The Urgency of Now
- Dr. Neric Acosta

Some of us in a
little-known network called pagbab...@pilipinas, working in relative
obscurity over the last few months, came out of the woodwork this week and let
out a message with a bang: the country, for all its problems, cannot escape
the realities of climate change and must act to chart a solutions-driven,
private-sector/citizen-led roadmap well into the future. Those of us who
are convening experts’ and business summits by April this year – former DENR
secretary Bebet Gozun, Fr. Jett Villarin of the Ateneo and Manila Observatory,
Lory Tan of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and myself – call it ‘The
Philippine Climate Imperative.’  
Imperative it is.  We must take action and understand ‘the
urgency of now,’ as Martin Luther King, Jr once said.  The logo design speaks 
succinctly for itself:
a Philippine map inverted and superimposed on a green field of an exclamation
point.  Inverted because this is a time
to rethink and turn things on their head, when trite exhortations to ‘save the
earth’ won’t do anymore and when the ‘business as usual’ approaches in policy,
governance and the economy won’t get us anywhere. Below the exclamation point
is emblazoned the call: ‘don’t wait.’    
This project seeks to dovetail or
jumpstart efforts at the local and national government to effectively combat
the effects of climate change in the country.  The Philippines is ranked fourth 
in the 2008 Global Climate Risk Index,
and is called a ‘climate hotspot.’  As an
archipelago the country is considered to be ‘highly vulnerable but with low
adaptive capacity.’   
For many communities climate change – or
environmental concerns in general – are seen as abstractions, or at best, not
as pressing as the basics of jobs, food, health and prices of primary 
commodities.  If this issue is framed in the discourse of
pollution-control and such ‘Earth Day’ requisites or slogans, then, yes,
something like this would be a hard-sell to a vast majority.  
That is why the challenge for those of us
in the forefront of such advocacies is to frame climate change in clear,
unmistakably ‘survival’ terms.  Over half
of our people still directly depend on agriculture for their livelihood.  But 
if there is no water, there will be no
rice, and no food security.  Many of the
aquifers in Cebu, Misamis Occidental, Ilocos and several other provinces are
beginning to show signs of saltwater intrusion, a result of forest-cover loss,
growing populations, depleted watersheds or slight increases in sea levels, as
collated data from the WWF and Greenpeace would show.  
If global warming which causes changes in
climate patters continues, rainfall will rise in other regions, causing
flooding as we see in places like northern Mindanao this week, or drought will
persist in other areas – either way affecting agriculture and food production.
The same could be said of our coastal resources and fisheries, on which 30
million Filipinos depend for their protein.  If coral bleaching continues 
because of warming oceans then these ‘food
factories of the seas’ will die out.  
The environment
is the only social security system of the vast numbers of the poor, but at the
rate we are destroying our ecosystems, the poor stand to lose so much more – in
livelihood, jobs, food security and health.  So if climate change and 
environmental protection begins to be seen, as
it should, in these terms, then the Imperative hits closer to (every) home. 
On the part of
business an industry, environmental challenges have to be seen and framed in
terms of economic viability and overall sustainability.  What good would it do 
businesses if labor
productivity declines because people are chronically ill from worsening air
pollution or contaminated water?  The
World Bank estimates that medical costs tied to respiratory ailments in four
metropolitan areas – Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao and Baguio – amount to 430
million US dollars a year. How can businesses thrive over time if natural
capital is extracted or destroyed as ‘externalities’?  If there is a low or 
zero cost to despoiling such
a resource base of ‘public goods’ – water, air, land, forests, biodiversity –
then overexploitation happens.  We just
have to look at Pasig River and Manila Bay, or to the denuded mountains of the
Cordilleras or Sierra Madre, to stress the point. 
The private
sector has to be fully on board and keyed into this Imperative.  Policy and 
institutions have failed to
effectively regulate polluters and apply the ‘polluters-pay’ principle.  But if 
there have to be inroads on this
front, businesses must ‘green’ their processes and supply chains and deploy the
resources to shift to clean technologies and move toward what the United
Nations or the new Obama administration in the US would herald as the ‘green
We cannot, should not wait.
Neric Acosta was Congressman of
Bukidnon from 1998-2007 and is convenor of the recently-launched Philippine
Climate Imperative and professor of the Asian Institute of Management.

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