• Ariel Hernandez

Between Disaster Resilience & Energy Security – The Imperative for a PH Climate Change Discourse

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Photo Source: CNN Philippines/Gab Mejia

The Philippines is one of the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At the same time, the country’s development goals, as defined by the government’s AmBisyon Natin 2040, can be undermined by the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of missed opportunities for the Philippine climate strategies which tend to focus more on adaptation. While the Philippines’ Intended Nationally Determined Contribution includes potential and ambition for mitigation efforts, the government’s on-the-ground priorities are primarily focused on adaptation. Combating climate change has, however, two faces that need to go hand in hand: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigating climate change means reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change. Mitigation includes reducing carbon intensity of energy or food supply as well as demand through efficiency and lifestyle change (e.g. through environmental awareness.) Mitigation is equally as important as adaptation. The failure to effectively mitigate climate change will further increase the costs and burden of adaptation.

The Philippines needs a vibrant discourse on climate change – both on mitigation and adaptation. A discourse is a process of interaction, information exchange, and persuasion, which eventually leads to concrete actions. However, it is not enough to merely present insights, claims, and perspectives. There is a need for genuine exchange between academic and professional perspectives. This article is an invitation to academic scholars, professional experts, policy-makers and civil society groups to engage in a discourse on climate change in the Philippines. The following eight points refer to issues behind climate change that require more public discourse to determine how the Philippines should help mitigate and address the effects of climate change while ensuring the legitimacy of climate protection measures.

Eight points to debate on climate change in the Philippines

  1. Adapting to climate change in the Philippines is more than disaster resilience, it is also about an integrated societal response to changes in the economy, environment, and society. Climate change leads to disruptive changes in many dimensions of human well-being such as energy, food, shelter, mobility, and health. At the same time, addressing climate change can help achieve other goals such as providing employment, curbing traffic in Metro Manila, preventing energy shortage, and reducing oil dependence. Therefore, the public discourse on climate and environmental protection in the Philippines should come up with a (1) notion of climate justice that applies to the Philippines, (2) a policy with coherent, integrated, and fair political framework that acknowledges nexuses, trade-offs, and synergies between these dimensions, (3) an economic model that encourages and rewards inclusive growth, local development, innovative business models, voluntary private sector commitments, and “caring, sharing, sparing” technological innovation, and (4) environmental integrity where Filipinos acknowledge the value of conservation and biodiversity to human well-being in the Philippines.

  2. Addressing climate change is a societal endeavour that requires multilevel and multi-actor partnerships. While climate change calls for differentiated responsibilities, it is dependent on solidarity and a sense of shared reality, which cannot be achieved in a “cancel culture.” Red-tagging of environmentalists and social justice advocates in the Philippines increases barriers to achieve climate justice. Advocacy groups are partners that are part of the solution. The involvement of NGOs and advocacy groups in environmental policymaking is a major pillar of adaptation governance to ensure climate or environmental justice, because they possess tacit, local or practical knowledge that needs to complement formal scientific knowledge. Instead, the improvement of the bargaining competency of NGOs and civil society groups should be a political priority to empower particularly marginalized groups to genuinely participate in collective decision-making processes. The trustful and constructive cooperation between state and non-state actors is a prerequisite of the solutions to challenges brought by climate change.

  3. Climate and environmental protection is about transformative research and evidence-based policy-making. Addressing climate change is unprecedented, because it requires scientific knowledge that needs to continuously evolve in order to fully understand its extent. Filipino researchers need to be proactive in identifying knowledge gaps and in determining the applicability of solutions to the local context. At the same time, research can only be transformative if it is an outcome of knowledge diplomacy, that is, genuine cooperation and exchanges between scientists, policy-makers and societal groups. The interface between research, training and policy advice should be in the core of Philippine research institutions and institutions of higher learning. The Philippines need to improve its scientific and research landscape which can be done through stable and reliable funding; reversing brain drain through enhancement of the competitiveness of local employment of engineers, biologists, social scientists, etc.; and changing the narrative on universities from being “safe havens for enemies of the state” to partners for transformative change. The primary and secondary educational system of the Philippines should be more innovation-driven and hone critical minds that are encouraged to question the status quo.

