SIX months after the conclusion of the Glasgow climate negotiations, the same trends largely remain in the global policymaking arena. This includes climate finance still looming as a complex and divisive issue.

Yet amid broken promises and frustrating baby steps, the position of developing nations is still the same: finance from developed nations and multilateral institutions must come in the form of grants, not loans.

This stance is largely based on their shared demand for climate justice, as nations with the lowest contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions yet the highest vulnerability to impacts. Receiving compensation from the big polluters is regarded as a repayment of their "climate debt" for causing the crisis that deals substantial loss and damage to high-risk communities and nations.

This is the context for why the Philippines's most recent act of securing climate finance is perplexing. Earlier this month, the Climate Change Commission publicized its loans-based partnership with the Asian Development Bank in aid of its adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Out of the borrowed USD650 million (or more than P34 billion), USD400 million is allotted for a program that supports funding infrastructures and linking private sector infrastructures to capital markets. The remaining sum is intended for implementing its national climate policies for adaptation and mitigation, including its goal of reducing its GHG emissions by 75 percent within the current decade under its Nationally Determined Contributions.

Ironically, its pledge also calls for most of this target being conditional, or funded by other entities on the basis of climate justice. This action essentially contradicts the position of the Philippines, which is based on its status as a minor GHG emitter that is one of the most vulnerable countries to anthropogenic climate change impacts.

It can be argued that this is partially fueled by the urgency of the Philippine government to secure financial support it can currently access to kickstart the implementation of its strategies. However, this development can potentially place the burden of the long-term socioeconomic impacts of this loan on future generations of Filipinos, especially the marginalized and most vulnerable sectors.

The ultimate price for borrowing could be higher, considering that the Philippines just incurred more than P506 billion of climate-related loss and damage during the past decade. An action that heightens vulnerabilities and risks when adverse impacts are projected to intensify not only worsens existing social and economic inequalities, but also prevents individuals and communities from exercising their rights relevant to pursuing development.

The Philippines cannot afford to place itself in a bigger disadvantage, especially as it also tries to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic while concurrently dealing with the climate crisis. Instead of being in debt, it should instead be stepping up in its leadership among vulnerable countries to demand the means of implementation that developed nations committed to provide.

Furthermore, the government should not be following the current global trend of most forms of climate finance sourced from the public or private spheres being in the form of loans. Without proper interventions, this could set the wrong precedent for future national strategies for securing means of implementation, whether at the global negotiations or bilateral agreements.

The slow progress seen from global climate negotiations should not be used as an excuse to pursue unjust modalities of climate finance. Considering the weakened position of the Philippines's position as a leading voice at the global climate policymaking arena in recent years, this development also gives more leverage to developed nations that already fail to live up to their commitments to stick to the status quo.

More importantly, this can also be viewed as an act of injustice to communities that are bearing the brunt of extreme climate change impacts. As a supporter of the proposal to create a financial mechanism for directly addressing loss and damage in the Glasgow climate talks, this is another irony that the Philippines cannot be known for.

It must be emphasized that any means of implementation for the Philippines, or any vulnerable nation, should be provided by developed countries or funding institutions through grants with no strings attached. Climate solutions must remain true to well-established principles under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, including upholding common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities.

Moreover, vulnerable countries like the Philippines must not shy away from anchoring their climate action strategies on these principles. Decades of negotiations, while having been frustratingly slow, have nonetheless built up the momentum to meaningfully deliver on workstreams that have been on deadlock for too long, including climate finance and loss and damage.

Highly-vulnerable developing countries should not be deprived of their right to pursue their own path to development. This does not mean that they should make choices because it is the most available to them. Instead, it should serve as an opportunity for nations like the Philippines to set an example for a peoples-centric and ecologically-sound road to climate-resilient development.


John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director of Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si' Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has been representing Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He has been a climate and environmental journalist since 2016.