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30674The Urgency of Now - Neric Acosta

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  • Santino Regilme, Jr.
    Jan 21, 2009

      The Urgency of Now

      - Dr. Neric Acosta


      Some of us in a little-known network called pagbabago@pilipinas, working in relative obscurity over the last few months, came out of the woodwork this week and let out a message with a bang: the country, for all its problems, cannot escape the realities of climate change and must act to chart a solutions-driven, private-sector/citizen-led roadmap well into the future. Those of us who are convening experts’ and business summits by April this year – former DENR secretary Bebet Gozun, Fr. Jett Villarin of the Ateneo and Manila Observatory, Lory Tan of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and myself – call it ‘The Philippine Climate Imperative.’ 


      Imperative it is.  We must take action and understand ‘the urgency of now,’ as Martin Luther King, Jr once said.  The logo design speaks succinctly for itself: a Philippine map inverted and superimposed on a green field of an exclamation point.  Inverted because this is a time to rethink and turn things on their head, when trite exhortations to ‘save the earth’ won’t do anymore and when the ‘business as usual’ approaches in policy, governance and the economy won’t get us anywhere. Below the exclamation point is emblazoned the call: ‘don’t wait.’   


      This project seeks to dovetail or jumpstart efforts at the local and national government to effectively combat the effects of climate change in the country.  The Philippines is ranked fourth in the 2008 Global Climate Risk Index, and is called a ‘climate hotspot.’  As an archipelago the country is considered to be ‘highly vulnerable but with low adaptive capacity.’  


      For many communities climate change – or environmental concerns in general – are seen as abstractions, or at best, not as pressing as the basics of jobs, food, health and prices of primary commodities.  If this issue is framed in the discourse of pollution-control and such ‘Earth Day’ requisites or slogans, then, yes, something like this would be a hard-sell to a vast majority. 


      That is why the challenge for those of us in the forefront of such advocacies is to frame climate change in clear, unmistakably ‘survival’ terms.  Over half of our people still directly depend on agriculture for their livelihood.  But if there is no water, there will be no rice, and no food security.  Many of the aquifers in Cebu, Misamis Occidental, Ilocos and several other provinces are beginning to show signs of saltwater intrusion, a result of forest-cover loss, growing populations, depleted watersheds or slight increases in sea levels, as collated data from the WWF and Greenpeace would show. 


      If global warming which causes changes in climate patters continues, rainfall will rise in other regions, causing flooding as we see in places like northern Mindanao this week, or drought will persist in other areas – either way affecting agriculture and food production. The same could be said of our coastal resources and fisheries, on which 30 million Filipinos depend for their protein.  If coral bleaching continues because of warming oceans then these ‘food factories of the seas’ will die out. 


      The environment is the only social security system of the vast numbers of the poor, but at the rate we are destroying our ecosystems, the poor stand to lose so much more – in livelihood, jobs, food security and health.  So if climate change and environmental protection begins to be seen, as it should, in these terms, then the Imperative hits closer to (every) home.


      On the part of business an industry, environmental challenges have to be seen and framed in terms of economic viability and overall sustainability.  What good would it do businesses if labor productivity declines because people are chronically ill from worsening air pollution or contaminated water?  The World Bank estimates that medical costs tied to respiratory ailments in four metropolitan areas – Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao and Baguio – amount to 430 million US dollars a year. How can businesses thrive over time if natural capital is extracted or destroyed as ‘externalities’?  If there is a low or zero cost to despoiling such a resource base of ‘public goods’ – water, air, land, forests, biodiversity – then overexploitation happens.  We just have to look at Pasig River and Manila Bay, or to the denuded mountains of the Cordilleras or Sierra Madre, to stress the point.


      The private sector has to be fully on board and keyed into this Imperative.  Policy and institutions have failed to effectively regulate polluters and apply the ‘polluters-pay’ principle.  But if there have to be inroads on this front, businesses must ‘green’ their processes and supply chains and deploy the resources to shift to clean technologies and move toward what the United Nations or the new Obama administration in the US would herald as the ‘green economy.’ 


      We cannot, should not wait.




      Neric Acosta was Congressman of Bukidnon from 1998-2007 and is convenor of the recently-launched Philippine Climate Imperative and professor of the Asian Institute of Management.


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