THE best way to solve a problem is to directly address the root cause.

In terms of the climate crisis, that root cause is the excessive pollution produced by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. This pollution is emitted in the form of greenhouse gases (GHG), which traps more heat in our atmosphere and oceans and triggers large-scale changes in our environment. It is the reason our world has warmed by around 1 degree Celsius.

On April 4, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final part of its latest global report, focusing on mitigation or reducing GHG emissions from human activities. This aspect of climate action remains a tremendous challenge, considering that fossil fuels powers most of the global economy, including many of the daily activities we do in our homes and offices or on the road.

Yet the imperative is loud and clear: the era of fossil fuels must end.

The global narrative

Despite widespread knowledge of the effects of GHGs on global warming, the IPCC report shows that this pollution continues to increase. Of all emissions recorded from 1850 to 2019, 42 percent of them happened within just the past three decades. Around 64 percent of all GHG pollution is carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels, which is especially prevalent in the energy and industry sectors.

To address this, mitigation efforts must be implemented across two fronts. The first involves preventing any more GHGs from being emitted. This is why it is important to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and start scaling up renewable energy (RE) development.

The second concerns with removing the GHGs that are already in the atmosphere and oceans; this is the pollution that has caused many of the disasters we have experienced so far, such as typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda. This includes preserving and enhancing natural "carbon sinks" that can absorb carbon dioxide, such as rainforests and mangroves.

There are positive developments worldwide on enhancing mitigation strategies, per the report. Costs of RE technologies such as solar, wind, and electric-vehicle batteries have sharply decreased in the past decade, which has allowed them to be deployed to more areas. Several countries have also improved their programs on energy efficiency, combating deforestation, and accelerating technology development.

Yet these actions are nowhere near enough to reverse global warming. In fact, if the current pledges of all nations for reducing emissions are successfully implemented, it would still result in 2.8 degrees Celsius of warming. This is way above the 1.5-degree target under the Paris Agreement, a figure that many experts consider the point when climate change impacts may become irreversible.

To limit warming to this level, GHG emissions must decrease by 84 percent by 2050 compared to 2019 levels. It requires the drastic reduction in fossil fuel use, virtually phasing out coal and lowering global use of natural gas by 45 percent. Almost all electricity worldwide needs to be supplied from RE sources. Emissions arising from the supply chains in the industry and transport sectors have to be reduced as well.

Achieving these goals requires governments, businesses, and other stakeholders to collaborate to speed up the adoption of large-scale technologies and making them more affordable. This can be done through more investments and other means of finance flowing into mitigation strategies, which has increased by 60 percent in recent years. However, funding for fossil fuels remain higher than that for climate action.

The Philippine imperative

The Philippines, one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, is responsible for only 0.3 percent of all GHG emissions. Hit with P506.1 billion worth of climate-related losses and damages from 2010 to 2020, its government has anchored its climate action strategies on adaptation to minimize negative impacts on millions of Filipinos.

However, this does not mean that the Philippines should ignore mitigation as part of its solutions. As a nation that champions climate justice during global negotiations, it cannot follow the same pollutive development pathway that industrialized countries took, which caused the climate crisis in the first place.

As a developing country, implementing effective mitigation actions provides co-benefits that could boost its pursuit of sustainable development. Some of these aspects include food and water security, ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, and human security, which are among the priority sectors under the National Climate Change Action Plan.

Among the priorities should be scaling up RE development. The share of cleaner energy in the country's power generation mix has been decreasing for the past two decades, even with the enactment of the RE Act in 2008. The government has to ensure its plans for a 50 percent RE share in the power grid by 2040, or even earlier, will become a reality.

A swift just transition to RE must be prioritized by our leaders, including phasing out coal-fired power plants. Given that the IPCC reports that all types of fossil fuels must be left behind, current plans for building more natural gas facilities must be stopped. Proposals for false solutions, especially nuclear power, needs to be halted and have more resources poured into developing solar, wind, and other cleaner technologies.

The Philippines also needs to enable an economic environment that pressures more corporations to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest into RE and other sustainable endeavors. The recent decision of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation to abandon coal financing and boost lending to RE projects by 2031 is the latest addition to the developing trend of divestment among the country's biggest private entities.

We know what the problem is; we know how to solve it. We already have the choices to cut our pollution by at least 50 percent by 2030. Yet turning words into actions is a lot easier than done. This is why addressing the climate crisis needs us to invest in our future.


John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si' Philippines, and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He is one of the reviewers of the IPCC Working Group III Sixth Assessment Report, and has been writing on climate and environmental issues as a journalist since 2016.