Climate change affects everything on Earth — every plant and animal, every nation, every human being. But some parts of the world face climate change impacts far more and worse than others. Small island states like Marshall Islands and Kiribati, for example, are now slowly losing land due to rising sea level. They now have to buy land from other countries where their people can migrate. Our country, the Philippines, has been consistently ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. We have experienced stronger typhoons and longer droughts in recent years.
Meanwhile, other countries like those in Europe, do not have to face such extreme events: they do not have to find new lands for their people to live in nor do they experience typhoons that can leave thousands dead. But this isn’t their fault, their geographies just happen to be different from ours. Unfortunately for us, this means we are situated in places where climate change can hit us the most.
Searching for Climate Justice
But something seems amiss: for thousands of years, humans have lived in the same planet, in the same islands and geographic locations as we do today. But our ancestors did not have to worry about losing the land they live in or whether or not they could still live on this planet in the future. But we do. We now have to think about how to make this planet habitable in the coming decades. We now have to worry about our survival. And whose fault is it? How did we come to this?
The industrial revolution brought about development to countries like the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But this came at a cost: the amount of carbon emitted from this period until today has led to the climate change crisis we now face. Today’s rich countries made profit out of dirty means and the first and worst affected are small, vulnerable countries like ours.
So the question is: if climate change is not our fault but we experience its impacts worse than others, can those who are responsible for it pay for what they have done?
Mary Robinson, first woman president or Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, defines climate justice as a moral argument where “people on the front lines of climate change have contributed least to the causes of the climate crisis.” Climate justice also informs how we should act to combat climate change: “ensure that the transition to a zero carbon economy is just and that it enables all people to realize their right to development.”
The role of the UNFCCC in achieving climate justice
In an effort to curb global warming and find solutions to climate change, the United Nations established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted in 1992. Since then, countries meet every year to negotiate on the steps they could take to find solutions to climate change.
The UNFCCC is founded on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), which acknowledges that some countries have contributed more to climate change than other countries and therefore have more responsibilities to take on to help solve it. In the same way, it also acknowledges that each country has a different economic and technical capacity to tackle these problems.
Last year, after 21 years of negotiations, the Paris Agreement was signed by 196 countries who finally agreed on how to solve the climate crisis. It certainly has not been easy to get every government like the US, China, India, and Saudi Arabia — countries who have been dependent on coal, oil, and other forms of dirty energy, whose industries and economies are reliant on carbon emissions — to sign an agreement that will ask them to mitigate their carbon emissions. But almost one year ago, all 196 countries came to a decision to act now because even now is already a little too late.
The Philippines was one of the countries who signed this agreement. In fact, the Philippines has been one of the strong voices inside the negotiations, fighting for developing countries who, like us, have been facing climate change impacts. We have reminded countries of the CBDR principle and of equity. We have asked rich countries to pay for the damages they have caused us. We have been the voice of conscience in these negotiations.
Why ratifying the Paris Agreement is crucial for the Philippines
So it seems very confusing when President Duterte still refuses to honor the Paris Agreement when in fact, what he is saying is in the line of climate justice and CBDR:
that those who have polluted more should do more to reduce emissions. Rich countries have been asked to do more as well they should.
His reservations about our commitments of 70% emission reduction on business as usual level is a commitment we volunteered to do and was never imposed on us by any country or by the UN.
If the Philippines does not ratify the climate agreement, it puts us in a dilemma: we are risking our chance to continue being a strong voice inside the negotiations and to ensure that decisions made by governments will be fair, just, and equal to both rich and developing countries. Climate change is an issue that affects all Filipinos, we can’t just observe from the sidelines while the whole world works to solve it.
Towards a clean development pathway
While we fight for climate justice, saying that we need to pollute the same way that rich countries did in order to “develop” is something that we should also address. We already know how that went: not so good for our planet and humanity’s future. So why do we want to tread the same path when we can create a new path of clean development? We can’t tell others to stop polluting and then do the same. We can’t fight for climate justice and then do exactly the same thing that led to where we are today.
At the end of the day, any development will mean nothing once we reach the Earth’s threshold and humans can no longer survive. If the Philippines insist on developing through the old and dirty ways, Philippines will be left behind trudging in an era dependent on energy from dinosaurs while the whole world shifts to renewables and zero emission future.
Climate change is an issue of justice, but it is also an issue that transcends national borders. While we need to continue demanding for rich countries to be responsible for it, we must also now do our share. It is a problem not one or five or ten countries can solve, it is a problem where everyone has to participate in solving.
Originally published at GMA News