Privilege Speech of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda:September 1, 2021
Privilege Speech of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda
The State of Environment amid the Pandemic
01 September 2021
Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues in Congress:
It has been over a year since the pandemic broke and put the whole world into lockdowns, forcing businesses to close and billions of people to suffer. Our health systems were ill-prepared to suppress COVID-19 from claiming the lives of over 4.3 million people worldwide, of which over 29,300 are fellow Filipinos.
More than a year later, or one national budget cycle later, I ask this: Where are we now? Are we much better prepared to prevent, respond to, or manage future pandemics? And as many scholarly articles point out that wildlife trade in Southeast Asia risks incidence of future pandemics, are our measures against illegal wildlife trade also sufficient to thwart the spread of new zoonotic diseases?
But pandemics are unfortunately not the only threat we face today.
Climate change is a much bigger threat that has already taken so much away from us, and it will continue to kill our people, destroy our environment, and bring our cities and communities into ruin if we let it be.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which is the world’s leading community of scientists and experts assessing the science on climate change—said that humans have already caused a global warming level of 1.07 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. It further stated that “the scale of recent changes across the climate system… [is] unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.”
Mind you, these latest climate warnings are simply a reiteration of what we already know so far: that the climate crisis is real; that its impacts are becoming more frequent, more severe, some of which are or will be irreversible; and that it is urgent because we have little time left before we breach our climate threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming, we should expect further increases in hot climate impact-drivers (CIDs), including heavy precipitation and associated flooding, intensification of tropical cyclones and storms, reductions in mean precipitation, and increases in aridity, floods, and heatwaves in cities.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues:
The year 2020 caused tremendous misery and tragedy for all of us, and it did not end without leaving another warning.
It became the second hottest year on record, with only a 0.02-degree difference compared to the hottest year recorded, the year 2016. This makes the last six years, beginning in 2015, as the warmest years on record, and the period 2011-2020 as the warmest decade on record.
If we may also recall the successive storms and typhoons late last year that submerged entire communities like never before and dealt around 43 billion pesos worth of damage to our infrastructure and agriculture.
In the past two months, Typhoon Fabian and the southwest monsoon also brought continuous rains and floods, affecting thousands of our people and the delivery of government services.
Many said early on during the pandemic that nature was healing as public transport and industry operations were restricted. Indeed, our skies became a bit clearer than before, but we all know too well that this was only temporary.
For some industries, the pandemic enabled the right environment to boost their production and operations. E-commerce platforms, online selling, and deliveries became the norm. Consequently, however, this significantly increased our consumption of single-use plastics.
In relation to this, we emphasize: plastic continues to pose immense waste management, environmental, and public health problems for Filipinos. It is about time that we had a national policy on this, and I hope we could further work with our colleagues in the Senate to follow suit and make this timely legislation a legacy of the 18thCongress.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues:
Three critical and interrelated issues should jolt us to reality—the serious deterioration of our planet’s climate, the vulnerability of humans to cyclical pandemics, and the alarming degradation of our environment and its support systems for us.
This year 2021 is a landmark year for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement (PA) as it reconvenes world leaders for the 26th Session of the Conference of Parties or COP26 scheduled in November this year.
It will be a make-or-break point for nations to get their act together and agree on how to effectively execute the climate treaty, which is meant to limit the average temperature increase of the atmosphere to 1.5 degreesCelsius.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues:
Earlier this year, the Philippines submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, which is a target set by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their critical sectors.
Our NDC communicates a 75% reduction target by 2030, requiring significant amounts of financing and resources, which we hope to acquire from developed countries, as part of their commitments in the Paris Agreement.
Developed countries are expected to mobilize support for developing countries in the form of climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity development.
For climate finance alone, developed countries agreed to mobilize 100 billion US dollars per year starting in 2020 through 2025 for developing countries, such as ours.
Our government, through the Climate Change Commission and various agencies, has been active in these negotiations, especially in championing climate justice.
