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Blog post by: Kairos dela Cruz

In my experience working on climate change issues and as a son of a long-time environment advocate, I am often confronted with the question, what is at stake if we lose? A rhetorical answer might be “my daughter’s and your children’s future”. But it doesn’t seem enough. I am looking for something more real, more tangible.

I got a portion of what I’ve been looking for last July 23, fortunately, at an event called “Forum on Climate Change and the Philippines: After Kyoto, on the Way to Paris”. I was expecting much of the same, admittedly, a business-as-usual conference, this time at the U.P. Law Center in Diliman, but it was clear towards the end that I was mistaken.

Despite the failure (yet again) of the President’s speechwriters to include even a cursory mention of climate change in his 2013 State of the Nation Address (SONA), it’s become pretty clear that climate change will increasingly demand more and more attention from the public. For starters, at the U.P. forum, Atty. Harry Roque, Jr. of the Institute of International Law Studies (IILS) got everyone’s attention as he contextualized the slow increase of average sea levels in coastal areas amidst the current debate over Philippine sovereignty. Roque remarked that the Philippines is actually steadily losing bits of its physical land territory with climate change. The phrase “water follows land”, said Roque, simply means land territory is the starting point in measuring maritime or sea territories. If our government continues to neglect climate change, he said, our present spat with China over the Spratly’s and other contested Philippine space would likely become passé in the near future. In other words, we’d be quarreling over land we can’t even see, much less reclaim, over something we’ve both lost.

According to Commissioner Naderev Saño, the head of the Philippine negotiating panel in the climate negotiations and one of the speakers in the UP conference, “Climate change is the most pervasive problem of our generation.” Though gray areas abound in the understanding of long-term climatic impacts, including the usual confusion over the different responses demanded by our growing vulnerabilities, the Philippines still has a long way to go, with an increasingly small window to take action in.

Another speaker, Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña, noted the gaps between the country’s development plans and its climate action agenda. La Viña warned this condition is likely to cascade to worse conditions of helplessness. La Viña expressed dismay over the apparent lack of leadership by President Aquino, who, during the SONA, even ridiculed voices calling for more robust government efforts to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The Ateneo dean said the President’s speech implied distrust and lack of confidence in the country’s vast renewable energy sources and available local technical and commercial expertise. “As a country that suffers from climate change,” La Viña said, “we cannot afford to contribute to the problem and lose moral high ground in negotiating for funds from responsible countries.” In other words, La Viña said how we deal with our predicament is also a measure of our credibility. Since we have little intention to contribute to the greater global good (against

climate change), as professed loudly by Pres. Aquino, why should we expect a sympathetic ear to pleas — demands — for resources and action intended to bolster Philippine adaptation needs?

We can expect more, not only because we ask for more but also because we contribute to the bigger effort as well. An effort less than this simply says we’re not entirely aware of what’s at risk.

What is really at stake if we lose this battle?

Rhetorical as it might sound, I don’t know; but I’m certain losing is not an option.


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