ON Wednesday, a letter written by Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Chairman George Barcelon to Climate Change Commissioner Emmanuel de Guzman was made public. It revealed some of the deep concerns the business community has over the pledge to cut the Philippines’ greenhouse gas emissions 70 percent by 2030 that President Aquino made before the world last year, and which was subsequently included in the COP 21 Paris climate agreement signed in December.
We agree with Chairman Barcelon’s view that government initiatives to reduce harmful emissions and create a sustainable environment are worthy of our support. Even though the Philippines contributes very little harmful emissions on a global scale, it is still right and proper—and ultimately in our own best interests—that we do all we can to reduce our impact on the environment.
The 70 percent reduction pledge, however, is completely unrealistic. As many experts have already pointed out, even the strongest national pledges only reached 17 to 20 percent; some industries have even more ambitious targets—many members of the PCCI, for instance, view 40 percent as a benchmark—but no one save BS Aquino 3rd made such an outlandish promise, because everyone except BS Aquino 3rd recognized the climate pledges as international obligations, rather than casual statements to make just to gain attention.
What worries the PCCI, of course, is the cost of complying; meeting the 70-percent reduction target will require measures so stringent, and to some extent technology that is not widely available, and perhaps not yet available at all, that many companies, particularly smaller ones, may be driven out of business. At best, they will be obliged to spend so much on climate change mitigation that the growth of their businesses will be hampered. In either case, the 70-percent target poses a risk to the economy that any benefits that could be derived from emissions reduction will be outweighed by the negative economic impacts.
There is no question of complying; no one, and certainly not the PCCI or Chairman Barcelon, is suggesting that the country simply ignore the pledge. That is because unlike our careless President, our business leaders—and we suspect most of the public as well—view the climate change pledge for exactly what it was: a policy commitment to the international community, and as such an obligation that will have negative consequences if not met. President Aquino should not have made that pledge, unsupported as it was by any expert advice, rational thought, or ethical grasp of the context in which it was made. But he did make the pledge and now the rest of us, primarily the country’s business community, are now stuck with it.
What the PCCI is calling for is a more rigorous assessment of the objective, and the specific and holistic actions that can be taken to work toward the target. We agree with that recommendation, because it is the only way to find a solution that productively balances supporting economic growth with effectively mitigating climate change impacts. Focusing on areas that are sources of trouble for both the economy and the environment, in particular electric power generation and transportation infrastructure, is the best place to start that effort.