By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
What has happened to the Aquino administration’s commitment to address issues connected to climate change?
In the aftermath of two killer typhoons Pedringa and Quiel, a lawmaker is demanding that President Benigno Aquino III issues a report on the accomplishments of his administration’s Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Program.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano asked Malacañang what have been the concrete accomplishments and plans under the said program in the wake of the massive damage wrought by the two typhoons that hit the country late last month one after the other.
Mariano said billions of taxpayers’ money were put into the program.
“The program has a budget of P29.7 billion ($697.67 million) for this year. We need to know where these funds went and what had the government accomplished so far in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
Mariano said it is important that Malacañang be made to account for these billions earmarked for the country’s fight against climate change because more funds are being prepared for the program next year. For 2012, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has proposed a P36.2 billion ($837.21 million) budget for climate change adaptation, as well as another P7.5 billion ($186.05 million) as calamity fund.
Mariano said so far, the greater public has been left in the dark regarding the government’s anti-climate change program.
“The public needs to know the government’s long-term and short-term action plans. Emergency measures during actual calamities are not enough,” he said.
As of October 3, the National Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) said Pedring has damaged least P8.8 billion (US$209,302,325) worth of infrastructure, including roads, bridges and houses and crops. In the meantime, the tally of the damage wrought by Quiel has not been finalized, but it is expected to also add up to billions of pesos as millions of typhoon victims, mostly farmers and poor people in rural areas in several Luzon provinces have been affected. Several areas in Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Isabela remain submerged and many victims have been forced to rely on relief efforts by private entities involved in disaster response.
Aquino ‘s climate change response
Earlier this year in February, Aquino declared his commitment to uphold a climate change mitigation and adaptation program after he visited Caraga Region for the first time as the country’s chief executive.
DBM secretary Florencio Abad said the president’s program was all about ensuring sustainable development with climate change adaptation at its core. This, Abad said, was President Aquino’s “social contract” with the Filipino people.
President Aquino said he wanted to focus on mitigating disasters in the 64 identified geo-hazard areas.
In the months that followed, however, Aquino’s climate-change measures focused primarily on battling illegal logging activities. He promised the public that his administration will run after illegal loggers who are the major contributors to the series of calamities that impact on the country. Malacañang issued EO No. 23 titled “Declaring a Moratorium on the Cutting and Harvesting of Timber in the National and Residual Forests and Creating the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.”
Environmental groups welcomed the move, but with reservations, saying that it was not the illegal loggers that were at the core of the problem, but the legal loggers who have permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local government units.
“These legal loggers are the ones who are wreaking considerable damage to the country’s forests. Environmental groups continue to demand the cancellation of mining permits and the stoppage of operations of mining companies as these businesses also affect forests. Mining operations and permits commonly encroach in natural forests in areas like Palawan, South Cotabato, Davao del Norte, Mindoro Oriental and Samar Island,” said Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan).
But what of the climate change program of the government? Last July, Presidential Assistant on Climate Change Elisea Gozun said the government is doing much to address the problem of climate change in the country. She said that “the national government is doing its best in climate change mitigation,” she said.
As of July, the government was still finalizing the National Climate Change Action Plan. Gozun explained that as soon as the action plan is formally adopted, it will serve as a guide not just for the national government but also for local government units so that they can craft their local action plans.
Action plans in localities depend on the conditions in the areas and the active participation of the private sector and the civil society.
In the meantime, the Aquino government has also implemented the National Greening Program (NGP), which also involves the private and non-government sectors. The NGP aims to plant at least 1.5 billion of trees in 1.6 million hectares of land to bring back the forest reserve of the country. It mandates government employees, local government units, students, the civil society sector and other private and peoples organizations to take part in planting and sustaining trees in the next six years of the Aquino administration.
Also part of the government’s mitigation measures is the National Renewable Energy Program launched last June. The program encourages local government units to make use of renewable energy that are available in their areas. The Department of Energy together with LGUs and the private sector are supposed to lead efforts to find alternative renewable energy that are available in the local communities to be used to save energy.
