Will this gathering of world leaders finally heed the demands of environmental defenders for genuine and systemic solutions to the climate crisis? Will the world’s biggest polluter be finally made accountable?
By MENCHANI TILENDO
MANILA – The ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference or the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt comes at a time of severe impacts of the climate crisis and the worsening attacks against environmental activists.
“I have no expectation that these world leaders will listen to ordinary people and workers like us. That is why we must amplify our voices and our real demands. We need to add pressure to these rich countries, and pushback,” said Jerome Adonis, secretary general of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno.
The most recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows the faint possibility of decreasing carbon emissions. This is while rich countries have repeatedly lectured poorer economies about the dangers of fossil fuels when they themselves are the main producers of heavy fossil fuels.
Climate Trade said most of the world’s pollution comes from only a few countries; with China generating around 30 percent of all global emissions, followed by the United States with 5,146 million tons of carbon emissions, followed by India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.
A separate Forbes report also indicated that Germany is reopening the push for shuttered coal power plants, while Italy is geared to import 40 percent more gas from Northern Africa as part of the European Union’s shift in energy policy, following the Ukraine crisis. The intensifying arms build-up between global powers, the report added, also contributes to the generation of more carbon emissions.
“The fight for climate justice is a serious fight for us, workers. Rich, imperialist countries have continued to plunder our natural resources. They exploit the workers to ensure huge profits while we are the ones who bear the brunt of environmental destruction and harsh living conditions,” said Adonis.
In the Philippines
A developing country like the Philippines, however, remains among those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly in extreme weather conditions that affect poor communities.This is despite its low carbon emissions compared to bigger economies.
For one, the recent Tropical Storm Paeng (international name: Nalgae) affected about 2.4 million individuals, including 866,000 who were forced to flee their homes, and around 110 were killed from the massive flooding and landslides, per government data. While Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in his visits to typhoon-affected communities, acknowledged climate change as a threat to the country, he later reduced the issue to recommending tree-planting activities to prevent flooding.
Environment secretary Antonia Loyzaga, who heads the Philippine delegation to the COP27, said the priorities of the Marcos Jr. government is addressing the impacts of climate change, which he also mentioned in his statement at the 77th United Nations Assembly last September.
He said that they will continue to build on the agreements from COP26 in Glasgow, particularly in contributing to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on adaptation, climate finance, and loss and damage. “The Philippines will not only safeguard its positions but also continue what it started.”
But this is not enough.
“The Marcos Jr. government should think of concrete ways to resolve the intensifying effects of climate change on farmers. We are on the frontlines of those victimized by this crisis,” said Cathy Estavillo, secretary general of the women farmers group Amihan.
Filipino workers are also at risk
Adonis, who was among the Filipino activists who engaged during the COP21 in Paris, said his fellow Filipino workers are also among those deeply affected by the climate crisis.
“There is a need for a progressive economic plan that includes environmental reparations and conservation; these two cannot be separated. We cannot have a progressive economy with a deteriorating environment, it does not work that way. Later on, if we do not take action, this will all backfire on us,” Adonis said.
Agricultural workers and fisherfolk are also facing difficulties, with extreme weather conditions such as typhoons that have deprived them of their livelihoods and other sources of income.
“Even before we discuss the factors that contribute to rapid climate change, we have long been victims to reclamation projects. Aside from its environmental impacts, reclamation would always mean displacement to us, fisherfolk. Such is the case of the Aerotropolis Project in Bulacan,” said Ronnel Arambulo, spokesperson of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, during the Nov. 12 Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.
The ongoing controversial reclamation project stands to damage about 600 mangroves. Apart from this, there are also about 187 reclamation projects that could destroy productive marine and aquatic ecosystems in the country.
“We are not surprised that Marcos Jr. has no scientific view on the ongoing climate crisis since his presidency was secured through massive fraud and disinformation. It is also equally disappointing that current Environment Secretary Loyzaga has the guts to represent the country in the ongoing COP27 in Egypt when she has repeatedly rejected our attempts for a dialogue to push for the rebooking of environmental certificates and end the reclamation projects,” Arambulo added.
Climate change as a lived experience
Arambulo said that fisherfolk know more about climate change than anyone else because this is their daily reality. “We know about it because it is our lived daily experience. Unlike the hypocritical world leaders present in the COP27, we genuinely and seriously take action for climate justice.”
Indigenous peoples are also among the most vulnerable to the ongoing climate crisis. Apart from the extreme weather conditions, they are also facing attacks as they defend their ancestral domains from foreign intervention, plunder, and the militarization of their lands.
“Here in the Philippines, the government speaks so well about these biodiversity programs but in actuality, (they provide) the very mechanism that gives way to foreign companies to plunder our land and profit from it. This not only takes a toll on our environment and livelihood, but it also deprives us of our right to live. To us, Indigenous Peoples, land is life,” said Kakay Tolentino, a Dumagat from Sierra Madre and national coordinator of BAI Indigenous Women’s Network.
Those who dare to protect the environment are also subjected to various human rights violations as the Philippines remains one of the deadliest countries for environmentalists per Global Witness, an international non-government organization. Philippine-based green group Kalikasan – People’s Network for the Environment, for its part, said at least 300 environmental defenders have been killed from 2001 to 2021.
The Philippine Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Watch also noted in their November 7 report that, under the Duterte administration, 75 indigenous peoples and 16 environmental defenders have been victims of the bloody “war on drugs.”
“If President Marcos Jr. is sincere in his role as a champion for climate justice, he should support and protect environmental defenders,” said Lia Mai Torres, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns.
As the COP27 continues, environmental defenders said it is now time to exact accountability.
Xian Guevarra, national spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, said, “we demand action from world leaders at COP27. Heed our calls for reparations and address the loss and damages agenda.” (JJE, RVO)