On Friday, the global Green movement will be watching to see whether the Philippines has ratified the Paris Agreement, set out by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, signed up to just 11 weeks and three days before leaving office. No need to wait until Friday though; President Rodrigo Duterte is not likely to rubber stamp an agreement which he finds so disagreeable. His detractors will label him an Enemy of Earth, or some such. ‘Not content with ruining the Philippines, he now wants to destroy the planet’ – we can here them now. But they would be wrong.
Duterte is a fierce environmentalist. Look no further than his appointment of the equally fierce Gina Lopez as secretary at the Department of Environment and Resources (DENR) who in three months has conducted an audit of the entire mining sector to evaluate the level of its environmental failure. That’s something that’s never been done before.
Of the 41 metal-ore mines reviewed, only 11 were found to be satisfactory; 20 have been asked to give reasons why their operations should not be suspended and could join the 10 which have already had their operating licences revoked. This isn’t window-dressing to gain some Green brownie points; this is environmental protection on an industrial scale.
And it’s all with Duterte’s blessing. In fact, it was carried out at his direction. In his 25 July State of the Nation address, he directed the DENR “to review all permits granted to the mining, logging and other environmental-sensitive activities. Ensure compliance with government standards, and if warranted, amend, suspend, or revoke permits. Go ahead.” And, referring to Lopez, he added: “We both share the same goal. She is doing a good job. She is a crusader”.
He has also issued instructions that Laguna Lake – a fetid body of water, choked by discarded garbage – should be restored, in Lopez’s words, to its “original pristine condition” and become the centerpiece of an ecotourism zone. When completed, she added: “It will be a superb example of what happens when you take care of the environment. That’s the game plan, and I’m going into this full force … it’s taken the president’s attention”.
That’s just two examples of many that show Duterte’s unquestionable environmentalist credentials. But pursuing green policies at a time that the country is crying out for more industrial output is a complex balancing act. Going green is not black and white.
And so the problem he has with the Paris Agreement is not that he is opposed to its overall goals. He’s not. What he objects to is the unfair burden it will place on the Philippines and other developing nations which are struggling to build their economies – a handicap that developed nations never had to face. Furthermore, Aquino pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 70% by 2030. Let’s look at that in the contest of what other member countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are offering in terms of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.
Cambodia. 27% on business as usual by 2030. Indonesia. 29% on business as usual by 2030; up to 41% with international support. Laos. Data “not sufficiently reliable” to set overall emissions goal. Malaysia. 35% from 2005 levels to 2030; up to 45% with international support. Myanmar. Data “not sufficiently reliable” to set overall emissions goal. Singapore. 36% from 2005 levels by 2030. Thailand. 20% from business as usual by 2030, rising to 25% on international support. Vietnam. 8% on business as usual by 2030; up to 25% with international support.
Based on that, the pledge by the Philippines – only responsible for about one-third of 1% of global emissions annually – to cut them by 70% over the next 14 years looks extremely ambitious. And particularly so, given the country’s other pressing ambition – to expand its industrial base and boost its economic development. This is going to need energy, and plenty of it.
Of course the Greenies couldn’t care less about any of that. Their mission is to save the planet at any cost – and if that means hobbling a country like the Philippines in the process, so be it. For them it’s a small price. For the 102,783,846 people (as of midnight) who live there, however, it will ensure that they remain at a permanent economic disadvantage to their fellows in the more-developed lands. Duterte sees this clearly and is particularly irked by the fact that the world’s advanced economies only achieved that status by industrial processes that produced the carbon which has led to the present need for a global reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.
And of course, also, the president’s die-hard detractors will seize on this as yet another example of Duterte as some kind of ogre who would be quite happy to watch the Philippines turn into a barren desert, or be submerged beneath a rising sea, or wither under a methane cloud. For some he will never be able to do right. And yet, he’s already tackling climate change.
He’s changing the climate of savagery and crime and rampant drug use that’s been burning a hole in the law-and-order layer for decades. He’s changing the climate of intransigence that’s come from the politically charged emissions released by successive occupants of the presidential palace of Malacañang in its dealing with critical communist and Muslim issues – a greenhouse effect that’s ensured the temperature continues to rise. He’s changing the climate that produced economic desertification across the regions – as the desolate social landscape, occupied by an employment famine and a poverty of life contrasts ever more grotesquely with the Horn of Plenty in the oasis of Makati. This is how he’s tackling climate change.
Of course, we all want to breathe pure oxygen-rich air, drink crystal-clear water from a cool mountain spring. But before we can get there, the barbarism must be quelled, the corruption must be erased and the economy must be rebuilt. And if achieving all that means that the Philippines should adopt a more-modest target for its emission cuts then the Greenies and the Duterte-haters are just going to have to accept it. For oddly, this isn’t about them; this is about the Filipino nation and its future.