PH climate protest gets creative in calling out government inaction

The National Capital Region (NCR) chapter of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), the Philippine chapter of the international Fridays for Future movement sparked by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, held a creative protest action at the Manila Bay dolomite beach along Roxas Boulevard, calling out government inaction in the face of multiple issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are tired of all the lies and inaction,” said Xian Guevarra, YACAP national coordinator and Quezon City local. “Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, or the climate crisis, or environmental protection of places like Manila Bay, the answer of our government has remained the same: policies and measures that are harmful for both the people and the planet.”

The protest action in Manila was held simultaneously with other youth-led mobilizations across the Philippines, adding up to hundreds of strikers across the country, and across the world, all in line with the Global Climate Strike set this September 24 by the international Fridays for Future movement. The NCR action focused mainly on the issue of adaptation — namely, how the Philippine government should prioritize measures that would protect the Filipino people from the impacts of climate change. Youth activists from across NCR collaborated with nearby fishing communities and other local communities impacted by illegal coal dumping for their action.

“Centuries of the biggest polluters choosing profit over the people and the planet has brought us to where we are right now with global warming and climate change,” said Yanna Mallari, regional coordinator of YACAP’s NCR chapter and high school student based in Parañaque. “Now, we strike in an area that will likely be underwater before I even turn 50. Those are the kinds of challenges my generation is facing. We are here to call for action and inclusive adaptation policies that prioritize people and planet.”

The action featured a giant plant monster of President Duterte, which had roots entangled with the flags of China and the United States of America. In line with the global theme of “Uproot the System,” the Filipino activists symbolically uprooted the Duterte plant monster during the program.

“The climate crisis isn’t just an environmental problem caused by carbon dioxide emissions. It is a systemic problem that stems from the foreign plunder of our resources and the greed of developed countries, especially countries like the US, which is historically the biggest emitter, and China, currently the biggest emitter,” said Mitzi Jonelle Tan, YACAP international spokesperson, who is based in Marikina City.

YACAP pointed out that despite President Duterte’s calls to action on climate change in his recent United Nations General Assembly speech, the policies of the current administration tell a different story. They assert that the government’s mitigation policies are short-sighted at best, and genuine adaptation measures are hardly ever discussed.

“If Duterte was true to his words about demanding accountability from the Global North, he would put a stop to the destructive projects and policies often by foreign entities, and have the political will to stand up to these countries. He has continuously allowed and even encouraged environmentally destructive projects that harm people and their livelihoods,” continued Tan. “The complete disregard for the environment and the most marginalized in times of disaster and with the COVID pandemic is not the adaptation we need. We need people-centered climate adaptation and policies and we need a leader who can actually stand up to the biggest polluters and walk their talk.”

The program ended in front of the Manila Bay dolomite beach, where protesters staged a banner drop and echoed their calls for people-centered climate adaptation. #

Back to basics with carbon dioxide

by Dalena Rabacal

When we say “ang init naman sa Pilipinas!”, what does this really mean? We learned a lot about how the Sun is providing warmth to the Earth. But is what we are experiencing still natural? What, then, is causing this intense heat? At this point, we’re probably all familiar with carbon emissions and how it causes global warming, but it’s worth reviewing the basics. So let’s revisit carbon dioxide and dive deeper into one of the primary causes of our situation today. 

To begin with, we must keep in mind that carbon dioxide has always been an important part of life.  In processes such as photosynthesis, carbon dioxide acts as a raw material that fuels plants’  food production.  It is also involved in the process that provides oxygen for all of humanity and other organisms. Carbon dioxide is also a fundamental part of the Earth’s carbon cycle present in the oceans, atmosphere, soil, animals, and plants. So, how does too much of it lead to disaster? 

Ever since fossil fuels — first coal, then oil and gas — were introduced during the Industrial Revolution, human-related emissions have disrupted the natural carbon cycle. Companies and industries, driven mainly by profit, began emitting massive amounts of CO2. Unfortunately, such environmentally-degrading practice has been carried on up to this day with fossil fuels still being used for energy, transportation, industrial processes, and the (over)production of goods. Aside from factory production, our simple day-to-day lives could also contribute to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions without us even knowing. This has strained nature’s innate ability to store carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through the natural carbon sinks in our soils, forests, and seas. Disruption of the natural processes of CO2 places our present and future at risk.

However, because of the profit-oriented system at work, companies just continue to profit off of the products, goods, and services with little concern for people and planet.

Carbon dioxide was responsible for 74.4 percent of the global greenhouse gas emission in 2016. This results in potentially irreversible negative effects that are currently being experienced globally. These effects include global warming, melting of polar ice caps, warming of the oceans, intensified and more frequent natural disasters, extreme drought, forest fires, and many more. In many ways, it’s like being placed in a hot pot that’s gradually heating up. Unless we’re paying close attention, we might not notice that the pot is becoming so hot that we will die in it if we don’t do anything.

How much carbon have we emitted as one planet? To put it into perspective, six billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted by the entire planet annually during the 1950s. By 1990, CO2 emission rose drastically by nearly four times to 22 billion tonnes emitted each year, with the United States and Europe accounting for 90 percent of the total record.

In the following years, China followed their steps and, likewise, showed a significant increase in their CO2 emission. Now, almost 40 billion tonnes of CO2 are being emitted by all countries worldwide (United States and Europe still accounting for one-third of global emissions), and with current trends, we have yet to reach peak emissions.  

The massive CO2 emissions of the United States of America, the European Union, and China makes them accountable for the worsening climate conditions of the vulnerable countries in the world. This further highlights why it is important for these countries to initiate immediate action to combat the climate crisis, as well as pay their debt to the most impacted countries. Hence, if we are aiming for a more sustainable solution to this crisis, change must begin from these corporations; encourage them to do big. 

