Is everything lost?

Loren Legarda (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2016 - 12:00am

(Keynote speech at the Third Asian Judges Symposium on Law, Policy and Climate Change, Sept. 26, 2016, ADB Headquarters, Mandaluyong City.)

At the outset, allow me to thank and congratulate the Asian Development Bank and its partners, the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the United Nations Environment Program, for making climate change the central theme of this symposium.

Let me begin my presentation with a basic question: What is justice?

The answer is simple. Justice is giving everyone their due.

My next question is something I want each of us to reflect on and relate to the concept of justice.

Do the future generations, our children and grandchildren, deserve the Earth we are leaving behind for them?

In a landmark decision 23 years ago, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the concept of intergenerational responsibility. I wish to share a quote from that decision:

“The day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come – generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life. ”

Who would have thought that such prophecy would happen in our lifetime?

We see it now unraveling right before our very eyes—sea level rise threatens to submerge island nations; ocean acidification is causing irreversible damage to our coral reefs, while the sudden shifts from hot temperatures to incessant rains pose uncertainties to agriculture, greatly affecting our food security. The warming climate is now one of the most significant risks for World Heritage Sites, including the Philippines’ own Ifugao Rice Terraces. Extreme rainfall and heavy floods constantly threaten lives, livelihood and development.

In last year’s climate change negotiations in Paris, the Philippines, as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, led the call to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to be able to survive.

Governments conveyed the message that they are determined to act to achieve the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement is a landmark agreement in this history of humankind. However, its aspirations will not happen on its own.

Bending the global warming curve to 1.5 degrees Celsius is a moral imperative, because it means saving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people; it means upholding the human rights of the poor and vulnerable; it means ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.

The Philippines has committed to a conditional 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by year 2030 from the sectors of energy, transport, waste, industry and forestry.

While the Paris Agreement acknowledges that developing nations like the Philippines will take time to decarbonize and will be able to do so only with external support, we should not stick to ‘business as usual’ in the way we pursue development, especially since we have also committed to building the resilience of our communities and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must deliver on these commitments. Unfortunately, here in the Philippines, consumption of coal has been on the upswing, increasing by 27 percent between 2012 and 2014.

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

Before coal can be used in power plants, it must first be mined, washed and transported. This process alone, without a single watt of electricity generated yet, already produces pollution.             (To be continued)


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