Scrutinize solutions and be part of developing the right ones. This is what the youth must do in light of the avowal from the Philippine government to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and seek global succor for climate change adaptation, young climate activists and leaders from the nongovernment organization Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) and The National Youth Commission said.
“If the government pushes for the construction of geothermal power plants, how could we be sure that this will not result in the dislocation of communities?” Loi Manalansan, Kalikasan-PNE’s program officer said. “It’s a question of trust.”
Manalansan, 29, knows what he’s talking about. Along with Karl Begnotea, a 22-year-old researcher from Kalikasan-PNE, they have worked on various cases showing the different facets of environmental crises, asserting that “environmental issues are people’s issues.”
The same principle holds true in the battle against climate change. Manalansan and Begnotea recognize the importance of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which mandates both developed and developing countries to limit global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to go as far as capping it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the run-up to 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, Kalikasan-PNE worked with 350.org Pilipinas and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle in holding people’s climate marches and organizing Power Shift Pilipinas to help raise awareness about climate change among the youth.
Now that the Paris Agreement has been adopted, however, they said that the real test for governments starts with implementing their intended nationally-determined contributions (INDCs) in a way that not only addresses, but respects the concerns of communities which will be directly affected by their programs and policies.
The INDC captures the vision and commitment of a country to fight climate change – it serves a blueprint of strategies for lowering the country’s carbon footprint, an exhaustive presentation of the state’s mitigation and adaptation priorities, a social contract to the people, if you will, that the government will do its best to effect institutional changes to combat climate change.
In its INDC, the Philippines averred that by 2030, it would have lowered its GHG emissions by 70 percent relative to its business-as-usual scenario of 2000-2030, a target contingent on the support that it will receive from the international community. It also prioritized adaptation, pointing out that the Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
“But it’s easy to give figures,” Manalansan said. “What should be looked at is the operationalization.” If the government goes to communities and tells them they have to change the way they live so they could meet the 70-percent emission reduction target, how will they do it in a way that will not cause harmful disruption in the people’s livelihoods, culture and also result in the loss of traditional territories?
It’s a question that’s been begging to be asked, especially as the Philippine government was the one which aggressively pushed for the inclusion of human rights in the Paris Agreement. Branding this move as the Philippine “pivot” as early as 2014 in COP20 in Peru, the delegation started to work with other countries also vulnerable to climate change in ensuring there will be a reference to human rights protection in the deal. The Philippines and its allies succeeded, as the preamble now contains a provision which states that “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”
To make sure that this will be implemented, Manalansan and Begnotea said the youth must be prepared to work with communities on the ground.
Listen and engage
Begnotea said this means immersing themselves with sectors which are often underrepresented in policymaking and governance processes such as indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk and yes, the youth themselves, especially those who live in areas which are already experiencing the effects of extreme weather events. “When you go to the ground, you will see the connection between environmental issues and social issues,” he said.
The exposure to the experiences and plight of communities will give young people the big picture. Let’s take the case of investing and developing infrastructures for renewable energy . “Renewable energy is good,” Begnotea said, but the youth, he pointed out, must be critical enough and consider the voices of those whose lives will be directly and immediately altered by these developments.
Begnotea cited the case of a Kalinga indigenous tribe, whose elders opposed the geothermal project of the Guidance Management Corporation-Aragorn Power and Energy Corporation (GMC-APEC) in 2012 reportedly because it did not hold adequate consultations.
Similar issues have been previously lodged against PNOC Energy Development Corp (PNOC-EDC), which developed and handled geothermal projects all over the country. Agnes de Jesus from PNOC-EDC wrote “Social Issues Raised and Measures Adopted in Philippine Geothermal Projects” in 2005, where she said that of lack of consultation and physical and economic dislocation of settlements have been raised against their projects. To address these, they held public consultations in Leyte and Mindanao and provided a resettlement package consisting of houses and assistance for long-term livelihood projects for 97 affected households.
The youth can help ensure that other companies which will be involved in these projects will also proactively work with communities in addressing the latter’s concerns. They can only also engage the local government units (LGUs) and government agencies so that they will listen to the people.
Collaborators, not just volunteers
Marikris De Guzman, project coordinator of #NowPH, a campaign which harnessed the voices of the youth in seeking climate actions, said that the youth must also take advantage of opportunities to directly participate in climate governance. Maximizing political space is vital in crafting programs and policies for climate mitigation and adaptation.