The Philippines is among the most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Data shows that a lot of areas within the country will be submerged within a few years as the sea level continues to rise. Yes, it is not a fictional story of the lost city of Atlantis underwater — the City of Manila could very well be our own Atlantis.  

What is the data of the Philippines’ carbon dioxide contributions? In 2020, the recorded amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the Philippines is 127.23 metric tonnes of CO2. Most of these emissions are from combustion of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing activities. They include carbon dioxide produced during the consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring (a gas combustion device used in industrial plants such as petroleum refineries, chemical plants, and natural gas processing plants).

In 2020, the Philippines changed its goal from reducing 70% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in 2017 to 75%. This took place when the country’s first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were finally authorized under the Duterte administration. NDCs are the heart of the Paris Agreement and contain each countries’ pledge to develop and achieve low carbon emission to fight climate change and to ensure resilient development. The NDC aims to transition the fossil-fuel-driven economies of countries worldwide within this decade and limit the global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim of limiting it to 1.5 degree Celsius. 

Did you think that NDCs could solve the Philippines’ sufferings as a vulnerable country amid the climate crisis? Think again. Although a step in the right direction has been made in submitting the NDCs, there’s still a lot to improve upon. Here’s why: For one, the vast majority of our NDCs are conditional — meaning they will not happen unless external support is provided. In fact, 72.29 of the 75% emissions reduction target is conditional.

There are two sides to this coin:  On one hand, it is true that we do need support from the international community when it comes to technology transfer and matters alike. In this case, our government must actively pursue reparations from the Global North and exact their debt to countries like the Philippines so that we can develop in line with Paris’s goals. On the other hand, the government must also prioritize climate adaptation and mitigation in its own capacity, and allocate adequate funds for these initiatives. It is clear, however, that this is far from the government’s priorities as of the moment. It’s not even just about prioritizing our pandemic response — not when so many hospitals are facing budget cuts. 

Another issue with the NDCs is the fact that some of the very few unconditional programs are problematic in their own right; one example would be the Jeepney Modernization program, which includes replacing our jeepneys with supposedly “cleaner” models (that still use fossil fuels) at the expense of the jeepney drivers and small operators. Without programs that address the needs of the vulnerable sectors such as the jeepney drivers, these supposedly environment-friendly initiatives will only become an additional inconvenience, if not outright offensive, to the Filipino people. 

Lastly, even if we had a spotless set of NDCs, monitoring them closely is a must to have an improvement in our national response to the climate crisis.  Environmental activists around the country continue to call for their respective governments to do more and are continually urging to increase the efforts to transform our society into something pro-people and pro-planet. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, environmental defenders such as our  the Indigenous peoples are being silenced and being robbed of their ancestral lands. More than the fight for climate justice, we must not be afraid and strengthen our campaign to stop the attacks on our activists. 

We have no time to lose. We cannot wait for another day, month, nor year, as every second counts when the ice caps continue to melt and the temperature continues to rise; and of course, the impacts of the climate crisis are here today, in our massive floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires across the world. 

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases might be the steering wheel of the climate crisis, but we must focus on those who are behind it. Let’s continue to educate one another, get organized, and maximize all possible avenues to produce an alternative to the devastation we are experiencing today.

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Renewable energy (alone) won’t solve the climate crisis

by Alaina Ligot & Aldrin Adriano

Energy is the driving force that enables many of us to live in the way we do now. In schools, workplaces, and our own homes, we use energy carried in the form of electricity and fuels. We harness this power in many ways, but there are two main categories of where exactly we get energy: renewable and non-renewable energy sources. 

Renewable energy comes from natural resources or processes that replenish quickly. Common examples include hydropower and solar power. Conversely, non-renewable energy comes from resources that take centuries or even millennia to replenish. Fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal — the most widely used energy sources globally — fall into the non-renewable category. 

Despite being so widespread, non-renewable energy sources are extremely unsustainable. For one, experts estimate that the world will run out of fossil fuels by 2060 — less than forty years from now — meaning that future generations can no longer rely on these sources for energy. Also, burning fossil fuels for energy, heat, or transportation, emits greenhouse gases (GHGs) that gravely contribute to global warming. Our energy sources, the climate, and our future are thus deeply intertwined, especially with non-renewables in play. 

Similarly, renewable energy has its own place in determining our future. In recent years, there has been an uptrend in renewable energy consumption — and for good reason. Converting renewables into energy has a much more positive impact on the environment compared to non-renewables. The process itself typically produces little to no GHGs, and since they replenish naturally, future generations can consistently have access to energy given that these resources are appropriately utilized. In this way, renewables take us one step closer to generating energy and consuming resources in a way that is sustainable for both the people and the environment.

Like the rest of the world, the Philippines has also seen the potential of renewable energy to benefit the economy, environment, and lives of the people. With plenty of potential benefits, energy specialists have looked into exploring and innovating renewable energy solutions. One attempt to pursue supposedly sustainable renewable energy would be Davao’s Waste to Energy (WTE) project.

The WTE program was proposed by the government to provide more energy while also attempting to address excessive waste in landfills. The project includes a waste incineration facility, which is still receiving funding from the Japanese government. According to the project specifications, the PHP 2.5 billion plant would require 800 tons of waste for its every day operations.

Another popular example of renewable energy is hydropower. After oil, coal, gas, and traditional biomass, hydropower was the fifth most used energy source globally in 2019. In the Philippines, hydroelectric power followed a similar trend, as it has addressed 20% of the country’s energy consumption in recent years. A project related to hydropower would be the Kaliwa Dam. This particular dam is a part of the New Centennial Water Source (NCWS), a project for which President Rodrigo Duterte had secured a $235.9 million loan deal from China. Aside from supposedly serving as a way of tapping into clean energy, this dam was also proposed as a “sustainable” water source for people in the National Capital Region and surrounding areas. 

