Fear of climate

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

There are good reasons to fear the impact of climate change. In a specially commissioned study, Lord Nicholas Stern concluded that unless action is taken to keep global warming below the 2C threshold, in South East Asia we will see a rise of 4.8C by 2100, mean sea level will go up by 70cm and amongst other impacts, rice yield will fall by 50 percent. For the Philippines, ranked as the 2nd most vulnerable to climate change in the world, this would be catastrophic and poses the greatest threat to lives than any other issue. No amount of Canute like rhetoric will stop the tides that will overwhelm much of the archipelago. We need action not words.

The role the Philippines played in helping the world reach the historic Paris Agreement was powerful and influential. Together, we committed to plans to reduce emissions, make progress reports and at the insistence of the Philippines, moved our goals to limiting temperature rise to 1.5C. This was a conditional offer. We recognised the need for equitable burden sharing between developed and developing countries. We accepted the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. We will deliver our end of the deal – financial investment, technology transfer and capacity building. All of us pledged to play our part and no one has the luxury of opting out.

The UK passed a law that binds us to a steep 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050. We have already reached eight percent in 2014 and yet we experienced the fastest growth in the G7. Our R&D expenditure on clean energy has doubled and we will end unabated coal fired power plants by 2025. With Germany and Norway, we will put together a $5B global package for reforestation. Developed countries will mobilise $100B per annum from the public and private sector to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries deal with climate change. As a country that has hitherto declared progressive intentions and stands as a great example to others, the Philippines is well positioned to attract early allocations of international funds.

The Philippines is in the fortunate position of sourcing 34 percent of energy needs from renewables, including geothermal power. But without a change in policy, 70 percent of power supply will rely on coal by 2030. From being a low carbon emitter, the Philippines is trending towards a 400 percent increase in power related emissions alone by 2030. Clean coal technology should be the norm until alternatives tip the balance to renewable energy. Methane from urban waste, power from biomass including crop remnants that are now just burnt off and river currents for electricity are ideal options where geography challenges the provision of a national grid. But successive administrations have not championed green alternatives and fallen for the lure of expediency. The real result has been to deprive power to the poor in urban and rural areas of deprivation. The Philippines has to become a far bigger player in the LNG scene and we are working with the Department of Energy to make natural gas a more viable part of the mix. The true cost is not just the price of power. The full cost is food insecurity, premature death and sickness from pollution and foregoing the dividends of a green economy.

Help can only come to those who help themselves. Every family stands to benefit from energy efficiency. Our embassy building in Manila reflects heat, brings in natural daylight, powers off unwanted equipment and has solar panels. Good design is not always the most expensive option. Stronger implementation of building codes, stopping belching vehicles and punishing those who spread illegal industrial waste require determination by public officials. Enforcement should target guilty offenders and not blanket bans that impact adversely on innocents who adhere to best practice. Better roads, more trains and efficient airports contribute to emissions reduction as well as benefitting the public and adding impetus to economic growth. Action on illegal logging, recycling and changing packaging of consumer goods are compatible measures alongside reforestation.  Responsibility for the appalling state of rivers and lakes in the Philippines today lies squarely on individuals who treat them as refuse dumps, overuse fresh water for personal gain and conspicuous indifference of central and local government officers and regulators.

The survival of the Philippines requires Filipinos to change and adapt, take responsibility for energy  and environmental conservation and at the very least, comply with existing laws and regulations. Economic development is not the price of action on climate change. The green economy is already valued at over $5 trillion and alternative energy industries alone will support over 20 million jobs globally. The Philippines should use its talent pool and resource base to turn fear of climate into an opportunity.

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