PDI Editorial: Growing warmer

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:30:00 01/15/2009

Some may still quibble with the assertion, as formulated the other day by a former environment secretary, that the marked rise in temperature in the last decade is “caused entirely by human actions.” But unless you are Sarah Palin, there should be no argument that global warming is a fact and human beings are responsible for much or most of it.

The inconvenient truth is the world is rushing toward an ecologically unstable — and therefore economically uncertain — future.

Elisea Gozun, formerly secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, drew a bleak scenario at the launch on Tuesday of “The Philippine Imperative.” There is trouble for Metro Manila. “PAGASA [Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration] estimates that a one-meter rise in Manila Bay will lead to 5,000 hectares being inundated and two million people will actually be displaced,” she said.

There is even more trouble ahead for other parts of the country. “The distribution of rainfall is changing and we will have more intense and longer droughts and intense typhoons.” Drought will likely be severe in Western Mindanao while Central Luzon will suffer the opposite. “Take note, you have Central Luzon, they’re our food source and they’ll have increased rainfall.”

Of course, some of this necessary scenario-building is extrapolation, based on such data points as the spike in the average rise in sea levels from 1.8 mm per year in the three decades since 1961 to 3.1 mm per year in the 10 years between 1993 and 2003. But many of the scenarios are based, not on future projections, but on actual, alarming experience. Speaking at the same forum, for instance, Lory Tan of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature said that the aquifer supplying the Misamis provinces has already been found to be contaminated with saline water.

That is what happens when sea levels rise; saline water seeps into freshwater sources. And sea levels are rising — and weather patterns are changing — in large part because human society is choking the atmosphere with enormous amounts of carbon emissions.

It is thus a source of encouragement that businessmen like Federico Lopez of First Gen Corp. recognize that power companies are a part of the problem and should form part of the solution. “As the major power generating company in the energy sector that accounts for over 50 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, we’re committed to reducing the carbon intensity of our electricity generation and developing more sustainable solutions for the country,” Lopez said at the forum.

But it is not only industry or institutions that are responsible; taken together, individuals (driving cars, using air-conditioners, etc.) leave a huge carbon footprint. That is why the “Imperative” should be supported by everyone with a stake in the future.

Let us be clear: “The Philippine Imperative” is only a short-term, consensus-building campaign. How short-term? Six months short, marked by several milestones including a “People’s Summit” in April and culminating in a “Business Summit.” Said lead convener Neric Acosta, formerly a congressman from Bukidnon province: “This is so peculiar in the sense that this is the first time that … a private sector-led initiative [is] actually coming up with a national solution to the problem of environmental degradation.”

The idea is to put our heads together. The roadmap will come at the end of the consultations.

It is true that, if leading companies that are part of the “Imperative” like First Gen and Pilipinas Shell and SM do their part, the country’s carbon footprint would shrink over time. But the need is for Philippine carbon emissions to shrink significantly, and fast. For that to happen, ordinary citizens and consumers must make the initiative their own, too. How, to give only one possible example, can a carpool lane in the country’s major cities be expected to work, if motorists and commuters don’t “buy” the “Imperative”?

That brings us to the government, both national and local. The “Imperative” might just succeed and create a workable roadmap because the private sector is leading the way, but the destination, wherever it is, cannot be reached without the government’s help. Laws to sanction bad behavior, rules to enable compliance with certain initiatives, incentives to reward reductions in emissions — there’s a whole slew of interventions the government can do to help fight global warming.

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