Solar energy has also proven to be quite viable in the Philippines. With the country being close to the equator with large open spaces, many areas have the potential to generate 4.5 to 5.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day. Companies like Solar Philippines and Meralco have also shown interest in growing the solar power industry, with recent updates including Solar Philippines’ plan to construct a 500 MW solar park on former ranchland in Peñaranda, in the province of Nueva Ecija. 

With these recent advancements in renewable energy, it is evident that renewable energy has the potential to address issues aside from the climate and energy crises. However, although these energy sources replenish quickly, they are not guaranteed to be environmentally- or people-friendly. 

Energy sources can be renewable and unsustainable at the same time. With a lack of nuanced and educational public discussions, it can be easy and convenient to label renewable energy sources as green. However, renewable energy sources do not always result in sustainability. 

For example, if we take a closer look at the details, Davao’s WTE project does not genuinely solve the problem it is trying to address. It may seem like converting waste into energy helps with the excessive waste issue. In reality, it does not address the root cause of the problem. Landfills overflow because of overproduction, and the actual amount of waste we produce will not decrease just because we incinerate it. 

Additionally, these waste-to-energy programs do not completely eliminate excess waste either. Davao’s WTE project cannot use organic waste even when 50% of waste collected in the region is organic. Even if energy is harnessed from whatever waste is burned, this practice would add more fuel to the flame of the ongoing climate crisis. The incineration of waste is still the incineration of fossil fuels, and more greenhouse gases (GHGs) will be emitted with this seemingly sustainable energy source. 

Realistically, with this program, we would be producing the same amount of waste and burning some of it for energy with the added harm of increased rates of GHG emissions. There are alternatives to managing excess waste. A more sustainable solution would be to reduce our overall waste output (ultimately caused by systemic overproduction), direct waste away from landfills by upcycling, recycling, composting, and reusing, and implement the appropriate measures to make these practices accessible to all.

Similarly, harnessing hydroelectric energy through dams like the Kaliwa Dam could be unsustainable for the people and the environment. Hydropower facilities take a lot of space; as a result, they displace not just water levels but also people settled nearby. The nine dams in the NCWS actually stemmed from a plan for one large dam from 2009. This was the Laiban dam, and it was as sizable as it was controversial. Environmentalist groups and indigenous communities fought fiercely against the dam as it would affect 28,000 hectares of land and displace 11,000 indigenous families. After many scandals with the funding and public backlash, the original plan was shelved and revised into the nine smaller dams of NCWS with the Kaliwa Dam at the forefront. 

Even if the new dams are smaller, they still have a significant effect on the environment and people. The Kaliwa Dam alone will uproot eight villages and 1,465 families, and the NCWS project as a whole will affect 39 different indigenous communities. The diverted water will negatively affect an additional 1,200 farmers and 1,800 hectares downstream. On top of this, the local ecosystem and indigenous lands will suffer as well. By leaving these indigenous communities in the dark about the project planning, the government showed blatant disregard for the well-being of the affected indigenous people and environment. 

As for solar power, one of the main concerns would be how large solar energy farms can displace farming communities. As Filipino small farmers across the country are already experiencing land ownership issues, projects like these can end up adding an additional threat to their livelihoods. Other concerns as of the moment would include constant maintenance and the lack of adequate infrastructure to accommodate solar power.  

One viable solution to these issues would be to localize solar power production, specifically through distributed generation. Distributed generation would reduce disruptive land usage and demand for energy distribution infrastructure. It would also allow more localized energy consumption for the people, which is both efficient and appealing. However, there are a lot of infrastructure changes necessary to promote this sort of approach.

With this concept of unsustainability plaguing renewable energy, the question remains: can renewable energy still address the world’s climate and energy issues, while protecting both people and the planet?

Essentially, it can. Renewable energy technology existing today presents a clear way out of what could become a fossil fuel-driven catastrophe. However, renewable energy is not a one-fits-all solution — we still have to think critically and weigh out all the effects of projects to determine if it’s truly beneficial and appropriate for the situation. Even more importantly, these plans must consider the well-being of affected communities. 

The current profit-oriented system deepens existing inequalities between various groups, and it leaves vulnerable parties to fend for themselves. Mindlessly shifting to renewables will likely lead to the further exploitation of the Global South, where much of the minerals and materials for a green energy revolution will be extracted from. The Global North will continue to thrive in their electric cars and wind turbine farms at the expense of the most affected and vulnerable people. Continuing with the trend of irresponsibly pushing for green energy solutions will result in any possible benefits being diminished and erased. 

The climate crisis will not get any better if we simply pretend that it will get solved with greener energy. To introduce a renewable energy source, we must carefully consider the program’s feasibility with current resources and its effects on the environment, economy, and people. There is no one solution that will be applicable to every iteration of a problem; this especially applies to renewable energy. 

Becoming critical of proposed green energy programs is key to identifying what is truly a step in the right direction in terms of improving the climate situation. In the long run, we should be making decisions that promote a transition to a needs-based and sustainability-centered system, instead of relying uncritically on a shift to renewable energy solutions alone. 

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

The latest IPCC climate report: All you need to know

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released last August 9, gives humanity a stark warning: act now on climate, or face terrible consequences. The report paints a grim picture for humanity, even if we meet the most ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets — and, of course, an even grimer picture if we don’t.

Background on the report

The IPCC is an international body mandated by the United Nations to provide assessments of our current climate crisis, make projections regarding possible future impacts of climate change, and suggest policy measures to governments so that our global climate goals are met. It has played an increasingly important role in shedding light on where our planet — and, of course, humanity — is headed, in the context of global warming and climate change.

