COP26: On the outside, always looking in

Chito Arceo was a delegate to the recently-concluded Conference of Parties 26 (COP 26) UN climate summit in Glasgow, who represented YACAP alongside two others. He reflects on his experiences in the piece below. You can also check out the pieces of Jon Bonifacio and Mitzi Jonelle Tan.

As the first-ever person from my city to attend the biggest summit in the world about climate change, the hype was real. My friends and family were very much eager to see what would happen in the most anticipated COP since COP21, and the local government gave me their full support to report back the important things that could be echoed back to my community. Unfortunately, my disappointment was even bigger than I thought imaginable, and this COP turned out to be quite uneventful on my part.

Coming into the Blue Zone (the area where the official negotiations took place) for the first time and seeing the giant globe suspended from the ceiling, I was full of excitement. I had gone through security, I had finished registering to get my badge, and I had gotten my travel pass amongst other things they gave away. But the excitement quickly ended when I realized that I didn’t have the slightest idea on what to do next. The events were happening quickly with only televisions to remind us of our schedule. The venue itself was way too big to just look around and find an event that interested me without tiring myself too quickly. Simply put, I was lost.

This feeling would not only happen on my first day at COP. It also happened on my second day, and my third, up until the very last day. Every time I entered the Blue Zone, I realized I had no idea what to do aside from the pre-planned actions by my fellow activists. It was simply too overwhelming to navigate through the conference. But what’s ironic is that so much is happening and yet, so little was achieved. The whole thing felt like a farce.

It wasn’t long until I realized why this was the case: even if I came from a country that is continuously being ravaged by the climate crisis, I wasn’t the target audience of this conference. I wasn’t white, I did not come from a position of power or wealth, and I wasn’t significant enough to be let inside the negotiations. I did not belong in this theater of performative climate “action”. So much for COP26 being the most inclusive COP ever.

How can a summit organized by the most powerful entities in the world solve a crisis disproportionately affecting billions of people from marginalized communities without giving them the platform to be at the negotiations? Or at the very least, not giving them the platform to speak? Why do those who feel the effects of the climate crisis the least get to decide about how we move forward from now on? What do they know of the crisis when all they care about is how they will profit from this situation? 

Climate finance is a sham and net zero is a scam. World leaders and fossil fuel lobbyists should know that their tainted money is not worth the lives of the people suffering from the crisis. Every single day that they try to move the deadline to end their emissions will be responsible for the death of thousands of people, if not millions. 

Every single day that they try to move the deadline to end their emissions will be responsible for the death of thousands of people, if not millions. 

Holding large-scale polluters accountable and demanding reparations for the loss and damages of the climate crisis are what we should be doing right now. COP26 was clearly not the platform for these actions, and as far as I’m concerned, the future COPs won’t be as well. The system is on their side, and not a day has passed that they do not try to take advantage of this for their financial gain.

All of the events that actually mattered during my two-week stay in Scotland either happened outside COP or inside COP but outside of the negotiations themselves. These actions planned by the civil society organizations highlighted the voices of MAPA (Most Affected People’s and Areas) activists and the voices of those from marginalized communities that did not get the representation they needed inside the conference itself. These are where the power of the people comes from. These platforms shed light on the real issues brought about by the climate crisis, and they are the ones that should be broadcasted around the world.

It would be amiss to exclude from this reflection the admiration I have amongst my fellow activists who came from different parts of the world. Their sheer determination and passion for the advocacies that they are fighting for are beyond remarkable. I had the privilege of getting to know first-hand the experiences of these people from their home countries and why they came to Scotland to raise their voices. There is a tragic irony in knowing that a shared aversion to the lack of climate action is what united us in the first place. However, there is hope in knowing that these activists, who are all incredible in their own right, will push for true climate justice in their own communities no matter what it takes. 

Lastly, COP26 lacked what I think is an important part of solving the climate crisis: love. Whether it be love for the environment or love for the causes the people are there for, it was clear that this summit was born out of obligation and not of altruism. This resulted into a conference that was monumental at face value, but lifeless in form. 