NYC Commissioner-at-large Jose “Dingdong” Dantes said that they will push for youth representation in climate change and disaster risk reduction and management-related agencies. “After the success of the youth in leading the #NowPH campaign, it is incumbent on the Commission to continue the cause and ensure that the pledges of 3.6 million Filipinos are realized. We intend to work with local governments and the academe to promote low emission development strategies that are practical and youth-driven, and, at the same time, push for the representation of the youth in climate change and disaster risk reduction and management-related bodies.”
De Guzman said this will provide young Filipinos the chance to be active in the policy arena and come up with laws that define the link between climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The helps them become “not just volunteers but collaborators” in climate governance.
De Guzman said the youth should also optimize the use of social media to spread awareness about climate change issues and to gather support for relevant reforms, which was what the #NowPH campaign did. They used Twitter to promote their signature campaign and was able to get 3.6 million expressions of interest. De Guzman also used another online platform, Facebook, to engage other young people in the region in tackling climate change and DRRM issues by creating a page for the ASEAN Youth DRR Network.
From barricades to the Supreme Court
Not all have access to the Internet, however, and this holds true for communities in far-flung areas, most of which are also vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In this case, Manalansan and Begnotea said that young people could join or mobilize rallies to get the message across and make the government listen.
They did this with two separate cases involving companies in the coal industry. One is a sad story in Happyland, a relocation site for informal settlers in Tondo, Manila. This is not the first manifestation of irony about the place, whose name was derived from ‘hapilan,’ a word that means dumpsite in the local Waray dialect. The people are used to the garbage, however and even live off from scavenging them. What added another layer of disconcert among the people of Happyland, though is the presence of coal dust stockpile.
Kalikasan-PNE helped mobilize a picket protest calling for the shutdown of the coal storage company allegedly responsible for dumping coal dust in an open two-hectare area in Happyland. Working with Gabriela, a partylist group for women, they supported the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Residente ng Happyland Laban sa Coal (Alliance of Happyland Residents United Against Coal) in seeking a dialogue with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Feb. 20.
It was literally a show of force from young people, Manalansan said, as kids who are only 4-6 years old joined the protest. Residents of Happyland, they are the ones who face the risk of potentially suffering from the negative effects of being exposed to coal dust, which contains toxins like arsenic and mercury. The DENR eventually faced them and said they will probe why RockEnergy International and Energy Supplies Chain Solutions, Inc., whose operations should have supposedly ended in 2014 upon the order of the local government unit, has resumed its coal storage activities.
Prior to this protest on Feb. 20, Begnotea and Manalansan participated in a campaign less than a year ago against another company engaged in the coal industry – the DM Consunji Inc, which operates a coal-fired power plant (CFPP) in the province of Palawan. They denounced the operation of the CFPP as destructive to the environment of Palawan, especially when they said there are cleaner alternative sources of energy.
The two said that aside from holding protests, however, the youth should also study the law and use existing legal remedies. The Paris Agreement on its own is not punitive, but there are local laws designed to stop environmental violations which also have socioeconomic consequences. Kalikasan-PNE, for one, filed a writ of kalikasan to seek the suspension of the operations of a coal power plant in Subic.
Sustain the change
Millions of young people joined climate march protests and lobbied for an ambitious and equitable climate deal in Paris in 2015. Their energy and creative activism helped produce the new legally-binding climate agreement.
But they need to sustain what they worked hard for. Begnotea said in the case of young Filipinos, they must demand from national and local candidates the inclusion of a climate change agenda in their respective platforms. They must also have a plan about achieving the country’s target in the INDC in a fair and sustainable manner.
Dantes, on the other hand, said they will help ensure that the new and reformed Sangguniang Kabataan, which will be having their elections this October 2016, will prioritize climate change policies and programs.
He added that what is fundamental though is that young people must continue to educate themselves and deepen their understanding about climate issues. “The Paris Agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards, and the youth plays an important role in fully realizing the aspirations outlined in the Agreement. But in order for them to better contribute in the Agreement’s implementation, first, they have to be proactive in understanding climate change and how the Agreement addresses the issue. By doing so, they will be able to appreciate the implications of this Agreement on their future.”