Every seven or so years, the IPCC comes out with an Assessment Report, which is essentially a summary of the best available climate science. The time it takes to produce an Assessment Report is testament to the arduous process undertaken by the IPCC of incorporating new developments and building scientific consensus. Last August 9, 2021 marked the release of the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which is authored by the IPCC Working Group 1 and tackles the physical science of climate change — that is, temperature increase, climate and weather patterns, among other things. The reports from Working Group 2 and 3, which tackle climate impacts and policy measures respectively, are slated for release next year.

So where does humanity stand, according to the latest IPCC report?

“It is unequivocal”: humans have caused the climate crisis

The report makes it clear to anyone who has any doubts about the cause of climate change: human activities are responsible. Continuous emission of greenhouse gases since the start of the Industrial Revolution has resulted in our current situation of drastic global warming. Glacier retreat, ocean warming, sea level rise have all been attributed, with high confidence, to human-driven global warming.

Of course, it’s important to understand which humans are responsible. Spoiler: it’s not all humans — just a few of us.

“Unprecedented” warming

It’s now almost certain that we have broken many natural records in terms of emissions and warming, and some of these records go way back. Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in 2019 were likely higher than at any other point of the Earth’s history for the past two million years. Temperatures are also increasing at rates faster than at any other point in the last two thousand years.

Source: IPCC, 2021.

How about the global glacier retreat rate? Highest in at least two thousand years. Ocean warming rate? Highest in at least 11,000 years. Ocean acidity? Possibly the most acidic in the last two million years.

Every region of the globe is affected

This report marks the first time the IPCC has released a more detailed analysis of climate change at a regional level. This allows for a more comprehensive look at how global warming impacts different places in different ways.

As seen in the report, across the globe there is a general increase in hot temperature extremes that can be attributed to human activities with high confidence. Changes in heavy precipitation and in agricultural and ecological drought patterns are also observable in the report for many regions, though more research is needed to link these impacts to human activity.

For Southeast Asia in particular, the report was able to establish that the increase in hot temperature extremes in the region are very likely due to human influence on the climate. There is also a general agreement that precipitation in the Southeast Asian region has increased since the 1950s.

Many of the changes now are irreversible for centuries

For some impacts of global warming, there is no turning back. Events such as melting of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels, thawing permafrost, ocean warming and deoxygenation are likely to continue for centuries, no matter what we do. However, the rate at which these events take place may still vary depending on our future carbon emission rates.

The impacts of these events on people and planet pose a grave threat to places like the Philippines, but the solutions to these are within reach, as long as there is political will to pursue the proper adaptation measures.

Limiting to 1.5°C is still possible — but only just

The goal set by the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C provides a safer guardrail to the impacts of the climate crisis, which will be undoubtedly worse at higher temperatures. Very low to low emissions pathways — which, in practice, means rapid emissions reductions within the next decade or so — gives humanity a good chance at limiting long-term temperature increase to 1.5°C.

What do we mean by this “good chance” for 1.5°C? With the complexity of the climate system, it’s difficult to say for certain that we will achieve any sort of goal, only that certain actions like reducing emissions as quickly as possible will give us a better chance at doing so. The carbon budget (that is, the maximum amount of CO2 that can still be emitted to achieve the desired outcome) for a 50% chance at limiting increase to 1.5°C is approximately 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide, though changes in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions can increase or decrease the carbon budget by 220 gigatons or more.

Regardless, pushing for a coin-toss 1.5°C scenario — hardly an ideal situation — leaves us with only a few years (at current emissions levels) to cut our emissions to net zero. Fighting for better chances at 1.5°C means even less time left for us to act.

The time to act is now

The latest IPCC report is hardly surprising. If anything, it merely confirmed what climate activists have been talking about for the past few years: our climate is broken, and it can get even worse.

But we must not lose hope. Our fight is a fight for our survival, for our present and our future. We must keep up the pressure on our national and world leaders, and fight for every fraction of a degree to ensure that the worst scenarios of climate catastrophe are avoided.

This article was prepared by YACAP’s Education Committee.

Plant a tree, save the planet? Think again

by Michelle Cadiz

Forests play an important role in regulating climate. They have an effect on temperature, humidity and precipitation — not only do they provide shade, but they also release water vapor into the atmosphere through transpiration, which in turn affects the water cycle and produce microclimates that act as buffers to the extremes of global warming. Primarily though, they act as carbon sinks, converting inorganic carbon in the ecosystem to organic carbon in their tissues through photosynthesis.

The ability of forests to absorb carbon has made them a line of defense against climate change. Currently, forests around the world are able to absorb about 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. However, due to deforestation, the size of forested areas all over the world is shrinking. As a result, the ability of forests to act as carbon sinks is also in jeopardy. According to a recent study, the Amazon rainforest is no longer absorbing, but releasing, carbon. Part of this is due to fires that are intentionally set to clear forested areas for agriculture and livestock, but even without the fires, the conclusion is the same. Previous deforestation has led to hotter temperatures, droughts, and greater susceptibility to more deforestation, which increase the carbon emissions from the forest. 

Globally, forests are cleared to create room for agriculture and livestock, and for mining. Human-caused deforestation has led to 46% of all trees around the world being felled. Since the 1960s, over half the tropical forests worldwide have been lost. In 2020 alone, 12.2 million hectares of tropical forests were lost, primarily from places like the Amazon, the Congo, and southeast Asia, making 2020 the third worst year for forest destruction since monitoring began in 2002.

In the Philippines, 75% of forests have been lost since the 1930s. Systematic logging was introduced by the American occupation, and worsened during the Martial Law era. Since then, administrations have drawn up policies and programs for reforestation, but forest cover hasn’t improved since the first Aquino administration. Rather, deforestation has reached an all-time high under the Duterte administration, reaching an average of 10,000 hectares of primary forest lost per year. Present-day deforestation is driven by land-use conversion for agricultural and residential use, as well as clearing for mining. The loss of forests in the country has resulted in worsening effects of natural disasters, such as flooding and landslides.