Conversely, the actions outside of COP were full of emotion —anger, disappointment, sadness, hope, and of course, love. Every single activist I’ve met had a love for what they were doing. Not because they loved what was happening, but because they loved what they were fighting for. And they were more than willing to share that emotion with others. Never have I felt so attached to a group of people that I have never met in my life in just a span of two weeks. I am forever grateful for the love that they have shared with me, and I hope that they continue to inspire other people with their fervor.

When I came back to the Philippines, it was not the stories inside the conference that resonated with me. It was the stories of unity that kept us going in these past few weeks despite the lack of action from the world leaders and negotiators in COP26. While not the conference I thought it to be, it has managed to give me outlooks that I never would’ve realized had it not been for the incompetence and the exclusionary vibe of the event itself. You have to be outside looking in to get the entire picture of COP. 

And the picture it depicts manages to capture a few words: we will not solve the climate crisis through COP26, and we won’t be solving it through the future COPs as well.

A world beyond COP 26

Jon Bonifacio was a delegate to the recently-concluded Conference of Parties 26 (COP 26) UN climate summit in Glasgow, who represented YACAP alongside two others. He reflects on his experiences in the piece below. You can also check out the pieces of Chito Arceo and Mitzi Jonelle Tan.

Nearly every day that I entered the COP26 conference grounds in Glasgow, the ambient chatter from delegates in line would be punctured by different sounds coming from the other side of the perimeter fences surrounding the venue. Whether it was some driving percussion from an ensemble of snare and bass drum players, or chants from protestors hailing from different parts of the world, the vibrant music and spirit from the outside was a clear point of contrast to the rather monotonous vibe of the halls and walkways chock-full of mumbling suits inside.

Two weeks’ worth of deliberations led by these mumbling suits has resulted in a document called the Glasgow Climate Pact. This being my first COP, I was genuinely surprised that this was all they could muster — a few pages of the most peculiar and conservative language I have ever seen. In this document, it was “note[d] with deep regret” that the decade-old $100 billion/year pledge for climate finance had not been met; it “stresses” the urgency of action around mitigation and adaptation; the list goes on. Graphs were produced to compare word frequency in the document. Discussions were held about whether the word “urges” or “requests” should be used in this or that paragraph. There were last-minute debates if it should be a “phase-out” or a “phase-down” for “unabated coal power”. This squabbling over words was what drove the COP into overtime, spilling over for an extra full day of deliberations.

The core problem of the COP is captured succinctly in two words that appear in the final text of the Glasgow pact: how it recognizes the importance only “for some” of the concept of climate justice.

It should be clear at this point: the COP is a game that we are being forced to play. It is a game for people who like to play pretend; it is a game for people who have the time. Here and now, millions are suffering and dying from massive floods and record heat waves around the world. Droughts are driving nations into unprecedented food crises. Such spineless, roundabout phrasing on a few sheets of paper can hardly be called the pinnacle of climate action, and has no place in our era of crisis and emergency. The core problem of the COP is captured succinctly in two words that appear in the final text of the Glasgow pact: how it recognizes the importance only “for some” of the concept of climate justice.

If we are going to play this game of theirs, then these documents should at least reflect what actually needs to be done. To suggest a few improvements: call out historic polluters — the US, UK, Canada, and many countries in the EU — for their gross inaction and continued, willful destruction of people and planet; demand immediate, genuine (i.e. grants, not loans), and adequate reparations alongside financial and technical support for the Global South from the Global North; push for a just transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources, with more immediate time-frames for industrialized countries. The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba, released over a decade ago, is a strong example of what could be achieved with more progressive international summits.

Yet at the end of the day, meaningful climate action is largely situated outside of conferences like the COP. The COP as it exists today will never find a solution for small farmers in the Philippines who are tackling climate change in the context of widespread landlessness and other forms of semi-feudal oppression. It will never specifically address the worsening floods brought about in part by quarrying and deforestation in the Marikina Watershed and elsewhere in the country. All of these are points of intervention when it comes to the climate crisis — these are issues that we can and must work on to help in the fight for global climate justice. The COP, with all its severe limitations, is simply another point of intervention, and one that we must also maximize because the lives of billions are on the line.

We must come into the COP with this in mind; otherwise we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. We are all aware, now more than ever, that hope and victory lie with the people standing united across the globe, and not with these so-called world leaders. Let the drums and the chants from outside be a constant reminder that there is a whole world beyond these conferences, on the other side of security, and that is the world where we can build something new.

