Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that the Philippines will not honor climate change commitments it made under the Paris agreement, Climate Change Commission Vice Chairperson Heherson Alvarez stressed that the deal will be a powerful pillar towards the administration’s industrialization goal.
The Philippines was among 195 nations that pledged last December in Paris to cut down carbon emissions to contain global warming to below two degrees Celsius.
The deal comes into force when 55 countries covering 55 percent of global emissions formally join. The Philippines accounts for less than 1 percent of the world’s emissions, and has yet to ratify the deal.
Duterte has said that he will not honor the international climate pact, stressing that it would stifle the country’s development. The new administration earlier bared plans to create industrial zones all over the country to usher the Philippines into “a golden era of development.”
The president, however, despite his skepticism, called on Congress to provide him with a clear understanding of the treaty.
Alvarez, who is also a former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that the Paris Agreement would be a powerful pillar towards the Duterte goal – a strongly industrialized but healthy nation.
“Ultimately, its impacts would allow Filipinos to study, live, work and enjoy cleaner cities with a healthier environment,” he said.
“The challenge is to pursue massive industrialization while simultaneously protecting our people – the Philippines being identified as the most vulnerable country in the world – from the disastrous impacts of climate change most especially the threatened sectors that have significantly contributed to the growth of our economy—agriculture, industry, the environment and our people,” he added.
Alvarez explained that the climate change pact works on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). The premise is that all nations, whether developed or developing, large or small, emit varying amounts of greenhouse gases. Different countries would therefore take on different kinds of actions to reduce emissions based on their capabilities and their current economic circumstances.
Anchored on the CBDR principle, honoring the Paris Agreement is both a moral and legal obligation of all 197 member nations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of which the Philippines is a member, Alvarez said.
“This principle compels us to share in the upkeep of the United Nations, the same principle why every Filipino who earns an income pays taxes, in varying percentages based on their rate of income, to support the government. Our country will be most comfortable with this principle because it largely reflects the ‘bayanihan’ spirit in the Filipino culture,” he said.
The Philippines has long been engaged in a wide variety of mitigation programs to reduce CO2 emissions, including solid waste management, reforestation, air pollution reduction – in our energy, transport, industry, and agriculture sectors – and imposing new standards and green technologies in the building sector.
Alvarez said that the low carbon program is an essential strategy for stimulating the economy, creating more jobs and moving us rapidly to a clean energy future. He added that investments towards reduced CO2 emissions would spur growth in a broad range of manufacturing sectors and environmental services, as has already been experienced by countries that pursue massive renewable energy investments.
The Philippines is fortunately abundant in alternative energy, including solar, wind, hydro, and especially geothermal. The country is the second biggest producer of geothermal in the world.
“We are near the equator where the solar radiance is consistent and most powerful. We have all the opportunity to tap and deploy abundant, readily available, cheap, alternative energy,” he said.
“Coal seems to be the cheapest energy source in the market. However, once the externalities of coal are factored in — such as the costs of pollution and healthcare — the price of coal would be extremely high and uneconomic,” he added.
In fact, Alvarez said that there is a cry now to price carbon appropriately, apply corresponding taxes, and remove subsidy that makes carbon artificially cheap all over the world.
“We should be transparent and candid about the terrible burdens that coal imposes on our environment and the health of our people, especially the poor who are the most vulnerable. It will be the morally right thing to do,” he said.
“We must help shape the policy instruments to overcome the barriers. Government should provide benchmarks and incentives for industries, schedules of renewable energy coming into stream, and proactive policies to promote new technology and green growth. It will also be essential to mobilize public and private financial resources to cut emissions without undermining the country’s economic growth,” he added.
The Philippines commitment of a 70 percent emission reduction is conditioned on financing resources, technology development and transfer, and capacity building. The 70 percent commitment will be a slow transition up to the year 2030. All INDC of the 197 nations signatory to the Agreement will be subjected for review every five (5) years and will be continuously updated, depending on economic growth and development.
The Paris agreement makes clear that developed countries will continue to provide and mobilize the UN Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, with developed countries agreeing to continue their 2020 commitment of mobilizing $100 billion a year, at least until 2025.
“The Philippines should be able to tap this fund as a vital component to help us with our industrialization. Honoring our commitment will send the right signals to the international community engaged in technological and financial support systems that we are committed to cooperate for the welfare of the global community,” he said.