So what’s to be done?

The main response to deforestation and climate change has been reforestation efforts. Reforestation is seen as the cheapest, most accessible means of carbon capture, or removing carbon from the atmosphere. Some studies have even proposed afforestation — the planting of trees in historically non-forested areas to grow an artificial forest — as a potential solution

The Philippines has its own reforestation programs. The National Greening Program (NGP) was introduced during the second Aquino administration and continued by the Duterte administration as the Enhanced National Greening Program (E-NGP). The E-NGP program sought to rehabilitate 1.2 million hectares of forests by 2022, in addition to protecting the existing forests. 

On the surface, this sounds like a step in the right direction. But of course, the devil is in the details.

First of all, the program is planting exotic trees along with native trees. The native trees are planted in protected areas and are not allowed to be cut down, but the exotic, cash-crop trees are planted in “production areas,” where they could be harvested. This puts the very plan of the NGP and E-NGP under scrutiny. Planting exotic cash-crop trees shows that the NGP and E-NGP aren’t being done to help restore forest cover, but rather to plant trees for harvesting. In fact, the NGP was first conceptualized as a “poverty-alleviation” project, which is merely code for the commodification of the trees to be planted.

Planting exotic trees is also bad for the native ecosystem. Exotic trees tend to out-compete native trees, and hinder the growth of native seedlings. Non-native trees are prioritized in reforestation efforts because they grow faster, but they also decompose faster, which accelerates carbon cycling in the ecosystem.

Secondly, logistical issues have been flagged by the Commission of Audit. This includes the lack of surveying, mapping, and planning in reforestation efforts. Additionally, locals have reported that reforestation sites are burned on purpose every year so that another reforestation effort could take place, and the program would continue bringing in income.

But even if the E-NGP (and other reforestation efforts) didn’t have these issues, it wouldn’t be the climate mitigation solution that people want it to be. A study has shown that even if all the farmland in the tropics was reforested — a proposal neither feasible nor fair — carbon in the atmosphere would only drop by about 18 billion tons, which is only about two years’ worth of emissions at current rates. So while tree-planting activities may be all the rage, it’s equally important, if not more important, to preserve existing old-growth forests.

Existing forests have older trees, which are larger and store much more carbon than younger, smaller trees, making them more efficient in carbon capture compared to seedlings used in tree planting activities. In fact, the largest 1% of trees store about 50% of above-ground carbon. This is in addition to other services provided by these forests, such as protecting biodiversity, preventing droughts and wildfires, and producing microclimates.

All this answers the question of why we should protect our remaining forests. The how is more difficult. Experts say that the only way forests can be conserved is if the government has a strong commitment to protecting forests and will prioritize them over commercial interests. They must also engage and include local communities in the process, as their needs must also be met in the spirit of inclusive sustainable development.

Is that possible in the Philippines? Can we depend on our local and national government to prioritize forest conservation over personal profit? Historically, the answer has been no. But with 2022 elections upcoming, it is possible to vote into office officials who care about the planet over profit. And of course, beyond exercising our right to vote, it is on us, the Filipino people, to demand action and accountability from local, national, and world leaders, and push for a genuine reorientation of our society, for the sake of our continued survival as a species.

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Taking on the plastic problem

by Yanna Mallari & Rexie John Mangabat

We Filipinos are always proud to see our country place high on lists — beauty pageants, sports events, you name it. However, the Philippines has recently also been topping global charts we shouldn’t be proud of: in 2020, the Philippines was found to be the fifth largest contributor to marine plastics. Albeit an indication of some progress coming from third to fifth, we still can’t seem to let go of being part of the top ten, producing 1.01 million metric tons of mismanaged plastics annually, and of this 0.28-0.75 MMT/year leak to the oceans. As one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and environmental disasters, pollution only makes our situation worse. So why do we continue to contribute to this issue?

It’s no surprise, really. A report about the top five plastic pollution contributors released a few years ago by the Ocean Conservancy said, “As rapidly developing economies, these countries [China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines] are now passing through a typical stage of economic growth as consumer demand for disposable products grows more rapidly than the waste management infrastructure.” It’s true that plastic has paved the way for economic growth as it caters to the profit-centered business model, enabling the big companies and corporations to continually mass produce unsustainable products and services for a low cost, effecting more affordable prices and higher profit. This then overshadows any other option consumers could have, but all the profits of all the big, polluting companies in the world won’t be able to pay off the enormous debt of consequences down the road if nothing changes. It’s time to switch lanes.

First, why exactly is plastic such a problem? When taught about pollution in schools, it would usually be divided by pollution on land, water, and air, so it should definitely raise concern that the plastic pollution encompasses all these. 

Over 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, and though mostly made for single-use, takes decades to degrade, meaning that they take up towering amounts of space and stay there longer than human lifespans (and keep in mind, all land combined makes up only 29% of the planet). To top that, plastic doesn’t actually “decompose” or degrade in the same way biological products do. It only disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, which ironically becomes a bigger problem as these invisible contaminants go to our soil and our waters. Wide and varied sources of microplastic are constantly polluting the planet and some research has shown that microplastics in the soil affect soil health and function, and even migration in the food chain. Microplastics and the chemicals along with it eventually also find their way to groundwater when dumped in landfills, and enter into aquatic ecosystems.

Like cancer cells originating and accumulating in one organ then spreading to the next, microplastics, first produced on land mainly as larger pieces of plastic, have been detected in our marine and freshwater ecosystems. Studies estimate there are now 15 to 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans — from the equator to the poles, from Arctic ice sheets to the sea floor. Not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on Earth seems to be free of plastic pollution as even in the third-deepest point on the planet, Emden Deep, plastic bags were found.