Statement on the COP26 Climate Summit

CALL OUT THE COP OUT! END CLIMATE IMPERIALISM!

With the recent COP26 UN Climate Summit, our so-called world leaders have once again betrayed us and left us all to burn in fires and drown in floods. In the face of climate catastrophe caused mainly by the historic emissions of climate criminals like the US, UK, and others in the Global North, COP26 actively chose profit and the preservation of the status quo versus the planet and lives of people today.

COP26 was a conference of exclusion. Those from the Global South, especially members of civil society and people’s organizations, faced visa and vaccination issues, outrageous accommodation expenses, and so much more just to bring themselves to the summit in Glasgow — all symptoms of the rotting colonialist, imperialist system that we live in. In the actual conference, negotiations were still a world away for the vast majority of participants as entrance into the meetings was severely limited. Who was welcomed though? The fossil fuel industry representatives and billionaires milking super-profits from the destruction of our climate. The very people that have led us to our destruction were accorded space in the summit to lecture us on how to save the world.

The Philippines’ official delegation continued this atmosphere of exclusion, having zero youth or civil society representation in its 19 members. Delegation head and finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III, in a speech, talked of “climate justice” and “climate projects on the ground” but refused to elaborate on what those are; in our era of climate crisis, we cannot settle for vague, empty promises. We also cannot talk of climate justice if we refuse to call out the global imperialist system in which countries like ours have to beg for the reparations that the Global North owes to us.

After two weeks of negotiations, the COP26 produced a document — the Glasgow Climate Pact — and claimed that this agreement keeps the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement alive. Yet during the whole process, Global North countries have pushed for confusing language when talking about fossil fuels, completely ignored oil and gas, and pointed fingers at the Global South about phasing out of coal when these colonizers also watered down the concepts around climate finance and reparations. The entire world needs to phase out all fossil fuels immediately, but the Global South cannot be fully expected to do this at the rate that we need it without reparations from the Global North — in the form of finance as grants, and technology transfer. The Global North, not only completely ignored their historical responsibility in terms of emissions, but also their historical accountability for the historical and ongoing over-exploitation of the lands and people of the Global South. All this to ensure that the fossil-powered status quo does not change anytime soon.

World leaders have readily admitted that compromise was necessary to achieve agreement — but if compromise means condemning billions of people to untold suffering today and tomorrow in a 2.7°C warmer world, then we cannot settle for compromises. We refuse to compromise on our lives.
COP26 has made it clear that the ruling class in power will fight tooth and nail to maintain business as usual and protect their profit. Even after this summit we must keep pushing so-called leaders towards drastic emission cuts to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius, annual carbon budgets, reparations from the Global North to the Global South to mitigate, adapt, and minimize loss and damages, and to have the structures in place to facilitate finance and technology transfer from the North to the South. All these are just the tiny steps that we have to take in order to be a step closer to climate justice.

Let this summit be a reminder to us once again that the imperialist system that we have that has led us to the climate crisis cannot bring us out of it. In order to truly achieve climate justice, we must uproot the system and this will only be done through the people coming together, uniting, and fighting for a better world together.

#COP26
#EndClimateImperialism
#UprootTheSystem

Putting climate on the voters’ ballot

by Jowi Aggabao and Lanz Quizon

On May 9, 2022, the Filipino people will elect a new set of public officials from the Malacañang to the barangays. Different presidential aspirants have already filed their certificates of candidacy or COCs; some names that we already knew were gunning for the highest office in the land even before the filing of COCs, while some came as a surprise for many of us. The presidential candidates have already stated their positions on the policies of the departing administration. Some pledged to keep the current policies in place, particularly the current administration’s violent drug war, which has been criticized by a number of human rights organizations. There is one thing in common about most of the candidates: their primary agenda and the front and center of their platform is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 will arguably be the biggest election issue, aside from corruption and criminality. Additionally, the looming threat of another Marcos presidency is also a pressing issue in the upcoming elections. There are clear efforts to rebrand the Marcos family image to a more palatable one, to the dismay of the many victims and survivors of Martial Law. 

