Time to boost the economy

Originally published in Business World

By Red Constantino

After President Rodrigo Duterte transmitted the request for the Senate to act on the landmark climate deal last week, the chamber leapt into action. Leading the charge for concurrence were Senators Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano and Cynthia Villar -- respectively the chairs of the Senate Committees on Climate Change and Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Environment -- a formidable team which last Wednesday tabled Senate Resolution 320, concurring on the Philippines’ accession to the agreement. Their ranks were joined promptly by Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay, and thus the Resolution was approved on second reading that very evening, paving the way for the third and, hopefully, final gavel by Tuesday, March 14.

The way forward is clear.

The Senate must act on its solemn duty and greenlight the Paris Agreement not just for the country to survive but so that our economy can thrive as well.

Climate action will not only protect the Filipino people; it can also pump prime our economy.

The climate crisis provides us an opportunity to transform nothing less than the country’s investment agenda.

The tasks facing the Philippine government are urgent. If global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and reach two degrees, science says we face the virtual extinction -- 99% decimation, according to a UN report -- of our coral reefs. And there are even more climate threats to agriculture, public health, and livelihood, which could set back beyond reach the very development goals of government.

Just last week, the Asian Development Bank reported developing countries in Asia and the Pacific need infrastructure worth over $26 trillion through 2030, or $1.7 trillion per year, if we factor in costs for climate action. This is more than double the 750 billion dollars estimated in 2009, a gross underestimate that many NGOs had warned about.

The ADB headquarters here in Manila has been hosting the Asia-Pacific consultation of the Vulnerable 20 Group of Ministries of Finance (V20) for the past few days. The finance ministers and senior officials of fifteen other developing countries in the region -- the previous V20 chair, our very own Department of Finance (DoF), included -- have been learning from each other and meeting with multilateral development partners, because we can and should mobilize greater resources and attract more climate-sensitive investments.

As Senator Legarda said Wednesday morning at the V20 consultation: “Due to the increasingly dire threat posed by climate change, we need to upgrade everything. Infrastructure, supply chains, urban services, logistics, food supply, and more. In order to make everything more resilient, we need to upgrade virtually all facets of our economies, which can only produce massive jobs and pump prime our economies.”

This is the big challenge we face today -- how to access massive private capital, while using public finance to leverage transformational investments in order to ensure we have a sustainable and resilient economy. In this respect, we certainly hope the Senate can ensure the leadership of the DoF in the country’s climate finance agenda prevails, especially in the climate negotiations.

We urge the Senate to ensure the rest of the executive branch carries out the implementation of the climate deal. It must likewise be wary of misinformation from fossil fuel lobby interests within government which persistently seek to delay if not reduce the country’s ambition to act on climate change.

The climate crisis calls for bold leadership, not cowardice. It is time for the Senate to act with its conscience and to muster courage so the country can respond with adequate wisdom and will in the face of what may be the biggest threat to national interest.