ACCORDING to Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), one significant reason the world is struggling to reduce the impact of climate change is that there are simply too many people on the planet.
In an interview late last month, Figueres said, “There is pressure in the system to go toward that [reducing population]; we can definitely change those, right? We can definitely change those numbers.”
“Really, we should make every effort to change those numbers because we are already, today, already exceeding the planet’s planetary carrying capacity,” she added.
Figueres is no stranger to controversy; at different times she has suggested that a totalitarian form of government similar to China’s is much more effective at implementing climate regulations than democracies (a perspective that seems to overlook China’s appalling environmental record), and that the real mission of her office is “a complete transformation of the economic structure of the world.”
All of those comments, although they are statements Figueres actually did make, are taken out of context to some extent; Figueres is not a crackpot, but she has an unfortunate habit of expressing somewhat radical ideas that make it easy for conspiracy theorists and those who still stubbornly believe that the existence of climate change phenomena is somehow debatable to make her look like one. The comments about population reduction, for instance, were made in the midst of an interview conducted some months ago in which Figueres touched on a wide range of climate-related topics; the resulting news report is an unremarkable entry on the UNFCCC online media page. The comments only became incendiary once they were cherry-picked and made part of climate change-denying exhortations by news outlets we might nicely describe as having a questionable grasp of objectivity (the link that led me to this story originally was posted by the online ‘news’ site Truth and Action, who in turn had re-posted it from Infowars.com).
Reporting like this can be dangerous for the cause of climate change adaptation in the Philippines, because of the inference it draws that “climate change action” is being imposed on the developing world by the US or other developed economies, an assertion that finds a large and sympathetic audience here. Figueres’ call to ‘de-populate’ the planet strikes an even more sensitive nerve, because it smacks of eugenics, or at least can easily be made to appear as though it does. What Figueres was actually calling for was a reduction in the global birthrate – a suggestion that would still provoke dissent in the Philippines even if it were reported fairly – but without necessarily suggesting ways in which the reduction would be accomplished, and with the caveat that the idea was just one of a large number of partial solutions that need to be implemented together in order to have a positive effect.
Climate change adaptation is a Herculean struggle for the world, and particularly for countries like the Philippines that seem to suffer unfairly from climate change. The effort is not helped at all by hysteria motivated by irrelevant political agendas, because there is no debate to be had; as the well-known comedian and political satirist John Oliver quipped, debating whether climate change exists is like asking the question, “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?” The approaches to adapting to climate change are certainly debatable, but anything that diverts that debate toward the fundamentally silly argument over whether or not climate change even exists is counterproductive; let’s hope that Philippine policymakers are sharp enough to detect the difference.
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One of my loyal readers posted a comment about Thursday’s column (“The trade finance crunch,” May 7) that is worth sharing, because it provides some more experienced insights on the capabilities of the Philippine banking sector to meet trade finance demand.
“As a former trade financier,” he writes. “I am pleased to see this subject being given some attention. It’s actually one of the best forms of finance from a bank’s point of view, because it is lower risk than many other forms of credit. But it is a specialized area, and it takes more expertise than simply rolling out home loans and credit cards.”
He goes on to say, “If you look at the countries with strong trade components in their economies, you will also see that trade finance is a core area of expertise for their banks.”
As a practical suggestion, he adds: “I would like to see Rabobank (the Dutch multinational) increase its footprint in the Philippines, because they have genuine trade finance expertise, particularly in the area of agribusiness. That would be an enormous boost to the Philippine economy.”