Political participation is a process that leads to freedom of speech and the ability to take part in public affairs. Throughout the history of the Philippines, political participation of the Filipino people has been evident, both through voting and outside electoral campaigns. In this way, electoral campaigns present a crucial avenue for Filipinos to express their sentiments regarding pressing national issues.

However, most of the Filipinos choose not to participate in politics even though they have no idea that they are participating through voting and following laws. In today’s generation, a number of Filipinos choose to remain apathetic or not politically involved. Factors range from age of citizen-voters to economic adversity. Around the world, a pattern of apathy and disengagement with politics among the youth exists across much around the world also. In the Philippines, the traditional perception that the Filipino youths are uninterested if not apathetic to politics remains unchallenged. Some studies in fact confirm this view. A survey of Filipino youths showed that the young consider being politically involved as important as having a good marriage, family life, steady job and good education. Another study noted that the youths’ less-than-positive attitude towards being responsible voters, minimal social involvement, and being uninformed about government have not improved over the years.

Although apathetic Filipinos are high in number, youth participation in politics is evident, especially through social media and mass organizations. In many ways, this helps youth in forming critical opinions and making positive changes in our society through participation in youth organizations, NGOs, people’s organizations, and campus and youth publications. New forms of social and political involvement in public life are emerging particularly among young people, suggesting that youth politics is not limited only to actions that aim to influence government policy but encompasses issues of wider social concerns. No matter how young they are, today’s youth seem to have an expansive critical analysis of our society. Many are aware that several politicians stray away from the right path and they are not afraid to voice out their opinions against an oppressive government.

With the Philippines experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change, leaders who can really promote the climate agenda and fight for climate justice on all fronts are desperately needed. We need leaders who can look beyond their immediate boundaries, who are bold enough to facilitate change, and who can leave a lasting record well beyond their own terms. Voting during elections is just one of the mechanisms by which we can express our calls but our political participation does not and should not end here. The real fight does not take place every six years, the real fight happens every day and in the streets through collective action. . As part of the youth sector, we should vigorously organize and mobilize in demanding climate justice. We should take part in the struggle in order to have a more secure future on this planet. 

The climate crisis is still one of the biggest issues that is widely not discussed in presidential debates or forums. The climate crisis is arguably the other elephant in the room next to COVID-19. Many candidates have chosen not to include climate change in their platforms because it is something that will not click immediately with the people, unlike illegal drugs and criminality. We can connect this to the rise of the “penal populist narrative” used by President Duterte. During his campaign his core message was that the country’s problems are rooted in the proliferation of illegal drugs. We all saw how effective this messaging is — up to this day, President Duterte is still enjoying high satisfaction ratings. This kind of narrative serves as a framework for politicians in their campaigns not just for the presidential candidates but down to the local government units. The rise of populism paved the way for single-issue candidates like our outgoing president. This is unfortunate for our country that has been plagued by a plurality of issues, including typhoons all-year round exacerbated by a changing climate. It’s time that climate change becomes acknowledged in candidates’ electoral campaigns. At the end of the day, this is our planet we are talking about; at the end of the day, what would these government officials do without a planet to live on? 

The first step in addressing the climate crisis is to acknowledge that we have a problem that is, in many ways, here to stay. To adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change, the next administration should promote transition to renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, switch to electric transportation, among so many other things, all incorporating a framework of social justice. The upcoming elections present an avenue through which we can enact change, and in the process, let’s also embrace the avenue of taking to the streets, the avenue of collective action to push for the system change we need to address the crisis impacting us 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.

The climate-coral connection

Society and human life have always been entangled with other aspects of our world ecosystem that ultimately affect us sooner or later. Marine biodiversity is no exception — what goes on with humanity affects the life in our seas and oceans, and vice versa. So when we see that marine life around the world is under threat, it’s worth examining what this means for everything else on the planet — including our climate, and of course humanity as a whole.