Gozun has also announced that the Aquino government will be coming out with information, education and communication materials to encourage Filipinos “to save, conserve, and reduce on energy dependence, including the use of water and other environmental measures to save the planet.”
In the meantime, the DENR has already formulated a 12-year plan called the Philippine Strategy on Climate Change Adaptation that will be primarily be implemented by the Climate Change Commission. The CCC is an independent and autonomous body but has a status as a national government agency and is attached to the Office of the President. It is the sole policy-making body tasked to coordinate, monitor and evaluate the programs and action plans of the government relating to climate change . The agency is also in charge of implementing the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change 2010 – 2012.
Among the CCC’s recommendations to the private sector is the “greening” of buildings through the use of compact fluorescent lamps, which uses less power and can reduce electricity bills. Businesses are also being encouraged to renovate or redesign their buildings, following the Green Building Rating System so that they would consume less light and air conditioning.
Funding from the World Bank
It may not be known to all, but the Aquino government has also secured a grant from the World Bank to supposedly enable it to help targeted rural communities cope with the impact of climate variability and change .
The World Bank is behind the Aquino government’s Philippines Climate Change Adaptation Project (PhilCCAP), after it provided a $4.974 million grant agreement last December 2010.
The project, according to reports, “aims to develop and pilot-test adaptive strategies that will promote the climate-resiliency of Philippine agriculture and natural resources management.” It also seeks to increase farmers’ capacity to cope with climate change through such measures as making irrigation and other agricultural infrastructures more climate resilient, enhancing delivery and effectiveness of extension services for farm-level climate risk management, pilot-testing of a weather index-based crop insurance, and improving management of watersheds and protected areas.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said the Philccap will benefit poor farmers, as well as other vulnerable groups who depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. In the meantime, the DENR said the project will help LGUs and and communities effectively manage and protect critical ecosystems through a systematic consideration of climate risks.
One of the important components of the project involves improving the institutional capacity of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa) and other organizations to capture and analyze data, improve analysis of climate-change trends, and make the information available to policymakers and the general public.
Climate change funding and the debt problem
For all of these newly established agencies and their programs, however, Anakpawis Rep. Mariano remains unimpressed, but unsurprisingly so. Mariano is of the opinion that the government’s climate change program itself is out of sync with what is happening in the rest of the country, citing the relentless and destructive mining activities of foreign mining firms and the continuing logging operations of licensed logging concessionaires.
Based on data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), almost $9 billion worth of minerals and mineral products were exported abroad from 2006 to 2009. Meanwhile only $110 million or 1.2 percent of the mineral value exported was collected as direct revenue of mining (P43=$1). As of July 2010, there are 28 operating metallic mines in the country and government granted 676 mining permits covering 1,042,531 hectares of mineral lands. The Aquino government also continues to invite foreign investors to build more coal-fired power plants in the country. Coal is identified as the single major source of carbon emission and air pollution in the world.
IBON Foundation in the meantime scored what it said was the government’s reliance on foreign funding for its climate change programs. Researcher John Paul Corpus explained that the funds such as those given by the World Bank are not compensatory.
“Although developed countries have accepted their financial obligation as signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), their provision of funding is not based on the principle of compensation. Rather, they channel climate funding for developing countries as voluntary contributions. Channeled through new and existing bilateral and multilateral institutions, climate funds take the form of grants and loans. This means funds are owed to donors by developing countries, turning the obligatory relationship around. Worse, funds put poor countries further in debt,” he said.
According to Corpus, funds influence domestic policy in favor of commercial and corporate-friendly solutions to climate change. According to him, donors set criteria for recipient eligibility and selection, and make access to climate funds conditional to meeting these.
“Some such requirements include an active Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) program in the recipient country, and keenness to pursue policy dialogue on climate change with the donor. This means developing countries’ access to funds is contingent upon their agreement with donor policies and their commitment to align domestic policies with donor agendas on climate change,” he said.