It has also been our honor to lead the creation of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which is now the main international vehicle for cooperation for the countries most threatened by the climate emergency. As the CVF Ambassador for Parliaments, I wish to emphasize the need to unite our voices with those of other developing countries, knowing that the burden falls on us to take the lead in asserting climate justice.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues:
Climate justice for us is to hold accountable the developed countries or those that have led us to this state of climate crisis. It is also to demand what is due and fair to us, in light of the climate impacts that have hampered our growth throughout the years. The Philippines is not a big emitter of greenhouse gases yet, as we account for only 0.3% of global emissions, but we are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, while being hard-pressed to find the resources to make sure our communities can adapt to the worsening impacts.
That is why this upcoming climate conference is particularly critical because it is meant to set in full motion the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which emphasizes our common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities in achieving its goals. The provision of climate finance, technologies, and capacity development will be critical for us to support our climate change adaptation and mitigation priorities, contained in our NDC and eventually in our National Adaptation Plan.
An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker finds that current climate targets from countries now are projected to a global warming level increase to 2.4 degrees Celsius. This needs to fall below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the global scientific community believes that we can still do it. We must do this.
The Global Carbon Project noted a “record fall” in 2020 emissions, attributed to the cessation of GHG-emitting economic activities due to COVID-19 lockdowns. This provides evidence that if we could displace greenhouse gas emissions through low carbon technologies, at a massive and significant scale, as well as share these technologies with developing economies still struggling with their energy needs, we may realize net zero emissions before 2050 and no longer breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, we must note: the IPCC report emphasizes that much of the impacts of climate change are already locked in. Even if we somehow magically cut emissions to zero tomorrow, we will have to deal with the effects for decades and even centuries. This much is clear: the Philippines and the world must put greater emphasis on adaptation.
Here at home, we can pursue this through measures like investing in renewable energy, providing social protection for farmers and fisherfolk affected by recurring weather extremes, ensuring proper natural resource management, using geohazard maps in urban and rural planning, promoting green infrastructure and green jobs, establishing and strengthening health emergency management systems, and encouraging community-based ecotourism codes that promote tourism and environmental conservation, among many others.
These are important considerations as we prepare for our participation in COP26.
Our country needs to do its own introspection.
Despite the many environment and climate laws that we have authored and championed, our country’s life support systems continue to deteriorate.
Earlier this year, I also filed House Bill 9181 or the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) Law, which seeks to develop and implement an ecosystem and natural accounting system and which will give importance to the role, value, and impact of our country’s natural resources on the economy.
In the meantime, it bears noting that it is this Chamber that decides on public spending, which is also a major economic driver. As we perform this constitutional mandate now in relation to the proposed 2022 budget, we must realize that if we direct public spending towards the transition, we will be ahead of the curve, able to take advantage of the shift. This is not only necessary but also urgent. If you will recall, Mr. Speaker, this House adopted Resolution No. 123, declaring a climate and environmental emergency and almost a year into that emergency, we have yet to see the sea change in legislation that supports our belief in that emergency.
A redirection of the budget to opening up opportunities for climate change adaptation, nature-based solutions, small-scale outdoor tourism and food and water security and self-reliance are gargantuan opportunities for economic advancement. An economic model that recognizes this will allow a quick recovery which mitigates at the same time.
For decades, the debate has been whether to choose economy over conservation of natural resources. This is a false dichotomy. The economy and all of society are fully and entirely dependent on natural resources—our natural capital which includes our forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems.
I seek support for the bill’s passage to allow government planners to have a full understanding of the natural capital available and expendable in the pursuit of national goals.
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues:
We should not only view our environment in terms of our needs or what it can provide to us, but also in terms of losses if we continue to exploit and extract from it mindlessly and indiscriminately.
As the impacts of climate change become more prevalent, the higher is the right of the poor to social protection and the higher is the duty of us in government to reduce their disaster vulnerability and liberate them from the vicious cycle of poverty and risk.
Risk management should be our standard approach when dealing with the environment. We need to level up and think in terms of systemic approaches.
We now live in critical times and I urge this Chamber not to let the opportunity pass and show that we did not just claim there was a climate emergency and throw up our hands in desperation. We should act and pass the necessary laws to show the way out of it.
For the Philippines, climate action, biodiversity and environmental protection, and COVID-19 recovery should be synonymous with our country’s modernization and transformation towards a resilient and sustainable future for generations of Filipinos.
With the support of this Chamber and our dear colleagues, Mr. Speaker, we can turn this vision into reality.
Thank you very much.