Marine biodiversity refers to the species richness and abundance in the world’s oceans and seas. Since our world is approximately 70% water, the amount of life in the oceans is enormous. Healthy marine ecosystems are important for society since they provide services including food security, feed for livestock, raw materials for medicines, building materials from coral rock and sand, and natural defenses against hazards such as coastal erosion and inundation. It’s hard to imagine what human life would be like without all of this, especially life for the billions of people living in coastal areas around the world. However, that is exactly what’s happening in some places — entire ecosystems are losing their ability to regenerate due to human-induced changes to our environment. One of the most impacted ecosystems in this regard is the coral reef ecosystem, something very abundant in our own country..

These coral reefs are sometimes called “the rainforests of the sea”. They provide shelter for the fishes while also protecting coastlines from storm surges and strong waves. Other benefits of coral reefs include some level of ocean water filtration. Additionally, these vibrant ecosystems also help combat climate change as they are very effective carbon sinks, meaning they help regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the planet.

Unfortunately, coral reef ecosystems are severely threatened. Threats such as pollution, sedimentation (the process where water becomes cloudy), unsustainable fishing practices, and rising ocean temperatures can stress corals, leading to possible death, while others cause physical damage to these delicate ecosystems. If these threats continue without proper resolution and management, more and more reefs will be damaged. The future of one of the most productive marine ecosystems is therefore at great risk .

The Philippines belongs to the Coral Triangle, which contains 75% of the world’s coral species — most of these classified as threatened. As the ocean temperature changes due to global warming, our reefs will suffer in the long run, with an estimated 99% of all coral reefs lost should we reach a 2 degree Celsius warmer world (and we’re currently on track for 3 degrees warming). It’s no exaggeration to say that this will have a catastrophic impact on humanity, especially on those who live off the sea and its ecosystems, such as small fisherfolk. 

One of the supposed solutions to the destruction of our coral reefs is the introduction of artificial man-made reefs into our oceans. An artificial reef is a human-made structure placed in the ocean to mimic the characteristics of a natural coral reef. In the Philippines, the deployment of artificial reefs or artificial habitats has aimed to address the decline in fish production by allowing the regeneration and recolonization of degraded coral reefs and their environment. However, we are still unable to duplicate natural ecosystems with this technology, and it is clear that these artificial reefs provide only a fraction of the benefits natural coral reefs, having developed and evolved over millennia, offer. It is well within humanity’s interest to fight for the preservation of our corals and marine biodiversity at large.

After all, coral reefs, as havens for marine biodiversity, are again entangled with all the other aspects of the world ecosystem. Drastic changes in water temperature, ocean acidification, extreme climatic events and unsustainable human fishing practices have led to loss of life in marine biodiversity that weakens the ocean ecosystem and creates a ripple effect across the entire planet. ” It should alarm us that world leaders are content with words and promises and inaction that, as it stands, will almost certainly obliterate coral reefs around the world.  There’s also everything that’s going on right now in the West Philippine Sea, where thousands of hectares of coral reefs have been destroyed — an issue that deserves its own article.

Our marine biodiversity, our climate, and humanity are heavily intertwined, and it’s well within our interest as a human race to ensure that our coral reefs and marine life at large is preserved. So this means tackling issues like the climate crisis at its roots: the massive carbon emissions of the Global North and fossil fuel companies actively choosing to pollute and destroy the planet. In addition to this, we must also push to preserve the remaining biodiversity in our oceans and seek to restore biodiversity in the long term. All of this will only be possible through committed collective action that seeks to reorient society into something pro-planet and pro-people.

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

IN PHOTOS: September 24 #UprootTheSystem Global Climate Strike

Last September 24, 2021, youth climate activists from across the Philippines took to the streets to demand climate justice. With the hashtag #UprootTheSystem, YACAP sought to shine a spotlight on the systemic issues that result in the crisis character of the climate crisis here in the country.

Activists from YACAP Visayas chapter joined in on the #UprootTheSystem call with a creative protest action in Leyte. PHOTO: YACAP Visayas

Various Filipino youth organizations also participated in online actions, where they joined a digital selfie protest holding up house plants (aligned with the national #Klimalaman theme).

The Education Committee of YACAP also launched Klimalaman: The Podcast, a four-episode podcast series leading up to the November UN climate talks in Glasgow. As of writing, the podcast can be streamed on SoundCloud and Spotify.

This article will be updated with additional strike photos from the strike action of our North and Central Luzon chapter. Stay tuned!

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.