Filipino civil society calls for ocean, climate justice at COP25

ON DECEMBER 2, Naga City resident Paula Guevara, 24, and her family braced for the impact of Typhoon Kammuri (Tisoy). Several hours prior to landfall, she noticed a relatively calm weather with slightly strong gusts.

"Then, I heard the whistling sound outside. I'm scared of that sound because I heard that last during typhoon Haiyan," Guevara recalled.

After a night of strong winds and heavy rainfall, "when I woke up, fortunately, we were all fine. Our house managed to remain standing, except for the avocado tree in front of our house," she said. "The tree survived a lot of strong storms before, but it could not take this one anymore."

While Paula's family and city were relatively unscathed, others were not so lucky. Some five people were confirmed to be killed, more than 400,000 families were displaced, and more than P5 billion worth of properties were damaged, per the latest report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The price of carbon

Nearly 12,000 kilometers from Guevara's home, country leaders have gathered in Madrid, Spain for the 25th United Nations climate conference (COP25) with the goal of increasing commitments of countries for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

"We are not where we are to be to ensure that we will get to the goal of 1.5 degrees by the end of the century," Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, said in a media briefing.

Espinosa said "decisions need to be taken now if we want to be on track to reach the goals that the Paris agreement has established."

The IPCC reported last year that the world only has until 2030 to achieve emissions cuts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

However, after one week of debates and dialogues, little progress has been made on key issues such as loss and damage and climate finance, all of which have an impact on climate justice.

At COP25, Filipino advocates are bringing the voice of vulnerable communities to the international meetings that will determine the fate of current and future generations, for which people like Paula depend onto become more resilient to extreme climate impacts.

Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, director of nonprofit Earth Savers Movement, said COP25 must prioritize taking care of the oceans "for the survival of small island states and archipelagic states," especially coastal regions such as Bicol.

"We need action, beside all these debates in documents. We must fulfill the Paris accord," she added.

Alvarez also remarked on the poor state of ocean life, including the destruction of coral reefs, fish kills triggered by red tides, and the plastic pollution that lead to further degradation of marine life.

"We have to stop the degradation and it means we must attend to explaining the science that is involved in caring for the oceans," she said.

Rodne Galicha, executive director of faith-based group Living Laudato Si Philippines, added that "the problem of our oceans is not only about plastics, but it's also about the warming of the oceans." He noted the recent onslaught of Tisoy on the Philippines as another reminder of the need for climate justice for communities at highest risk.

"While at COP25, we are talking about how we can save the world and how we do adaptation and mitigation, people are dying," he said. "We have loss of livelihoods in northern and eastern Philippines, yet another unfortunate reminder of how the Philippines is affected by the climate crisis."

The IPCC reported last September that ocean warming has crossed a "tipping point," wherein regardless of emissions cuts, sea levels will rise and force millions to be relocated. Higher sea surface temperatures are also the drivers for creating stronger storms, which are projected to become even stronger with current warming trends.

These would have significant impacts on the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis. The 10 costliest typhoons in terms of property damage have all hit the country since 2008. Sea levels are also rising in the Philippines at nearly three times the global average, which could also be enhanced by further oceanic warming.

Lourdes Tibig, a contributor to the IPCC report on oceans, previously stated that these projected impacts require governments to "really push for more ambitious targets in terms of adaptation and mitigation, because adaptation is not enough."

Faith in action

Galicha also remarked on the unity of faith groups in the Philippines in recognizing the reality and urgency of addressing the climate emergency.

"This ecological sin is deadly. While we are in a climate emergency, we are called to work together. But polluters must pay, and duty-bearers must be held accountable," he said.

He added that the faith groups "refuse to accept that once again, we are paying the price of carbon. It should be the polluters who are paying that price with their wealth, not our people with their lives."

"Reparation at all levels is necessary which should lead to ecological conversion for our common home," Galicha said.

Jaazeal Jakosalem, a Filipino Augustinian recollect currently based in Madrid, supported this statement, but emphasized the need for island communities to take action as well. He said his missions to isolated parts of Saipan, Taiwan, Brazil, and the Philippines allowed him to create "a framework where these campaigns for the environment are translated be understandable to the people of island communities."

Jakosalem noted the importance of interconnecting impacts of various actions in protecting the oceans, including caring for life on the oceans and the islands and planting local trees to mitigate adverse climate change impacts.

"This is our main campaign: cambia tuvida, no tuplaneta. Change your life, not the planet," he said.


John Leo Algo is the program manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (Kasali). This article was published through the support of Rosa Luxemberg Foundation and Climate Tracker's Climate Journalism Fellowship.


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