NGOs find PH's climate change efforts wanting

Posted at 04/08/2014 4:44 PM | Updated as of 04/08/2014 4:44 PM

MANILA - Some leaders of nongovernmental organizations in the Philippines advancing environmental causes find the government's climate change mitigation and adaption programs wanting even after the country suffered massive devastation from the wrath of super typhoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan) five months ago.

At a recent press conference, the leaders observed that there is still no coordination among agencies concerned for climate change adaptation and mitigation, either in the rehabilitation of Haiyan-affected areas or elsewhere in the country.

Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, slammed into the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year with record wind strength of 235 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 275 kph.

It has been suggested its unusual strength and rapid intensification were fueled by warming of subsurface waters of Pacific waters east of the Philippines in recent decades.

It left officially more than 6,200 people killed, over 1,000 others missing and some 4 million displaced. Damage to infrastructure and agriculture is estimated by government at nearly 40 billion pesos (around $885 million), excluding over a million houses that were either totally or partially damaged.

"Based on reports and consultations, the civil society organizations view that there is still no coordination even if there is already a Presidential Assistant (for Rehabilitation) and the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council)," Voltaire Alferez, national coordinator of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas (Climate Action-Philippines), told reporters.

"Until now, it's still chaotic," he said.

Nestor Carbonera of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment said he is dissatisfied with the government's Climate Change Commission because its officers and staff "are not effective" and are not even reaching out to people and organizations that could actually support them.

"The government is doing something to reduce the effect of climate change. But it's not enough. Government is always in favor of economic gains, and environment is being sacrificed along this line," he said in a separate interview.

Aksyon Klima Pilipinas noted the failure of the Philippine Congress to allocate at least 1 billion pesos to the People's Survival Fund for climate change-related programs, as mandated by law.

Supported by Greenpeace and international NGO Oxfam, the organization also lamented over President Benigno Aquino's failure to sign the implementing rules and regulation of the climate change law since it was passed in 2009.

Amalie Obusan of Greenpeace Southeast Asia also criticized the government for pushing its coal-fired power plants projects despite the impact of fossil fuel burning to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

She said the Philippines, which blames global warming on developed countries, may lose its "moral standing and political strength" in demanding other countries to abandon fossil fuel-based projects if it installs more coal-fired power plants.

On educating the public about climate change impacts, Denise Galvez of Oxfam raised the need to translate the issue into a language that will make it comprehensible to and will merit cooperation from ordinary citizens.

Even if the last three major typhoons that hit the country during the last three years can be regarded as the best way to make Filipinos aware that climate change is real, Galvez said the issue must be directly linked to their daily experiences so people will understand "why adaptation and mitigation are necessary."

For her part, Lourdes Tibig, a co-author of the recently released Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II, cited instances where local governments admitted failing to properly disseminate hazard maps to their constituents, especially those residing in dangerous areas.

"We cannot just blame also the government. People who are residing in far-flung communities should be aware about it and should act," Carbonera said.

Carbonera stressed that while developed countries are mainly to blame for the phenomenon, Filipinos are not necessarily innocent, citing the widespread logging and mining activities that have been carried out in the country for several decades.

"Climate change is a manifestation of the state of our environment. It's not an environmental issue per se, but the overall impact of man's activity for economic gains. That's a creation of the destruction of our environment," he said.

Philippine climate change commissioner Naderev Sano told Kyodo News that "there's just so much that needs to be done to move people out of harm's way" and to address climate change, noting that the country always lands at the top in climate risk rankings.

"We have very huge number of people exposed to the dangers of climate change. We have very high vulnerability, sensitivity, and we need to address that," he said.

Citing Haiyan as the best opportunity for the Philippines to zero in on the issue of climate change, Sano said it is high time for the government to adopt a more holistic and comprehensive approach to development.

"If another typhoon hits any part of the country, as long as you have problems like environmental problems, denuded forests, poor governance, poor planning, then it will just be another disaster," he said.

"And when you look at the factors, at the heart of that is poverty. People live in poverty," he added.

More than having safe and decent human settlements, Sano said there should be real livelihood opportunities, good educational quality, good governance among political leaders especially on land use policies, continuing push for clean and renewable energy, protection of the environment and eradication of corruption, among others.

"That's a responsibility of government really," he stressed.

While he finds it "very difficult and challenging" for developed countries to commit to reducing the global impact of climate change, he remains "optimistic" about it though, considering that extreme events are also happening already in such countries as the United States, Japan and Australia.

"There are a lot of things happening on the ground, whether from rich or poor country. We care a lot about the planet. Cities and towns reduce their impact on the environment. Working together, organizations, communities, even business and private sector, are now serious because we all know the consequences," Sano said.

"That's why I'm optimistic that by 2015, we can arrive at a global consensus and have a new agreement that can help us solve the climate problem," he added.

Just like the NGO leaders, Sano appealed for urgent collective action on climate change, saying, "We can't wait any longer."

==Kyodo