MOST people, even if they do not, for whatever reason, actually celebrate Christmas, are not in the mood to read a lot of bad news during the week of slack between the two year-ending holidays, and that’s understandable. There are 51 other weeks a year in which we can worry about our collective future, taking a week off is certainly appealing, and probably healthy.
Even though a lot of the news from around the Philippines and around the world was frankly depressing this year, there were fortunately a couple of momentous events worth reviewing for the sake of sending 2015 out on an upbeat note. Or at least, an upbeat note with a couple of significant caveats
Locally, the most significant thing to happen was the progress of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China at the UN over the South China Sea dispute. This might seem an odd choice for the “most significant thing to happen this year,” particularly because its implications are more problematic than not, but it could result in an unexpected benefit for the country. China will not, of course, abide by an eventual ruling in the Philippines’ favor. But if things go the way they ought to, the Philippines will find itself on the receiving end of some conciliatory treatment from our big red neighbor in other areas—especially since this country’s critical need for infrastructure and other investment just happens to dovetail nicely with China’ ambitious plans to spread its influence. If that is, indeed, what comes to pass, it is something the Philippines should consider quite carefully before rejecting in favor of a nebulous connection to a waning western power.
Elsewhere, the two potentially positive steps taken by the world were the Paris climate agreement, and a big decision at the recent World Trade Organization talks in Nairobi to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. The latter will have a smaller, but more immediate (i.e., three or four years instead of ten or fifteen) impact; whether that impact is positive or not depends on how the next Administration handles agricultural policy in an environment in which at least one huge obstacle to reasonably fair competition has been removed.
The climate agreement, if it works at all, will take much longer to affect the Philippines, but still could be positive despite the tremendous (and tremendously stupid) handicaps imposed on the Philippines’ participation in it by the soon-to-depart Aquino Administration. Globally, acceptance of renewable energy investments, along with low-carbon technologies of other kinds, is going to grow rapidly, as countries at least make a show of trying to reduce emissions.
The Philippines, having been saddled with a completely unrealistic pledge to reduce emissions by 70 percent in the next 15 years, is going to need to be very accommodating to environmentally friendly investments to avoid being penalized by the rest of the world.
Aquino’s condition that Philippine compliance would depend on funding from the developed world is not going to hold much water so long as the country continues to tout its economic performance as one of the best in Asia (which it is, from a certain point of view), and not while the Philippines pursues a program of boosting energy supply by building dozens of new coal-fired plants.
If 2016 is to be a successful year in these areas—which is not to ignore the strong possibility that there may be other problems stemming from a chaotic election, or the signs we’re already seeing of organized Islamist extremist establishing itself in Mindanao —we should see tangible indications of more Chinese investment, an increase in agricultural export opportunities, and increases in renewable energy and related investments, such as hybrid and electric vehicles. If these things are apparent, even to a small extent, by this time next year, then we can say that 2015 had some value beyond all the misery that seemed to grip the world this year.