  4. Climate change reinforces old inequalities and creates new winners and losers. The negative effects of climate change amplify existing inequalities. Addressing climate change in the Philippines needs to carefully consider existing power conditions and privileges of certain groups. Climate justice in the Philippines entails that the winners can only benefit from climate change protection measures if the losers are not left behind. Societal groups such as the indigenous communities, urban poor, and women are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change (such as extreme weather events and climate change induced health hazards), because they among others often lack the necessary financial resources to finance preventive or adaptative measures and lack access to knowledge that would allow them to adequately establish perspectives on the risks of climate change and to make sense of their own experiences.

  5. Energy security is a major climate issue because it represents a “make-or-break” moment in climate protection in the Philippines. While the deployment of sustainable, clean, affordable, reliable, inclusive, and green energy in the Philippines is an important enabler of greenhouse gas emissions reduction, it should not create new injustices and inequalities by displacing indigenous communities. Energy is sustainable when it is at the “heart of the solution” to climate protection and economic development. The energy sector in the Philippines can be one of the country’s leverage points to fulfill its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the same time, the energy sector in the Philippines is confronted by carbon lock-ins such as barriers between Metro Manila and the provinces as well as the current state of the country’s electricity grid infrastructure that inhibits transformation to sustainable energy. Renewable energy sources such as geothermal and hydro are often local and will most likely be abundant in areas outside urban regions. The deployment of renewable energy in the Philippines should not exacerbate land grabbing and displacement of minorities, especially of indigenous communities.

  6. Climate change is a human security issue and a threat multiplier. At the same time, climate protection strategies can encourage more societal cooperation. On one hand, climate change poses security risks because it can fuel already existing social unrest and mobilize violent conflicts in the Philippines. The rise of the sea level, droughts, and malaria outbreaks due to rising temperatures can intensify competition on scarce resources or force Filipinos to migrate towards the cities to seek livelihoods. Climate change can increase food and energy prices which will most likely further burden families that are already struggling to meet their needs. Climate change can endanger social cohesion, for example when rich gated communities are able to mitigate flooding through technologies and infrastructure improvement. On the other hand, climate and environmental protection can offer resources to build confidence between the Philippine government and rebel groups, because technical cooperation to address climate change and environmental degradation has proven to be feasible. Technical cooperation allows the consolidation of contacts between conflicting parties and a positive experience on exchanges.

  7. Climate protection is also about establishing communication and interactions between Filipino generations. Inaction increases the burden to future generations because it reduces the set of possible actions for them due to climate tipping points. Inaction of the present generation is unfair to future Filipino generations as there are already available and affordable technologies, innovation, and policy instruments that can mitigate climate change. The youth needs to be empowered and engaged in public debate on how the Philippines should mitigate and adapt to climate change. Empowering the youth needs to be a major element of climate protection.

  8. Climate change demands innovative changes in governance in the Philippines. Not only does addressing climate change require a minimum level of institutional quality and good governance, it also necessitates a balanced combination of out-of-the box, ambitious, credible, deliberative, holistic, and innovative governance modes, policies, and implementation formats. Adapting to climate change will require broader societal participation, which remains a huge challenge in the Philippines due to existing political apathy and high social inequalities between urban and rural areas, between the society-at-large and minority groups, and between men and women. The Philippine state will need to simultaneously act as a leader, partner, and regulator. Furthermore, additional coordination frameworks between the different levels and actors of governance in the Philippines in the national, regional or provincial, and local governments are needed to exchange lessons when designing and implementing regulations and interventions.

Climate change is a major issue that the Philippines cannot afford to not address. It is just a matter of time that a local discourse on what climate change means to the Philippines is expanded. To participate in this discourse, you can respond to the initial question: What does it take to make the Philippines fully equipped to address climate change (both mitigation and adaptation?) You can address one or more of the eight points presented, which do not represent a complete list. Please submit your text to the Philippine Strategic Forum or contact the author: ariel.hernandez@die-gdi.de


PD Dr. Ariel Macaspac Hernandez is a senior researcher at the German Development Institute and a "Privatdozent" at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

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