The climate crisis, the degradation of our environment, and the plight of vulnerable communities should become front and center issues as we head towards the national elections in May 2022.
Just over a week ago, we in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released “A call for unity and action amid a climate emergency and planetary crisis,” a new Pastoral Statement on Ecology. In it, we decry the continued use of financial resources to sustain highly polluting energy from coal, fossil gas, and extractive industries like mining and logging which exacerbate climate vulnerabilities of communities exposed to them; we called for building the unity and capacity of institutions and communities within the Church to engage environmental issues and advance ambitious action for our planet; and we affirmed our commitment to push forward the protection of the rights of nature and of all its defenders.
This decision is empowered, for one, by victories so far secured since we dived more deeply into heeding the wisdom of our beloved Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. For example, in the two years since the church and CSO-led campaign Withdraw from Coal was initiated, at least 3 banks came out with announcements on policies or plans they intend to pursue to limit or phase down their financial investments in coal. At the same time, the Pastoral Statement comes as a response to very urgent ecological struggles, such as the threats faced by the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a crucial biodiversity hotspot at the heart of the Coral Triangle, as it confronts massive expansion plans for fossil gas.
Beyond serving as continuation of our efforts as described by the Pastoral Letter of 2019, the release of the new Pastoral Statement is timed precisely because we Filipinos are set to elect new leaders in government who will bear much responsibility. To quote the Pastoral Statement directly, we understand that:
“…proposed measures and policies for addressing the impacts of this crisis should always place social and ecological justice at the forefront. As one of the most vulnerable nations in this era of global emergency, the Philippines has the moral imperative of pursuing the most sustainable development pathway possible for the sake of current and future generations, ensuring that the voices of everyone are accounted for. The task of ensuring this becomes all the more apparent in the context of an upcoming national election that will shape governance in our country during this critical decade for climate and ecological action.”
Brothers and sisters, we can no longer pretend that we still have plenty of time to dilly-dally in changing our polluting ways of life, or to hide behind excuses of economic development to justify environmental destruction and sacrifice the well-being of communities and ecosystems across the country and the world. As global climate scientists warn, the window we have to keep global temperature rise no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century is rapidly closing. Meanwhile, much work is left to be done: in the Philippines, we need to end our dependence on coal way before this decade ends and halt massive expansion of fossil gas; rapidly scale up renewables, ideally by at least 50% in the national mix by 2030, and put in place a just transition framework in the energy and other climate destructive sectors; do away with exploitative activities; and build our communities’ climate resilience, to name a few. We are faced with the great responsibility of electing public servants who would lead us in either succeeding or failing these tasks.
Our experience here in Negros illustrates just what kind of possibilities can happen through working together. We are known as the Renewable Energy Capital of the country, with up to 97% of the energy we produce in the island coming from RE. Curiously, majority of the electricity our electric cooperatives contract comes, however, from coal plants outside the island. With the collaboration of CSOs, academe, the Church, youth, consumers, and people’s organizations, we were able to engage and assist our local government units in steering our beloved Negros towards a path to sustainable power. Last January 28, Negros Oriental came out with a first of its kind RE Ordinance that rejects all fossil fuels and strives for the province’s alignment to the 1.5°C Paris goal. Today, Negros Occidental is also creating its own roadmap for 100% RE. Meanwhile, many other efforts are being pursued to secure a renewable energy-powered future, such as engagements with the province’s biggest electric cooperative, CENECO, for it to prioritize renewables in contracting power requirements.
As such, we are compelled to take action and ensure that anyone aspiring to have a seat in public office knows full well that Filipinos from all walks of life want leadership that is people-centered and responds to the Cry of the Earth. We also ought to understand that this will be a long and arduous journey – one that will not, in fact, end on May 9, but will continue as our unity in these demands remain critical in sustaining action for our environment and people.