Virtual Learning Session for Publicly Listed Companies – Business and Environmental Sustainability: Achieving the Balance

January 23, 2023


Message of Senate President Pro Tempore

Virtual Learning Session for Publicly Listed Companies
Business and Environmental Sustainability: Achieving the Balance
7-8 November 2022

Good day to all our colleagues. I would like to extend my thanks to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Oceana for inviting me to this session focusing on environmental policies and regulations that affect and impact the health and resiliency of the people and ocean anchored on Sustainable Development Goals. I would particularly like to extend my thanks to the Securities and Exchange Commission for issuing the guideline to corporations requiring sustainability reporting. More than most other executive issuances, this might be the sea change our country is looking for and this conference is so timely. Since the 2011 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, many have been working hard for a binding Business and Human Rights Treaty and while we await progress on these negotiations that happened in Geneva last week, the reports the SEC will be receiving will guide our interventions. It will also contribute to the country’s developing National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights (BHR) which we committed to crafting on the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles last year.

Friends, while we celebrate these developments, we are still all riding on a runaway train and have not pressed the brakes enough. The key findings of the latest climate reports reveal that climate change is “unequivocal” and that unsustainable human activities contribute to the already worse situation.

We live in about 2,000 of our 7,000 islands and can boast of being a megadiversity country, brought together from separate tectonic plates to create a truly blessed land. But we are perpetually degraded by the climate crisis and have no choice but to reduce our vulnerability to them.

But in the last decade, the occurrence of stronger typhoons and other extreme weather events has increased, leaving loss and damage amounting to billions of pesos.

If we fail to evolve to develop resiliency and lower our vulnerability, we stand to leave the next generations gasping for air and the economies will also collapse.

NDC and environmental laws

I have been working on climate and disaster for the last few decades and while I appreciate the advances our country has made, including our President’s pronouncements on climate, we still have to act with utmost urgency.

The Philippines submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution in April 2021 which sets a 75% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and avoidance by 2030. This is part of the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The NDC represents the country’s goal of modernizing and pursuing low-carbon and resilient development for the agriculture, waste, industry, transport, and energy sectors over the 2020-2030 period.

The majority of this, or 72.29% is “conditional” or contingent upon the provision of climate finance, technologies, and capacity development from developed countries, as prescribed by the Paris Agreement. The remaining 2.71 percent is “unconditional” or shall be implemented mainly through domestic resources. Be that as it may, let me please say this — the actions we take to address this crisis are the very same ones that will sustain our businesses and make our economies thrive. The same actions will drive equity, spread spending power to ensure dignified lives for all and bring society to a performance peak. Hence, we will not be mitigating to reduce our already low contribution to emissions to avert crisis since especially on a per capita basis, we only contribute .049% of global emissions. We will be doing it because mitigating now and getting ahead of the curve makes good economic sense. China might be on its way to becoming the biggest economy on the planet for its renewable energy push and solar panel manufacturing.

Aside from this, the Philippines has passed several climate legislations like the Clean Air Act for reducing black carbon, the Clean Water Act for addressing wastewater pollution; the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act for reducing solid wastes; the Renewable Energy Act for promoting clean, sustainable energy; the Climate Change Act for strengthening climate governance; the People’s Survival Fund Act for financing local adaptation; the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act for ensuring ecosystems integrity; the Green Jobs Act for pursuing just transition to a green economy; and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act for the effective and judicious use of energy. We also increased our excise tax on coal importation. We have mainstreamed climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction in our annual national budget. We even have a Green Education Act and a Green Jobs Law. We have laid down the policy framework for our people to work towards these goals.

We have these laws to govern us, but we are still not acting as if, in the words of a young girl who started to skip school on Fridays to send a strong message, our house is on fire.

The question now is how we can develop in our society a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility to realize the goals of these laws.
Role of the business sector

The reporting requirement of the SEC came not a moment too soon. I would have wanted many more businesses to realize this before the SEC required it. Businesses with adaptive practices have known for a while that sustainability and resilience as core business practices can only be good for them. They have operated on a triple or even quadruple bottom line, ensuring that the environment and society were always part of the goal. It was not a trade secret, but some businesses and humans have been so focused on the competition, they failed to realize that we are all in Spaceship Earth together and any ecological crashes will affect businesses.

With your means and resources, you have the power to build right at first sight – to generate and sustain the momentum needed to deliver adaptation and mitigation solutions down to the last mile. You have the ingenuity to lead by example where others—including us in government—may be lagging behind. You have the slack that many of our countrymen do not have, to experiment and explore, to innovate and create, to bring all your workers and customers with you in achieving circular economies, balanced ecosystems, and restored habitats.

We need innovative financing mechanisms and facilities to boost capital for climate and sustainability projects. These same mechanisms are not charity, they are ways to take advantage of opportunities.

We need to deploy interventions that will have long-lasting positive impacts on supply chains and value chains and will create green jobs.

With the understanding that our people reached these shores in boats that were ahead of their time, and that we have seafarer, go-getter genes, we need to not only report our sustainability practices but evolve them with our natural gifts in mind. As a maritime nation with one of the world’s longest coastlines, we need to look to the sea to create our new, blue economy.

Closing and call to action

In the face of a global climate and environmental emergency, we need to recognize this country’s role as a diverse society that is deeply vulnerable. We can use this crisis as an opportunity. We can show the path to the nations of the planet that there can be salvation in cooperation more than the competition, in upholding each other and acting with kindness and generosity as we do in every emergency.
In recent decades, a new predominant unit of society emerged, and we designed to give it personhood. Corporations, from the root word corpus or body, means we must think of corporations as organisms, evolving in an ecosystem and a society. Recent advances in evolutionary biology as well as the field of evolutionary psychology have pointed to culture and behavior as interacting mechanisms to the changes occurring in organisms. They curiously concluded that survival of the fittest does not refer to the fittest individuals but the fittest groups— the more cooperative the group, the more they thrive. This is common sense since if you selected all the strongest individuals and put them together in a society, it would degenerate fast, as they would not fill different ecological niches. A herd of all alphas is not likely to thrive.

I am still a politician and I know you will still take my words with anywhere from a grain to a barrel of salt. So, I urge you to go seek other mentors and operate your companies with the guidance of evolutionary principles. Borrowing from Oprah’s strategy, therefore, I leave you with a book to ponder over — David Sloan Wilson’s This View of Life is a must-read for anyone navigating the climate crisis and doing so in groups.

Together with the Philippine Government, we must do as much as we can, as fast as we can.

Thank you, and Mabuhay.