This poses several dangerous threats that ripple into catastrophic waves. One of these obvious threats is on wildlife. Entangling themselves in it, eating it, mistakenly feeding it to their young, aquatic wildlife have suffered immensely from the plastic pollution. Researchers say that by the year 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish by weight. In addition to that, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration hassaid that plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually. Now put this into perspective: our Earth is 71% water, and of that water, more than 80% is still unexplored. Plastic pollution is so immense that even with so much of the hydrosphere still unknown, the effects of pollution are so prominent even in just the relatively small percentage we were able to study. It’s as if we were only given a keyhole to look through to see what plastic has done to our oceans, and we could already tell how extensive the damage is.

But why should it matter to people that it affects wildlife? Well, this is precisely what we mean by catastrophic waves. Earth’s waters are not only a home for its inhabitants, but also a main source of oxygen and food for those on land like us humans. Photosynthetic microorganisms in the ocean produce oxygen, and unfortunately a study by an international team of researchers has shown that ocean plastics interfere with the growth and photosynthetic function of these microorganisms therefore potentially affecting earth’s oxygen supply overall. Moreover, plastics are also affecting the ocean as a source for human food. Numerous studies have shown microplastics entering the food chain in our salt, fish, oysters, mussels, and many others. Ocean plastic pollution has made its way into the food web, directly affecting human health, as well as the health of other terrestrial animals, which we can also end up consuming. More studies are needed to pinpoint exactly how plastic affects plants, but we can only expect the worst. 

As microplastics have entered into our food chain, microplastics have actually also gone into the air we breathe. A study made in the mountains of the French Pyrenees — an area far from civilization — to investigate the amount of microplastics that falls from the air to the ground found that on average, 249 plastic pieces were found per square meter per day. It was also concluded that wind can carry microplastics over far distances, over land and water, further amplifying the effects of plastic pollution. 

Before plastic degrades to microplastics, before plastic is discarded and mismanaged, before plastic is consumed, first, it’s produced. Even at the production stage, plastic already yields great damage on the environment, more specifically on the climate. Most plastic is derived from fossil fuels, and the process of acquiring fossil fuels, as well as producing plastic itself, releases billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases which contribute to the climate crisis. Unfortunately, unless things change, this will only continue to grow in the future as the fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade.

Furthermore on plastic and the climate, when plastic waste is mismanaged by poorly-regulated incineration, monumental volumes of greenhouse gases are also emitted. Globally, in this year alone, researchers estimate that the production and incineration of plastic will pump more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By 2050, those emissions could rise to 2.8 billion tonnes. Because of the greenhouse gas emissions by plastics, the climate further warms, and the sunlight and heat will react with massive amounts of existing plastic waste to break them down and release more greenhouse gases, thus creating a deadly cycle.

How does plastic pollution fare in the Philippines? Well, the Philippines is luxuriously rich in the natural world, meaning we have the potential and resources to be environmentally resilient against this crisis, but it has been greatly hindered by continual mismanagement and continual contribution to plastic pollution which not only affects the wildlife and ecosystems, but also human health and livelihood. The effects of plastic pollution are not just — and never were — hollow words or scientific jargon with numbers. Take, for example, the extreme weather events we faced in 2020 — we are already experiencing the harsh repercussions on a large scale, and it is only growing by the year. To make matters worse, our farmers, fisherfolk, and our indigenous communities, who have all been historically marginalized in our society, have borne the brunt of this crisis for the longest time. And yet, even until now, their calls for reparations and justice have been met with  blind eyes, deaf ears, and closed palms.

So what now? First, be wary of greenwashing or false solutions. Promoting an “eco-friendly” product, donating to “green” causes, and claiming to promote sustainable practices while still investing and practicing environmentally harmful “business-as-usual” ways — these are just some of the many ways greenwashing has taken shape by corporations and companies. Greenwashing measures include, but are not limited to, ecobrick initiatives and recycling projects of companies that still, at the end of the day, actively decide to use and produce plastic products.

Second, be part of the solution. Raise awareness, educate, participate in events, and clamor for change in local and national policies. For example, in the Philippines, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 has faced challenges in implementation, despite being recognized as an exceptional law on paper. Despite being over two decades old, Filipinos have not seen a release of a list of Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products and Packaging (NEAPP) by the National Solid Waste Management Commission as mandated by the law. Including single-use plastics in the NEAPP list is one way of mitigating the plastic problem on a national scale.

If you can, you can also shift to sustainable products, support eco-friendly services and stores, and pursue other ways of reducing personal waste.  With these initiatives, start with yourself, your room, your home, your community, your school. The ideas and habits you have and practice may only be the size of one person, but it could ripple to towering and far-reaching waves. However, we must recognize that changing one’s lifestyle and behavior is often dictated by one’s economic situation; in places like the Philippines, a zero-waste way of life can be expensive and inaccessible to many. As such, those who are able to change our individual lifestyles must also call for changes in local and national policy to make eco-friendly lifestyles more accessible.

So what now? Fueled by passion, ambitious goals, and support from our community, it’s time to act. Not “act” like  how world leaders have been role-playing, as Greta Thunberg pointed out in the Austrian World Summit 2021, but act with real solutions to be part of change: learning, unlearning and relearning roots to correct the mistakes of the past and to innovate the next step, to change, and to return the balance. Filipinos have a rich and beautiful country, and a wonderful planet, all of which is worth fighting for. In the face of our environmental crisis, it’s time for real leadership, one that is intersectional and intergenerational. After all, for our generation and those that would come after us, there is too much at stake. Let’s make the decision to act today, collectively, as we fight for a better present and future for all.

