By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
PHILIPPINE CLIMATE and good governance advocates urged the Marcos government to use the landmark United Nations (UN) ruling asking the world’s top court to clarify states’ obligations regarding climate change in demanding more action from top polluters.
On March 29, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution led by the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu seeking an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the obligations of states to combat climate change.
The resolution asks the ICJ to outline the “legal consequences” for states which “have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment” in consideration of climate change’s impacts on small island states and peoples.
“This is really a historic move by the UN and a very important one for climate-impacted countries like ours,” Lea Guerrero, country director of Greenpeace Philippines, said in a phone interview.
“We believe that the Philippine government can substantially contribute to the proceedings,” she said.
It might take about 18 months for an ICJ opinion to be issued, which will include inputs from different countries, Ms. Guerrero said, citing Vanuatu’s estimate.
She urged the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to use the decision in calling for more climate commitments from rich countries.
“This move should also be cited by the Philippine government as a basis to continue calling on rich countries to meet their targets in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms. Guerrero said.
The decision, she said, should also prompt the government to craft a coherent climate policy that would take into consideration the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) report indicting more than 40 companies for driving the climate crisis and causing harm to Filipinos.
The National Government has yet to formally acknowledge the CHR report.
“Through this landmark resolution, countries and corporations with high carbon emissions and those funding or supporting environmentally destructive projects in climate-vulnerable developing countries will be held accountable,” Jerwin Baure, public information officer of Manila-based AGHAM, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“Countries like the Philippines have been suffering from worsening climate-related disasters, and this resolution could serve as a basis in demanding reparations.”
Joshua Villalobos, a 17-year-old climate activist from the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental, is among those who rejoice over the landmark ruling, which he said is “long overdue.”
“For the longest time, we have seen the inaction of polluter countries and vulnerable countries like the Philippines and our people have been at the receiving end of destructive and deadly climate impacts,” he said via Messenger chat.
The UN’s adoption of the Vanuatu-led resolution came on the same day that the European Court of Human Rights opened cases against France and Switzerland over alleged failures to protect the environment.
Gerry C. Arances, executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, said the expected opinion from ICJ will be a “powerful weapon” for the Philippines and other vulnerable countries in demanding more climate actions from big countries.
“[It will compel them] to act in the best interests of peoples and protect them from worsening climate impact,” he said via Messenger chat.
Mr. Arances said the UN resolution should be taken as a “challenge” by the Philippine government to align all its development and economic plans to the “most ambitious” climate targets, advance a long overdue transition plan, and amplify the call for a global energy transition and the phaseout of fossil fuels.
Philip Arnold “Randy” P. Tuaño, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said the UN decision should prompt the Marcos government to thoroughly document the impact of climate change on Philippine communities.
It should also compile reports showing climate change’s impact on the education and health sectors as well as economic activities including food production.
“The top polluters are…becoming more aware of these adverse impact and compensation was one of the key discussions in the previous Conference of Parties on the environment,” Mr. Tuaño noted. “There is some talk in European countries of increasing tariffs on goods and services that have a high carbon content but we hope that the European Union helps developing countries adjust to this situation before this is undertaken.”
Last year, Greenpeace said as much as 80% of Manila could be submerged by 2030, potentially impacting 87% of its economic output.
Antonio Gabriel “Tony” M. La Viña, a lawyer and environmental expert, said that although an advisory opinion is non-binding, it has a legal and moral weight. “It will send a strong signal to carbon-emitting countries and companies,” he said via Messenger chat.
Mr. Marcos, who vowed to work towards a shift to green energy, has yet to declare a climate emergency, which would authorize the government to mobilize funds to step up climate mitigation efforts.
The House of Representative made a declaration in 2019, but Greenpeace said last year that a “follow-through” from the National Government has yet to be seen.
The US has yet to declare a climate emergency, nor has China. They accounted for 41.89% and 34.75% of world GDP in nominal and purchasing power parity terms, respectively, in 2021.
Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of infrastructure think tank InfraWatch, said that although the ruling would target big countries, it should not “preclude the Philippines from undertaking voluntary commitments to contribute to the global climate mission.”
Mr. Ridon, meanwhile, said expediting the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is one of the “most realistic” commitments the Philippines can make, as the prices of EVs continue to drop.
“The current pricing of EVs is starting to compete with the pricing of mass market internal combustion engine vehicles,” he said.
Mr. Marcos earlier said there’s a need to “look properly at what the real timetable is for the introduction of electric vehicles” since the country does not have enough renewable energy capacity yet to complement green transport.
Sonny S. Melencio, chairman of Partido Lakas ng Masa, which has been actively campaigning for climate justice, said the Marcos government should follow the lead of Vanuatu and urge the ICJ and local courts “to pursue charges and cases against the polluters, and to develop a people-centered, socially equitable and inclusive just transition program for the Philippines.”
Mr. Melencio said the ruling would push people’s movements to continue “mobilizing the people and putting pressure on governments to stop building coal and fossil fuel projects and pursuing other destructive projects.”