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We’re accountable, too

We must hold countries most responsible for climate change to account,” President Duterte told the recent Asean plenary session. Earlier, in a Tokyo visit, he had criticized the lack of sanctions for major polluting countries. He also panned climate talks for “just wasting the time and the money of the people.”

It’s an understandable frustration. After all, if you’re a country that’s highly vulnerable to climate-related disasters though contributing only 0.39 percent of global greenhouse gases (GHG), you’ll cry foul at how industrialized, less-vulnerable economies are disproportionately producing GHGs. China, for instance, contributes 27 percent of global GHGs, and the United States 13 percent (the United States has also announced its intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement).

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But while highly industrialized nations do need to own up to a greater share of the climate crisis, countries like the Philippines must not abandon their commitment to address climate change. We are still accountable, not just in the global landscape but more so to our own people.

For a start, despite our pledge to lower greenhouse gas emissions, ours have only gone up. Among our most problematic areas when it comes to emissions are energy and waste generation.

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Shifting to renewable energy could be a viable and significant way to slash our GHGs (not to mention our electricity rates), with renewables now considered to be the cheapest and most cost-effective energy source. Yet the Philippines still adamantly relies on coal and other nonrenewable sources for energy generation.

In fact, the Department of Energy reports that coal power generation leaped from 46,847 gigawatt hours in 2017 to 51,932 GWh in 2018. This runs against our climate objectives, but has been an unrelenting trend in recent decades. Just 10 years ago, our coal power generation was only at 15,479 GWh.

Our dependence on nonrenewable energy sources is compounded by our inadequate solid waste management. Waste is a key source of greenhouse gases, particularly with methane-producing disposal practices such as open burning, unchecked dumping and landfill operation. Architect Felino Palafox Jr. rightly pointed out that our solid waste management must “shift to more sustainable approaches such as waste prevention, recycling and composting.”

The long-existing Ecological Solid Waste Management Act attempts to do this by compelling local government units to implement waste reduction, recycling and composting plans. The law also prohibits practices such as open burning and open dumping of waste. It doesn’t take much to see that this law lacks teeth—just take an afternoon stroll around any average barangay and you’ll find a number of dumpsites, garbage burnings and overfilled or overaged landfills.

Our continued reliance on nonrenewable energy and our neglect of appropriate waste management are only two ways we are failing our climate change mitigation goals. And while we are failing at the mitigation aspect of climate response, we are just as bad at the other aspect: adaptation.

Eight years after Tropical Storm “Sendong” (Washi) and six years after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan), we are still scrambling at risk reduction. A palpable proof is the flooding of our metros triggered by the slightest rains. Strong and science-based waste management policies should again play a part in reducing this perennial problem, coupled with more climate-adaptive infrastructure.

Paradoxically alongside the flooding is the sorry state of water insecurity, which affects not only millions of city dwellers but also neighboring farmlands. Bulacan farmers, for example, have recently had to sacrifice as their irrigation supply was cut to ease the water shortage in Metro Manila. Sadly, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has noted that the recent heavy rains in the metro did not even reach the Angat watershed, and so the water woes continue.

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So while we are complaining about how much other countries are at fault for the climate crisis, our own responsibilities remain unsettled. We’re falling short in our own turf, and we can’t just keep blaming other countries for it. The need for climate change mitigation and adaptation does not go away even when we think it’s unfair. And if we’re not answering that need for the global community’s sake, at the very least, we must answer it for Filipinos’ sake.

[email protected]

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