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Walking the climate talk? A review of Duterte’s term

As President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) approaches, we take a look back at his administration’s stances, policies, and actions when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Duterte’s term from July 2016 to present saw three of the costliest typhoons to ever hit the Philippines — Ompong in 2018, Ulysses and Rolly in 2020 — affecting millions of people and causing billions of pesos worth of damage. The impacts of the intense drought back in 2016 were also still fresh wounds at the time President Duterte was sworn in. How has the administration fared in addressing both current and anticipated climate impacts?

2016

One of the very first things President Duterte announced, just days after his inauguration, was that he would not honor the United Nations Paris Agreement, saying that the deal would “stifle” Philippine industrialization and that the burden of emissions cuts should be placed on industrialized countries. He had previously called rich countries “hypocrites” for the same reason, specifically mentioning countries like China and the US. However, as we would see later on in his term, his strong stance against these two worst-polluting countries did not seem to affect the administration’s very close relationship with them.

The year 2016 also saw a rise in the extrajudicial killings of land and environment defenders, making the Philippines the worst country in Asia and third-worst in the world in terms of defender killings, according to the tally of Global Witness. Duterte’s first day in office was actually marked by the killing of Gloria Capitan, a staunch anti-coal activist. This trend of topping the Global Witness list would persist for the rest of Duterte’s term, landing second, first, and second on the global list in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively.

2017 and 2018

Despite initially saying he would do otherwise, Duterte finally signed the Paris Agreement within the first few months of 2017. This process, however, took some discussion and was ultimately put to a Cabinet vote as Duterte himself was still unconvinced about the Agreement.

In the following year, the Philippine Climate Change Assessment Working Group 3 report was released, which said that greenhouse gas emissions of the country were on the rise. Though the Philippines still produced less than half of one percent of global emissions at the time, scientists commented that sectors like energy and transport were the main culprits behind rising local emissions and that changes were necessary in these sectors in the fight to mitigate climate change.

2019

Towards the end of the first half of 2019, Duterte again let loose some tough banter, this time criticizing international climate conferences for accomplishing “nothing” and threatened the non-attendance of the Philippines in future climate conferences. Statements like these from the administration were countered by the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), citing the Philippines’ key role alongside other climate vulnerable nations in pushing for the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit included in the Paris Agreement.

2019 also saw a surge in global protests led by the youth and environmental groups, with millions mobilizing around the world within a single week of September that year. However, here in the Philippines, climate activists did not have it easy. Environmental organizations Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC) faced the threat of an office raid by state forces as they were preparing for one of the local actions in line with the Global Climate Strike. Kalikasan PNE and CEC were among YACAP’s partners in our September 2019 action in Quezon City.

Towards the end of 2019, the CHR presented findings of its inquiry on human rights impacts of climate change at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) 25 in Madrid, Spain, where it stated that carbon major companies (i.e. the worst-polluting companies) could be found liable on legal and moral grounds for human rights violations attributable to climate change.

2020

Once again, this time in front of the UN General Assembly, Duterte postured as a progressive in international spaces, stating that climate change must be tackled as urgently as the COVID-19 pandemic. He gave a similar message in front of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), demanding “climate justice” from developed nations responsible for the climate crisis.

The string of typhoons that battered the Philippines towards the end of 2020 pushed members of the House of Representatives to adopt a resolution seeking to declare a climate emergency. Measures that were taken at this stage included the filing of bills seeking to establish a Department of Disaster Resilience as well as pushing for dedicated evacuation centers for communities. However, as of writing, there does not seem to be much progress in these initiatives.

2020 also marked the declaration by the Department of Energy of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plant projects, a move celebrated by many environment and climate activists. However, the devil is definitely in the details, as the moratorium did not cover previously-approved or indicative projects already in the pipeline.

2021 (so far)

After much ado, the Philippines finally submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in compliance with the Paris Agreement. However, these NDCs, which state the projects and measures the government will undertake to mitigate its carbon emissions, have been criticized as woefully inadequate. For one, less than 3% of the submitted NDCs are unconditional, meaning a vast majority of the projects are dependent on external support. Additionally, some of the projects cited are already projects that the Duterte administration would do anyway, and problematic ones at that. These include the jeepney modernization project which places the burden of transition on jeepney drivers and operators, as well as some projects under the Build, Build, Build program (because for some reason, building more highways counts towards emissions reduction).

A recent development leading up to UNFCCC COP 26 in Glasgow is the call of several of the countries most affected by climate change — including the Philippines — for more financial support from the Global North for climate adaptation and mitigation. We will see in the coming months whether our government will play a vital role in this push for accountability from the North.

Our national response to climate change remains reactive; talk about the climate crisis only takes place right before, and right after, a devastating typhoon.

Conclusion

President Duterte’s strong words and posturing when it comes to climate, particularly in the international setting, rarely matched concrete actions on the ground. While his administration took some steps in the right direction when it comes to mitigation efforts — declaring a (partial) moratorium on new coal power plants, for example, and finally submitting the country’s (largely inadequate) Nationally Determined Contributions to the UN — proactive and community-centered adaptation measures are still sorely lacking. Our national response to climate change remains reactive; talk about the climate crisis only takes place right before, and right after, a devastating typhoon. The Philippines, one of the countries most affected by the climate crisis, still lacks a long-term and concrete climate adaptation plan.

Additionally, despite some tough talk against countries like China and the US, the current administration has shown that it is not up to the task of tackling these countries head-on for their historic and current contributions to the climate crisis and, consequently, the devastation the Philippines faces almost every year. Issues like the West Philippine Sea occupation by China have revealed where President Duterte’s allegiance truly lies. A leader who is serious about the climate crisis should be willing to confront countries like the US and China and demand for reparations.

No matter what happens in the future, the climate crisis as we know it is here to stay, and it will likely even get worse. The best time to pursue action towards genuine climate resilience is now — and therefore now is also the time to call for a change in leadership to one that will recognize the scale of the crisis, and truly fight for our present and future.

