Governments must lead the way in reshaping our economic structures to deliver justice to those displaced by the climate crisis, climate and human rights experts said.
In a forum organized by Germany-headquartered policy group Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Philippines, representatives from governments, civil society and media stressed the need to reduce socioeconomic inequalities within and between countries to combat climate change. According to United Nations estimates, doing so would prevent up to 1 billion people from being forced to migrate due to climate change impacts by 2050.
Efleda Bautista, leader of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) survivors’ group People Surge, shared the story of how her community in Tacloban, Leyte struggled to recover from the disaster.
While the government provided emergency shelter assistance to some families, around 14,000 coastal families were not given immediate financial aid, which was much needed to install amenities such as water and electricity. Some houses were also built on private lands, making staying there in the long-term contentious, Bautista said.
For months, the survivors had to transfer from makeshift tents to bunkhouses before finally moving to relocation sites. However, Bautista’s group found that “there was no provision for water and electricity in the relocation sites, so they [the people] had to go back to their old villages.”
The lack of social support forced families to relocate to the mountains, away from their preferred livelihood as fisherfolk. Others chose to return to their old homes near the coasts, which are now classified as no-build zones.
Even years after Yolanda, Bautista’s group continues to campaign on behalf of the displaced families that continue to face the super typhoon’s aftermath. She criticized the tide embankment project, which the local government started in 2016 to protect communities from storm surges. Not only would it destroy more mangrove forests, but it would also mean that “these people are being threatened by demolitions because they said you have to transfer.”
“This is a call for the international community to look into our plight in Eastern Visayas and maybe they can work together that justice will be given to us,” she said.
Root causes of a crisis
Lidy Nacpil, regional coordinator of the regional alliance Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development, remarked that the financial drivers of globalization in the past four decades have also led to the increase of climate migrants.
Despite numerous pledges, public and private financial institutions such as the World Bank continue to be “the primary drivers that are still perpetuating and, in fact expanding the fossil fuel industry,” she said.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that about 28 million people were newly displaced globally in 2018, the majority of whom are forced to flee their homes from disasters. One-third of all new displacements occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, with a combined 8.5 million people from the Philippines, China, and Indonesia being displaced by weather-related hazards alone.
Despite this, Sonny Africa, executive director of the Philippine-based IBON Foundation, noted the region would observe an increase in its coal consumption partly because of current government policies and economic infrastructure. He emphasized that these “shape how we consume things, how things are produced, how capital is invested … how irresponsible, how reckless we plunder the environment.”
Nacpil also called out financial institutions for funding solutions, which “are not only false, but they are also slowing down the implementation of real solutions.” Furthermore, she noted that the different functions of nature are now being deconstructed and being sold in the trading and stock markets instead of addressing the basic needs of the people.
“It’s not about producing energy for people and communities; this is about investing in this area for profit,” Nacpil said.
David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, stated in a video message that “the most important solution is that we need to deal with our addiction to fossil fuels.”
Excessive burning of coal, oil, and natural gas not only worsens global warming, but also violates basic human rights to a healthful life.
Investments in renewable energy and adaptation measures have to be accelerated to further reduce socioeconomic inequalities that make frontline communities vulnerable to climate change impacts. However, these efforts would not be enough until countries quickly decarbonize their economies, per Boyd.
“We also need to stop building coal-fired power plants and close down coal-fired electricity-generating facilities,” he added.
John Leo Algo is a member of the Climate Tracker and the Haribon Foundation. This article was published through the support of Rosa Luxemberg Foundation and Climate Tracker’s Climate Journalism Fellowship.