Speech on Parliamentary Webinar on Tackling the Climate Crisis: Transitioning to a Global Green EconomyApril 22, 2021
Message of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda
Representative of the Lone District of Antique,
House of Representatives
Parliamentary Webinar on Tackling the Climate Crisis: Transitioning to a Global Green Economy
April 22, 2021 | 09:00 – 10:30 EDT
My warmest greetings to my fellow legislators and parliamentarians from all over the world, to everyone from US-Asia Institute and Air Quality Asia, and everyone else joining this webinar on how legislators can lead the way in tackling the climate crisis and pushing for the transition to a global green economy.
I am looking forward particularly to the panel discussion later, and I am honored and happy to share insights and lessons from my own experience in the Philippines, where I have been working on these very issues in Congress since my first term as Senator in 1998.
Legislators play such an important role in setting the pace and in advancing climate policy, as well as in pushing for sustainable solutions to development problems.
In my three six-year terms in the Senate—just to give a quick rundown—we were able to legislate important climate and environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act; the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act; the Clean Water Act; the Renewable Energy Act; the Climate Change Act, which created the Philippine Climate Change Commission, as well as the People’s Survival Fund, which is our local adaptation fund.
We also enacted the Environmental Education and Awareness Act; National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act; and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which legislated the protection and preservation of 107 important ecosystems, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands and tropical forests, critical in our climate adaptation and biodiversity conservation mechanisms.
In my last term as a Senator, I chaired three Senate Committees—Foreign Relations, Climate Change, and Finance—and in these capacities, I sponsored our concurrence in the ratification of the Paris Agreement, as well as recommended changes in our government’s national budget to enshrine adaptation and mitigation provisions in our government’s national budget.
Now, as Representative of the Lone District of the province of Antique, one of the bills we are prioritizing in the House of Representatives is a national ban on single-use plastics, as part of the whole suite of solutions we will need to address the problem, including establishing Extended Producer Responsibility, improving waste management, incentivizing consumers, retailers, and manufacturers, exploring alternatives, and raising awareness and changing behaviors.
Another bill I filed recently seeks to implement an ecosystem and natural accounting system—the proposed Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System or PENCAS Law of 2021. The bill we drafted adheres to the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting introduced in 2006, and which the UN has been continuously advancing with the adoption of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) and its collaborative project with other organizations on Natural Capital Accounting and Ecosystem Valuation ending this year.
You know how conventional national income accounting works: the value of goods and services produced in a country is aggregated and formulated into development indicators like Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product, which then serve as measures of economic performance. Though these indicators are useful to a degree, they don’t give us the full picture. They don’t take into account the consumption benefits of products and amenities provided by the natural environment, waste disposal services, and pollution, which are part of marketed commodities but are not valuated and reflected in income accounting.
By accounting for natural capital, policymakers would be able to make more responsive and effective laws because they get a better sense of both environmental and non-environmental economic inputs. Doing so would allow us to live within our means, avoid biodiversity loss and ecosystems destruction, and pursue development that is sustainable and that will tackle the climate crisis; after all, we can’t protect what we can’t see, and we can’t manage what we can’t measure.
More than that, on a deeper level, the law hopes to bring about a fundamental shift in how we see the world, how we understand our place in it, and how we value it. It corrects the misconception that we have to choose between the environment and the economy—because it highlights the fact that our economy will only ever be as robust as our natural capital.
That, in a nutshell, is what a transition to a global green economy requires. This goal should not fall by the wayside because of the pandemic; if anything, COVID-19 only makes it even more urgent. After all, the climate crisis and unabated biodiversity loss only further increase the risk of future pandemics—pandemics that would cause even greater damage on economies and take even more lives if we fail to act now.
This helps illuminate our task now as legislators. We must ensure that our efforts to pursue recovery from the pandemic reflect this shift in mindset and values, that they are attuned to the policies and laws on climate change adaptation and mitigation, that they recognize that the only way for a sustainable recovery is the climate pathway.
My experience as a legislator in the Philippines, I think, also offers some insights on what challenges lie ahead. I mentioned the laws I authored earlier; the Philippines is indeed a pioneer when it comes to environmental laws. The challenge has really been in the implementation. As we hold the power of the purse, our work as parliamentarians is to ensure that laws are funded—or, even, to ensure that our whole national budget is a climate budget.
Our work is also to exercise strong oversight to ensure that executive agencies efficiently implement the laws. Our work is to ensure that our people actually understand our laws, utilize them, and benefit from them—and that the laws we enact make full use of their everyday knowledge, especially indigenous knowledge, because like I always say, climate action is always local. We succeed and fail depending on how well we do at the level of communities, which are at the forefront of the climate crisis and disasters anyway.
We would need the help of legislators in developed countries to make the shift to a green economy possible, and hopefully permanent—because the painful truth is, while the Philippines remains an insignificant emitter of greenhouse gases, we are among those most affected by climate change—a country that is, at the same time, located in the Asia-Pacific, the most vulnerable region of the world. The shift to a green economy is a matter of life or death for us—but we cannot achieve it alone.
This is something we hope to talk about more in COP26 in November. The conference should be an opportunity to bring back global focus and regain some momentum in the pursuit of the Paris goals to limit global warming to 1.5˚ Celsius. The Conference has to emphasize the climate crisis as an even bigger threat than COVID-19. We need to make up for delays and lost time on our global pace on climate action because of the pandemic—and we hope COP26 zeroes in on the opportunity to pursue ambitious climate action as we promote sustainable pandemic recovery.
In line with this, we hope COP26 will also emphasize the provision of climate finance, technologies, and capacity development support for developing countries, in keeping with the principles of climate justice and our common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities towards achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals.
Our Nationally Determined Contribution pledges significant cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of these goals. Our NDC conveys a 75% GHG emission reduction and avoidance by 2030, which is a more ambitious target than our initial INDC of 70%. Broken down, 72.29% of this is conditional on the support of climate finance, technologies, and capacity development from developed countries, while 2.71% is unconditional.
The target is ambitious, it’s transformational, but it will only be achieved if we are able to pull together different industries, sectors, and communities across the country in pursuit of our goals—and only if we get enough support from developed countries, which have historically caused or contributed the most to the climate crisis. I’m sure that is the case for many more developing countries that are often at the receiving end of frequent disasters and climate shocks, and are very much willing but struggling to do their part.
We are now at a critical crossroads. As fellow legislators and environmental advocates, I know we are all preoccupied with helping our own people survive the pandemic—but at the same time, we are also painfully aware that just up ahead is a bigger and even deadlier threat. Indeed, while we recall 2020 as the year that brought us COVID-19, we’re also well aware that it’s virtually tied to 2016 as the warmest year on record ever.
We have to bring our discussions today to other global and national climate conferences and forums, most especially COP26 in November. We have to lead the shift to a global green economy by pulling together industries, communities, stakeholders, and even governments and countries—knowing what we need is a whole-of-society, a whole-of-government, and indeed a whole-of-planet approach.
I look forward not just to hearing your insights and experiences in our discussions today, but to working with all of you towards a safer and healthier, greener and more sustainable world.