dangers of climate change in our country.

We have learned the bitter lesson following the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (international name “Haiyan”). It brought with it deadly storm surges that caused huge loss of lives and multi-billion peso worth of destruction across the country on Nov. 8, 2013. Hardest hit were Leyte, Samar and the rest of Visayas.

The political season officially started last Monday when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) began accepting certificates of candidacy for all aspirants in the May 2016 national and local elections. The Comelec winds down submission of COCs at the close of office hours today.

Meanwhile, we brace for the brewing tropical storm “Lando” as it intensifies and moves closer to Northern Luzon. The intermittent rains and thunderstorm caused by Lando did not dampen though the political fever as hundreds of aspirants and their respective supporters trooped to the Comelec head office at Intramuros, Manila.

We could only hope and pray that officials at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are not distracted by politics all over the country. This could be problematic though in the case of local government executives who are supposed to be the front-liners in pre-disaster preparations. Many, if not most of them, are candidates for re-election.

As created by law, the NDRRMC is chaired by President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III who took time yesterday to join his administration-backed candidates from the Liberal Party before they filed their COCs at the Comelec.

President Aquino, also by operation of law that created the Climate Change Commission (CCC) heads this body. But the vice chairman of the CCC, who actually does the work for the President, decided to pursue politics and filed yesterday her COC to run for Congress. Actually, CCC vice chairperson Lucille Sering resigned as early as last month to prepare for her running for Congress in the second district of Surigao del Norte.

This we learned from CCC assistant secretary Joy Goco during a roundtable discussion with The STAR editors and reporters last Wednesday. It was the CCC, directly under the Office of the President, which initiated this roundtable discussion with us at The STAR editorial office to brief us about the local and global climate change concerns and questions relating to its environmental and social impacts.

It was also supposedly in line with the CCC agenda of introducing the #Now Ph campaign which stands for Not on Our Watch. This aims to consolidate one million signatures or more and empower Filipino youths in the call for a positive outcome of the forthcoming United Nations (UN) climate change conference. The Philippines is among the countries participating in this conference to be held in Paris, France in December.

The next thing we knew Goco took over running the CCC operations as “acting” deputy executive director. According to Goco, Sering submitted her resignation letter to President Aquino last month. The President has yet to appoint a new climate chief.

Sering resigned ahead of the end of her six-year term in December this year. However, her resignation came two months before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris.

The COP in Paris will gather representatives from various countries to craft a deal that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius.

It turned out Sering is a card-bearing member of President Aquino’s LP. She assumed the post of Climate Change Commission chief in 2010. With Sering’s resignation, the three-man CCC is left with commissioners Heherson Alvarez whose term is ending in January 2016 and Emmanuel de Guzman who was appointed only last month.

The Philippines has until the end of this month to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

Under the INDC, the Philippines will cut carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2030 if it gets assistance like financial resources, technology development, and transfer and capability building.

Goco, however, assuaged us that Sering was able to supervise the completion of the Philippines’ INDC. President Aquino himself reviewed line-by-line the six-page document, Goco revealed.

Thankfully, we have the staunchest climate change advocate like Sen. Loren Legarda who will speak for the Philippines in the COP in Paris. Legarda has not only advocated but has made it her life mission to bring the government’s policy statements on climate change issues into action. Legarda has been doing this pro bono mission as the designated “regional champion” for the UN’s International Strategy on Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR) and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific since 2008.

Appearing as our featured guest at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay in Luneta Hotel last Wednesday, Legarda vowed to pass a “climate-sensitive” budget for 2016 in a bid to make sure that the country will be ready against any kind of disasters that may strike next year. Legarda is chairperson of the Senate finance committee now going through the proposed 2016 national budget of the government.

Quoting Sering during her Senate budget hearing, Legarda noted with deep concern about P129 billion, or only 4% of the proposed P3.002-trillion budget of the government next year is climate-tagged or climate-adoptive. “This is not enough,” Legarda fumed.

Knowing the Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to disasters, Legarda is now in a position to make sure Congress’ power of the purse would pour the government resources needed to protect our people and country from the impact of climate change.

As to how she would do it, Legarda posed the climate challenge to all mainstream presidential candidates in 2016. This will be discussed in my column on Monday, by which time all COCs would have been in and we would know who the most serious ones are among the Tom, Dick and Harry who filed as presidential candidates.

Source: Philstar