Caring about climate change

Yesterday, Oct. 9, 2015, Senator Loren Legarda convened in the Senate the Philippine Summit of Conscience for the Climate. It was a wonderful and inspiring occasion. I was honored to be the first speaker of the summit, tasked with answering the question: Why do I care about climate change?

I care about climate change, because I am, with my wife Titay, a father to three sons. I hope to have grandchildren too one day. It is imperative for me that I leave my children and grandchildren with a planet as good or even better than what we now have.

I echo the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’: “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others... Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

I care about climate change because I am a Filipino.

Climate change became personal to me when Haiyan/Yolanda hit our country; my late father was from Leyte, one branch of my extended family was nearly wiped out because of the storm surge with only two or three surviving out of 10. Likewise, I am from Cagayan de Oro where many relatives and friends died in 2011, killed by the floods caused by Typhoon Washi/Sendong.During both events, I was in a Conference of the Parties of the climate change convention in Warsaw, Poland and in Durban, South Africa. Imagine how I felt during those times—forcing myself to focus on the work at hand for the Philippine delegation, distracted, immensely disturbed, both saddened and angered with what was happening back home.

It is clear to me that the Philippines must also do its share to mitigate climate change. While adaptation should rightfully be our priority, we cannot be in high moral ground and call on other countries to mitigate if we ourselves continue to grow our emissions in an unrestrained manner. I have also always believed that mitigation actions are no regrets actions: they are good for our country, our economy, our people, and our future,

In this regard, I was pleasantly, in fact happily surprised, with the Intentional Nationally Determined Contribution submitted by our government for the Paris negotiations at the end of the year. While details still have to be sorted out, any analysis of the INDC will tell you that it is ambitious and game-changing. As my president in Ateneo de Manila and the number one scientist on climate change in the Philippines, Fr. Jett Villarin SJ, observed when I discussed the INDC with him: “The only way this can be achieved is we changed fundamentally our economy, especially our energy and natural resources sectors.” That’s actually what the whole world needs to do and that is what Paris must deliver. I am proud that our country has committed to do that.

I care about climate change because I am a Mindanawon, born and raised in that great island. Currently, I spend two days a week there to teach constitutional law and environmental law in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro. I work on peace and lumad (indigenous peoples) issues. Mindanao is ground zero for climate change in the Philippines—it’s not just strong typhoons like Bopha/Pablo that destroys communities and devastates trees, crops and coasts, but its also drought that affects our energy, water security, and agriculture.

Climate change will exacerbate social conflict in Mindanao. Already, the island has been riven with war and killings in Moro and lumad areas. Politics is the main reason but second to it is environmental injustice. Climate change will worsen that.

I care about climate change because I am a human rights and environmental lawyer. I am from the “martial law baby” generation. I was inspired by the great human rights lawyers of this country, three of whom served in this Senate—Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Pepe Diokno, and of course Joker Arroyo whom we are saying goodbye to  these days. As a human rights lawyer, I chose to offer my services to indigenous peoples. It was my involvement with them that led me to environment law.

I will never forget where I come from. I care about climate change because I care about people and planet, together, always together. This is why in the Philippines and in the global forums, I have always advocated the inclusion of human rights in any response to climate change.

I care about climate change because I am a global citizen. As an academic and as an international lawyer, I have done many long and short-term stints abroad as an overseas Filipino worker and expatriate. I have lived in Europe and the United States for significant periods, one year in Europe, a total of 11 years in the United States. I have travelled to nearly 100 countries, more than half of the world, for work and pleasure.

As a global citizen, I have seen how climate is changing our world. As a global citizen, I have seen how the poor are the ones most affected by climate change. It is the poorest countries that suffer first and most for a problem they did not create and contribute little to. And in all countries, it is the poorest sectors, communities and families that bear the costs of climate change even as their environmental footprint is the least.

I care about climate change because I care about justice, and especially justice for the poor and excluded. Climate justice must be part of the Paris agreement, and not just among and between countries, but among and between peoples.

As a global citizen, I am connected to social media and other technologies with thousands of people from all regions of the world. I have negotiated on climate change for 20 years and collaborate with hundreds all over the world to find ways forward. It is clear to me that solutions can be found, that with political will and courage, with leadership, the challenges of climate change can be overcome. We can adapt to what we are already sure to face, we can mitigate what we need to avoid the worst.

I believe in global solidarity. If we, citizens of this world, go to Paris in December with courage in our hearts and imagination in our minds, we will overcome the climate challenge.

Finally, I care about climate change because I believe in a Creator that gave us this world to care for. Like Pope Francis, I believe that the earth, indeed the whole universe, speaks of God’s love and his boundless affection for us, with “soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God”.

I care about climate change because I hear the call to be stewards of this earth and each other. Indeed, we must listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

I hear this call to a mission and I say yes. This is why I care about climate change.

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