Corpus said access to funding should not be tied with fulfilling policy conditions.
“The locus of funding decisions must be devolved to local levels, where funding priorities and strategies can be formulated with the democratic participation of communities. This should ensure that local needs are identified and prioritized, and existing local knowledge and initiatives are recognized and incorporated. This also requires transparency in funding processes, and efforts at mass information to enable marginalized groups to participate and make informed decisions,” he said.
After Pedring and Quiel
In the meantime, the effects of climate change are devastating and yet again the government’s response is far from ideal given continued reports of the weakness of the national disaster and relief programs in assisting Pedring and Quiel’s victims.
Anakpawis’ Mariano said the government should focus its efforts on putting together a rehabilitation program that is more forward-looking and in some way able to prepare the country for the next series of natural calamities.
“Even more crucial after the relief and rescue operations are the rehabilitation efforts to help disaster-affected families recover from the economic and social costs of the calamities. The effects of these calamities will also add to the country’s long-standing problems – poverty, hunger and unemployment. The poor quality of the government’s disaster preparedness program worsens the country’s already inherent vulnerability to climate change. What is needed is a national program that takes this vulnerability into top consideration and uses it a guidepost when crafting responses,” he said.
Mariano said the Philippines is ranked highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to tropical cyclone occurrence, and third in terms of people exposed to such seasonal events.
“The government cannot be reactive at all times. Typhoon victims cannot live in evacuation centers and survive on relief goods for most of the typhoon season. Pro-active measures to minimize the risk drivers must be ensured,” Mariano said.
“The government says that it wants to increase domestic adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change, but even now we foresee increasing risks in terms of annual mean rainfall and rise of sea levels. We can only expect far more destructive typhoons and flooding in the coming months and years. Is the government’s climate change response enough to mitigate the potential damage that will without doubt come? And is this response in line with the rest of the Aquino administration’s economic program? We see that it isn’t.”
Mariano also brought up the issue of food security as a serious concern connected to climate change, saying that agriculture and domestic food production are most affected during typhoons.
“Agriculture represents one-fifth of the country’s total economy and generates one-third of the domestic employment and provides food and livelihood to our people. Local rice production is at 16.82 million metric tons (MT), fish production is at 4.97 million MT, corn production is 6.93 million MT, livestock and poultry is 4.04 thousand MT and other food and industrial crops production accounts for 57.75 million MT. These calamities have a damaging impact to our food security. Does the government’s climate change program have anything in it that will help protect food security? ”
Putting a price tag on the environment
Instead of putting together a macro-policy to address the issues that Mariano has brought up, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) in the meantime is taking a different tack to protect the environment: giving financial incentives to the 10 poorest provinces in the country that manage their natural resources well including keeping their forests intact.
Mary Lucille Sering, vice chairwoman of the CCC, said the agency has started the mechanism that would provide “payments for ecosystem services” to the poorest provinces starting with Eastern Samar and Surigao del Norte. The program is similar to the Aquino administration’s conditional cash transfer scheme, but, Sering said, it involves protecting the natural resources and forest-conservation initiatives of the government.
“Should the implementation of the framework yield benefits to the poor communities after six months, then it could be implemented throughout the country,” Sering said in a report.
According to Sering, the payments for environmental services would help poor people living in fragile ecosystems to utilize and manage their natural resources more efficiently and restore their forests through local projects. She said natural resources such as watersheds, aquatic resources and the forests can be protected and sustainably managed by residents themselves so that these resources can provide for their needs.
“‘Payments for ecosystem services need to be designed to promote a holistic approach to forest restoration, benefit the people and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.’Green auditing’ becomes more important in pursuing economic policies to determine the extensive impact on natural resources such as water and forest,” she said.
According to Sering, there is a need to put an economic valuation of the country’s natural resources so Filipinos can determine their true monetary value and to look after industries if they are paying the right taxes in using environmental resources, such as water supply and forest lumber.