The fight against climate crisis: A new frontier for Philippines-Korea partnership

Korean Serenade - Lee Sang-Hwa - The Philippine Star

“God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” These were the immortal words of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical letter. In July this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared that the era of global warming has concluded, giving way to the era of “global boiling.” In their own ways, this is how the Pontiff and the UN chief underscored the perils of climate change and emphasized the need to defend nature.

Their words resonated with me during my recent visit to the Republic of Palau to present my credentials as concurrent ambassador to the country. The landscape of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, was mesmerizing. It was reminiscent of the movie Avatar: The Way of Water. Sadly, however, this God-given beauty of the isolated islands made me reflect on the fragility of nature in the face of the climate crisis.

Conversations with the President of Palau and local fisherfolk were particularly revealing. President Surangel S. Whipps Jr. used to spend his family time at a small island during his youth. The island wherein he spearfished is now smaller by two-thirds due to rising sea levels, and sea turtles struggle to lay their eggs due to the encroaching tide. He told this chilling tale before the UN General Assembly last September. The message was loud and clear: climate change is an existential threat. We are nearing the point of no return, and we must pull back from the abyss.

Climate change carries no passport. No country is immune. An archipelago with more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is also in the crosshairs of external influences and natural threats. Since my arrival in this country in June, I witnessed all sorts of risk signs associated with natural disasters, such as typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic activities. Other extreme weather patterns like floods and droughts are becoming more intense and frequent. The Philippines is at the top of the latest World Risk Index. As highlighted by the Asian Development Bank in its recent study, climate crisis will continue to put pressure on water, food and land in this country, thereby exacerbating poverty.

Climate change is fast changing, and therefore, so must we. No doubt, fighting against climate change is daunting, but we should not be afraid to face this challenge. Opportunity often comes in the face of crisis. The world economy demands our adaptation to change. There is an alternative: sustainable, green growth based on technologies and policies that favor low emissions over current carbon-intensive models.

It is encouraging, in this context, to note the increase in awareness of the Philippines on its vulnerability to the climate crisis. Such heightened awakening has led it to take proactive steps. The House of Representatives, recognizing a climate change emergency and stressing the need to mitigate its dire effects, recently passed House Bill No. 9084, the “Climate Change Resilience Act.” To its credit, the government has also started to consider the climate crisis from the perspective of justice and human dignity. Puerto Princesa City in Palawan has officially been designated in November as the first Green Justice Zone by the Justice Sector Coordinating Council, which was launched to enhance collaboration among the pillars of the criminal justice system by expediting the adjudication process for environmental cases and supporting various environmental initiatives. These are welcome developments.

Both Korea and the Philippines actively participated in COP28 – the 28th UN Climate Change conference held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December. Let us leave it to the climate experts and pundits about COP28’s achievements and gaps. In my humble opinion, this annual gathering helped participating countries renew their recognition that climate change is the preeminent geopolitical and economic issue of the 21st century. And, it demands us to rewrite the global equation for development, peace and prosperity.

The Republic of Korea has been championing measures to combat climate change in cooperation with the international community. As an avid advocate for sustainable and inclusive climate action, Korea warmly welcomes the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, which is designed to provide recovery funds to developing countries affected by climate disasters. For its part, through our “green ladder” approach involving a $300-million contribution to the Global Climate Fund, we are determined to support developing nations in climate adaptation. Korea also aims to address climate action gaps and increase its Green Official Development Assistance.

To meet the global net-zero target, Korea actively promotes energy transition through advanced climate technologies. The “Carbon-Free Alliance,” launched by President Yoon Suk Yeol at the UN General Assembly this year, proposes utilizing all carbon-free clean energy sources, tailored to each country’s circumstances. He said that “Korea will not only harness renewable energy but also extensively employ high-efficiency carbon-free energy, such as nuclear power and hydrogen, as a realistic measure to hasten our pursuit of carbon neutrality.”

The future global geo-economic competition will be determined, in large part, by countries that will excel in harnessing carbon-free clean energy. Korea’s Carbon Free Initiative aligns with the Philippines’ growing focus on renewable energy and its recent policy on the exploration and development of hydrogen resources for power generation. In this sense, Korea welcomes and supports the Philippine government’s pursuit of nuclear as well as renewable energy. The proposed Philippine National Nuclear Energy Safety Act, once signed into law, will give an impetus to our two countries’ win-win partnership in nuclear energy.

As Korea and the Philippines look to the 75th year of bilateral relations next year, I am optimistic that the frontier for our future-oriented partnership will evolve into clean energy and green growth. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Firmly anchored on our respect for human dignity, the Philippines and Korea share the same conviction: when we live in harmony with nature, we all benefit.

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Lee Sang-hwa is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines.

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