The Greatest of Burdens: The Philippines & COP21

The Greatest of Burdens: The Philippines & COP21

From Issue Sustainuary 2016: Planning For A Sustainable Future

On December 12, 2015, the Philippines was one of 195 nations to ratify COP21, a set of legally-binding environmental benchmarks designed to curb the effects of global warming.

Such an unprecedented climate change agreement required the cooperation of the international community as a whole, including nations at all stages of economic development. The Paris Agreement requires financial cooperation from developed and developing countries. Developed nations must send $100 billion in funds annually to developing nations in order to support their sustainable ventures. The Philippines has firmly established its support of the agreement: “We are all aware of how the discourse on development and inequality, within and among nations, is intertwined with climate change,” said President Benigno S. Aquino III during the conference. “Invariably, those who have the least bear most of the burden.”

For an island nation such as the Philippines, keeping global temperatures within a certain threshold is especially important. Rising sea levels, as well as the higher incidence and intensity of catastrophic weather, could leave residents homeless and prove devastating to the nation’s livelihood. Tropical typhoons and cyclones in the Pacific have increased in intensity by 10% since 1970, giving rise to massive natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed thousands and left millions homeless. And even with only moderate climate change in the future, climate change scientists estimate that typhoons will be 14% more devastating, effectively adding a sixth category of storms to classification systems. Encroaching seas and irregular weather have stymied the nation’s economic growth, and the Philippines have many mouths to feed, especially with one of the densest populations in the world.

However, the Philippines’ view on curbing climate change is hard to reconcile with their actions in energy consumption. Last November, the government unveiled controversial plans to build 23 more coal stations across the country in order to fulfill energy needs. Coal, while relatively cheap, emits more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel, and continued use could undermine any attempts to limit rises in temperature. The underlying problem is that many developing nations, undergoing large-scale economic growth and population booms, need relatively cheap ways of industrializing.

In order to guarantee economic growth, the Philippines needs to prioritize the development of alternative solutions — ones that can power the current needs of the people and sustain long-term goals against global warming. But with the provisions of the Paris Climate agreement–especially the funding from more affluent countries–there exists a greater chance for sustainable growth than ever before.