Pipelines and where we draw the line

by Ysabella Alcazar & Jon Bonifacio

“The ocean is on fire.”

Was it a joke? Was it just good CGI footage taken out of a disaster movie? No. The ocean was literally on fire because of a ruptured pipeline. Once again, the planet itself has cried out for system change.

Last July 3, 2021, the Gulf of Mexico burst into flames, creating a ring of fire on its surface for five hours due to a ruptured gas pipeline. The video of the incident circulated online and all over the world, viewers were appalled at how it was really happening in real life and how this was not taken out of a sci-fi movie. Some may see it as just another crazy story from 2021, but there’s more to it than that.

The incident — hardly the first environmental disaster brought about by a pipeline — showed how these projects can pose a threat to life and humanity. Oil and gas pipelines make way for the profit-hungry and power-hungry schemes of fossil fuel corporations, and adversely affect the integrity and safety of our land, water, and air.

Two of the most serious types of pipeline incidents include leaks and ruptures, which both impose catastrophic impacts on the environment. And now, these pipeline ruptures that used to be a cautionary tale have come true to life. Over the past decade, pipelines have spilled more than 34 million gallons of oil in the United States alone. Since the 1980s, it has been reported that the pipeline and the oil industry has caused more than 8 billion US dollars worth of financial damages. The human cost, on the other hand, has also been immense: over 500 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries were caused by pipeline accidents in the same time period. Both of these statistics, again, only in the United States; we can only expect a worse situation globally.

One of the worst pipeline accidents ever recorded happened just a few years ago, last December 2016, in western North Dakota where it was estimated that 176,000 gallons of oil leaked in the Belle Fourche pipeline.

During this time, the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline was also taking place. Local residents had opposed the construction of the pipeline given the threat of environmental damage in their community. Moreover, the corporation responsible for the Dakota Access pipeline silenced those who oppose their unethical and dangerous project by filing legal cases against the indigenous and environmental groups resisting the construction. Additionally, a petition by local indigenous communities to shut the Dakota Access pipeline down permanently was denied by US courts earlier this year.

Pemex, the oil company involved in the July 3 incident in the Gulf of Mexico, has stated that, to quote, “there was no oil spill and the immediate actions to control the fire that occurred on the surface of the sea avoided environmental damage.” 

But is that enough? Assurance from a multi-billion dollar oil company that everything is under control with a single article, after seeing the ocean set aflame, will not cut it. It’s also worth noting that Pemex has had several industrial accidents in the past. The pressure must continue for an independent investigation in order to hold the company accountable for the environmental impacts the incident has undoubtedly caused. 

And of course, as the world faces the threats imposed by the current climate crisis, the continued construction of pipelines worldwide just shows how fossil fuel companies are stubbornly holding on to dirty energy. A notable example is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) being built by Total Energies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation in Uganda and Tanzania. The massive project spanning hundreds of kilometers poses a threat to the environment, food security, and water security, and threatens to displace more than 10,000 families. The call to defund the project, led by the Stop EACOP alliance, is still ongoing.

Another example would be the Keystone XL pipeline project in North America, which received significant opposition from indigenous peoples and environmental groups. Fortunately, due to the immense pressure from civil society, the permit for the pipeline was revoked earlier this year and the project was subsequently cancelled.

With all this in mind, Filipinos must also similarly oppose new pipeline projects here in our own country, as they would invariably damage local ecosystems, place people’s lives and livelihoods at risk, and commit the country to dirty energy for decades to come. Instead, we must call for a shift towards renewable, sustainable, and more decentralized energy production, which has rapidly become more accessible and affordable in recent years. Moreover, if we wish to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase limit stated in the Paris Agreement, building new oil and gas infrastructure today is not an option. 

We call out the massive pipeline projects and the corporations who damage our biodiversity, devastate peoples around the world, and actively prevent the necessary global shift to cleaner, more sustainable energy. We must resist and call to defund these types of projects in order to break the dependence on fossil fuels. We must put pressure on those in power to make more responsible choices, call for urgent climate action, and initiate a change in the system into one that places people and planet over profit.

Photo from Twitter

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Anti-Terror Law Anniversary Statement

It has been one year since the signing of the Anti Terrorism Law, and things have never been darker. The Anti-Terror Law (ATL) is merely an unconstitutional attempt of the state to silence their critics. Through this Draconian bill, government officials are free to pinpoint any individual of their choosing and paint them as “terrorists.”

With its vague definitions of “terrorism” as a whole, environmental defenders and activists can easily be tagged and manipulated as terrorists, leading to their illegal detention, and even their deaths.

In Duterte’s first three years in office, a total of 119 land and environmental defenders were killed. This number is almost twice as compared with the 3 years prior to taking the Presidential Seat. The statistics and the situation does not improve: in 2019 alone, 49 more environmental defenders were killed. Meanwhile, the 2020 lockdown worsened the numbers, as reports count at least 500 cases of human rights abuses.

The Philippines, primarily being an agricultural country, requires farmers and agricultural workers in order to thrive, and yet these workers account for 63% of total deaths.

On December 1, 2020, Kalikasan PNE was “red tagged” by government officials in a Senate hearing. In the same month, nine indigenous people from the Tumandok Tribe in Panay were killed by soldiers and policemen. These officials believed that the indigenous people were “supporters” of a communist rebel movement regarding a local dam project.

It is ironic that the ATL was drafted by the state to primarily protect individuals from terrorist and communist rebel groups. However, the statistics beg to differ: it is the state who abuses the ATL in order to protect themselves from truth tellers by painting their critics as terrorists.

YACAP stands in solidarity with the journalists, activists, and environmental defenders who choose to exercise and assert their right to freedom of speech everyday. We stand with the Filipino people in the rejection of a law that criminalizes truth-telling and advocacy.

#JunkATL
#DefendPressFreedom
#ProtectTheLumad