Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Environmentalists call for climate justice as COP 17 appears doomed to failure

December 6, 2011 

MANILA – Leleng Zarsuela, 73, shook with rage when she spoke of the urban poor Filipinos’ indignation at the injustices buried within the issue of climate change. “We, the urban poor, are always blamed for flooding,” she said as an example, “when the real group to blame comes from those few rich whose factories keep churning out wastes and whose vehicles belch dangerous emissions.” Through its massive greenhouse gas emissions, these factories and vehicles have been the biggest contributors to global warming which, in turn, results in extreme weather conditions or what is generally called as ‘climate change.’ Globally the advanced capitalist countries contributed the most.

The poor are in fact the hardest hit by this climate change, said Nanay Leleng as she called other protesters who marched Saturday to the US Embassy in Manila but were barred at Kalaw Ave. by the police. Nanay Leleng is also the national president of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay).

The super-typhoons, the ‘abnormal’ weather pattern such as extreme heat and the long rainy season, even the occurrences of tornado where it does not normally occur– all these bear an even bigger impact on the poor, Nanay Leleng said, because the poor has little to no recourse and they often live in the very path of danger. It is they who get soaked even when inside their houses; it is they who get dragged by water or wind, drowned, electrocuted, buried in landslides; they become more ill and also hungrier from exacerbated lack of livelihood due to disasters, lack of housing, lack of health care, among others.

We are all affected by climate change but the poor are the most vulnerable, said Dr. Beng Rivera-Reyes, secretary-general of Health Alliance for democracy (HEAD), during the stalled march-protest of environmentalists under the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment on World Climate Day in Manila.

Dr Rivera explained that while the rich can go to a hospital when they suffer heatstroke, for example, the poor either don’t even know what hit them or they just suffer without medical aid. The poor often live in the path of floodwaters, she added. During disasters, the poor have to crowd evacuation centers where health problems also abound due to congestion, lack of proper sanitation, proper nutrition and health services.

Environmentalists like Nanay Leleng and Dr. Rivera blamed rich capitalist countries for producing much of the causes of climate change. But reports said that at the ongoing 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) Climate Talks at Durban, South Africa, developed nations led by the United States continue to resist the scientists’ prescriptions for deep and binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Nanay Leleng and other leaders of progressive organizations who marched toward the US Embassy last Saturday, in a parallel protest action with other environmentalists of the rest of the world, called on the public to help put pressure on these rich nations’ leaders as they confer in Durban, South Africa.

Tackling injustice, ‘hypocrisy’ in the issue of climate change

If we want to truly avert the climate crisis, governments and corporations especially the world’s top emitters should have speedily agreed to deep and drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This has been the position of environmentalists especially from less developed nations who bear most of the brunt of the ecological disasters due to climate change.
But this early the ongoing COP 17 has been described as a “premeditated failure” in crafting an agreement to cut down pollutants. The US has already positioned itself with other top polluters as Japan, Canada and the European Union and they have been reportedly blocking the crafting of an agreement in Durban, said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan. The US delegates are also reportedly pushing for “cooptation of climate financing mechanisms,” using the Green climate Fund of corporations and international financing institutions.

Although fear for the future of the earth has captured public attention and has even been featured in many blockbuster Hollywood movies of late, ‘non-solutions’ claiming to address or at least not worsen the ecological crisis also continue to abound.

Advanced capitalist countries such as the United States mouth concerns for the environment, but, according to various green groups, they continue “to promote market-based mechanism.” These governments of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters and of corporations that “plunder and breakdown the world’s ecosystems” are reportedly pushing for a bigger role for corporations and international financing institutions in the Green Climate Fund. This is a proposed global funding that aims to support developing countries in mitigating climate change and adapting to its impact.

But environmentalists and progressive organizations are naturally distrustful of the idea that giving corporations and international financing institutions freer rein could help mitigate climate change. It is they who contribute to it in the first place.

On World Climate Day last Saturday, Filipino activists led by the International League of Peoples Struggle- Philippines joined the global day of action in Durban, South Africa, aside from holding a rally in Metro Manila. Their banner cry was for “climate justice.”

“The 99-percent of the Philippines has had enough of the dirty technologies and extractive industries of the world’s 1-percent,” said Leon Dulce of Kalikasan.

Ordinary Filipinos are still paying for the P15-billion ($348 million) damages caused by the recent typhoon Pedring, whose steep damage to life and property were blamed on heavy siltation and simultaneous dam water releases, which were, in turn, blamed on denuded forests as a result of massive commercial logging and mining. Estimates place at an alarming seven percent the Philippines’ remaining forest cover, due to corporate logging and large-scale mining operations.

Like leaders of the US government, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III “spout beatitudes of climate resiliency in the Philippines,” said Kalikasan. The group added that the Aquino government has not matched its climate rhetoric with action. On the contrary, the Aquino government appears hellbent on “continuing the ecological destruction through the Mining Act of 1995 and the Forestry Code of 1975, among other anti-environmental policies,” said Dulce.

Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan has also been reported as protecting the operations of large foreign mining companies, at the cost not only of damaging the environment but also of trampling on the human rights of peasants and indigenous peoples in the affected area.

“If the urban poor suffer from heat and thirst, so do the rural poor,” said Kakay Tolentino of the Katribu Partylist. Indigenous peoples are striving to defend their remaining ancestral domain from incursions of mining companies, but, as a result, they are being harassed by the military, said Tolentino. Even rice bought by indigenous peoples are being subjected to rigorous checks by the military, Tolentino said. She explained that the military is limiting their rice purchase because they are being suspected of buying rice for the New Peoples Army.

The ILPS, through the office of its chairperson, said in a statement, “those who pay lip service to environmental concerns deliberately refuse to come up with a binding international agreement on climate change, the monopoly capitalists wantonly continue its control, exploitation and consumption of world resources at the expense of the impoverished people and ravaged environments of the world.”

The Filipino environmentalists urged the public to fight and resist the policies and projects of the Aquino government such as in mining and coal power which, they said, further add to the vulnerabilities of the Filipino people.

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