Remarks as delivered in the Pilipinas Conference 2021 session entitled “Strengthening Cooperation for a Green & Sustainable Recovery: A Part of EU-PH Trade & Sustainability Discussions 2021″ organized by Stratbase ADR Institute on 24 November 2021.

There is much to say but we have little time, so let me jump straight into the discussion.

Much of what I will share is based on a paper released in August and authored by Dr Toby Monsod of the UP School of Economics, Sara Ahmed of the Financial Futures Center, and Golda Hilario of ICSC, which will be distributed as part of a book published by the good people of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

There we argue for a different pathway to decarbonization, anchored on resetting the Philippine NDC so that national imperatives for climate risk resilience and climate smart development and global mitigation requirements are better served. We suggest a different path to strengthen the Philippine contribution to the Paris Agreement, where adaptation and resilience are considered the country’s anchor and sustainable development its context, instead of the incredibly narrow GHG inventory-centric approach.

At the conclusion of the 26th round of climate talks in Glasgow weeks ago, there were big disappointments as well as big gains. Some issues did not move at all.

This is deeply worrisome, because in the context of climate change, winning slowly is losing and standing still is moving backwards.

But for the first time ever, coal occupied center stage in the UNFCCC agenda. In the six years since the Paris Agreement was agreed in 2015, the global pipeline of planned coal projects has collapsed by 76%. No New Coal is now the norm.

The backdrop to the UK meeting could not have been more ominous. You have to go all the way back to the Pliocene, between 4.1 to 4.5 million years ago — to find a time when Earth’s atmosphere held a similar amount of carbon.

An equally concerning backdrop is the trend nowadays which implies all peoples, all countries, rich and poor, need to make an equal effort to decarbonize and reach net zero by 2050. There are 2,755 billionaires in the world today, up by 660 from just a year ago, and 86 percent increased their wealth in the same period. Of the top ten billionaires, eight are from the US. The reality as these slides show is some just need to do far more, far earlier.

Unless the top emitters per capita are ready to commit to achieving net zero BEFORE 2040, it’s hard to convince developing country governments to discard their development strategies if only so that rich countries – and billionaires and elites around the world – can maintain their state of comfort and luxury.

We simply need to take the word “responsibility” more seriously, at home and abroad.

For these reasons, and also based on the latest 6th scientific assessment of the IPCC, it is hard to avoid the conclusion the Philippines faces significant tradeoffs when it comes to climate action.

If our contribution to the global carbon footprint is small compared to others, it does not make sense to throw all our efforts into mainly reducing our emissions, when the threats we face our dire, and our capacity to manage the impacts of climate change remains low. We can contribute more to the global effort by choosing a different approach, one that would actually make sense to long suffering working Filipino families, which would also hasten – as a co-benefit – the low carbon development of the Philippine in the short and medium term.

Climate change may be bigger than everything else, but it is not necessarily more important than addressing poverty, livelihoods,  biodiversity, education, jobs, and securing the good health of our citizens. Air quality alone is costing us Php 4.5 trillion a year, or 23% of our GDP annually.

The pandemic exposed structural weaknesses that would have taken decades to reveal. All countries were unable to confront non-financial external shocks. We have lived for so long with the tacit acceptance that the only useful way to measure progress is through the yardstick of productivity and GDP.

The absence of resilience when weighing macroeconomic fundamentals explains the massive difficulties encountered by governments in anticipating and managing the pandemic’s deadly collision with daily life. Until we establish resilience at the heart of macroeconomic considerations in government and businesses alike, we can expect more existential disruptions in the future. The current pandemic will not be the last one we encounter in our lifetime and certainly, deadlier impacts from the climate crisis are coming our way.

We cannot afford to tackle climate change with a narrow approach. Any emissions reduction strategy must be part of a larger transition strategy focused on achieving sustainable, inclusive and resilient economic development.

If the public cannot identify with the developmental goals arising from their government’s climate strategies, the political consensus required to make increasingly difficult decisions further down the road will simply be too hard to achieve or if realized, it will be hard to sustain.

We need to get our act together urgently.

At a -75% pledge for the period 2020-2030, our new NDC seems awfully ambitious, but it is actually empty and troubling. We are committed only to deliver 3.6 percent of this NDC, with the rest relying on the largesse of rich countries along with plans that government has yet to draw up. Not good.

The NDC is operationally detached from the country’s economy-wide climate action priorities, plans and programs all of which are driven by adaptation. Benefits from these priorities, including global adaptation or mitigation co-benefits, do not factor into NDC targets. This is bad and it’s time we pivot in our approach in order to elevate resilience as the country’s driver in climate action.

In the energy sector, we can achieve more by pursuing energy security, stability, and affordability.

The next slides will show you it is actually coal that is unreliable and intermittent, and the reason behind the country’s spiking electricity bills.

Coal has been intermittent even before the pandemic. Old and new – all are unreliable. Some plants have not been operating since the beginning of 2021. And many of these companies have been reaping windfall profits as consumers suffer outages and high prices because the coal plants keep conking out.

This is why the DOE called for a moratorium on greenfield coal, because there is excess baseload capacity in the grid, when what our system desperately needs is flexible power generation via solar and wind, which are variable but reliable, and can be ramped up and down rapidly based on power demand. Coal is incapable of doing this, which is why they’re breaking down, and we are compounding the problem now by replacing obsolete baseload coal with baseload fossil gas through combined cycle gas turbines.

Climate change presents to us an opportunity to pump prime the economy, because if we are to face dire risks squarely, we must upgrade everything, from urban services to logistics, food supply, and supply chains, including transport infrastructure that should be designed to move people instead of cars.

Here’s a fact – 88% of Greater Metro Manila, and the same, if not worse, probably holds true for the entire country – 88% of families do not own their own cars. We have been prioritizing the needs of the minority through private car-centric infrastructure. Even if we electrify cars, we will again be serving only the needs of a few. It doesn’t make sense.

Thankfully there is a revolution underway in the form of active mobility, with an estimated at least 500,000 commuters in Metro Manila alone on the road daily, pedaled by people long frustrated at the neglect of their needs. And protected, interconnected bicycle lanes and facilities continue to develop rapidly supported by more and more national agencies, local governments, and businesses. Not because of Paris or climate, but because it makes practical development sense to move people instead of cars.

Prioritizing resilience means empowering our coastal blue carbon ecosystems for coastal risk-reduction, food security and national and global climate risk resilience

The Philippines is a maritime nation with a coastline of 36,289 km, the 5th longest in the world, with marine ecosystems that comprise anywhere from 66 to 86 percent of the country’s domain.

Mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes – collectively known as coastal blue carbon ecosystems actually sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, building stocks of carbon in their biomass and soil material, with sequestration rates far surpassing that of terrestrial forests.

I have mentioned only a few of so many insights that I urge you all to chew on. I encourage you to read the paper I mentioned earlier, because it is the pivot we all need.

As this slide will show our contribution to the climate crisis is small compared to other countries. But it doesn’t mean we are not obliged to contribute to the global effort. We must contribute our fair share of solutions, but our contribution must make sense as well to our pressing needs so that we can minimize tradeoffs as well as grow public support for the tougher decisions ahead that our country will confront soon.

Everything will matter, everything will count, and we will need everyone.