Change Not the Climate!

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

It was my first time to go out of the country, and not for fun and leisure, but something like a ‘trip for a cause’.

Last April 15-17, 2013, I attended a 3-day training on “Climate Change Advocacy” organized by ACT Alliance Secretariat and the Lutheran World Federation Nepal, held in Park Village, Kathmandu, Nepal.  Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance is a global alliance of churches and church-related organisations, in which the NCCP is a member, committed to working ecumenically in the areas of humanitarian response, development and advocacy.  This activity became a venue to understand different advocacy work happening in different contexts and build and strengthen networks from the Asian region.

The activity started with an objective setting by the facilitators, introduction and expectations sharing from 25 participants coming from different ACT Members in Asia.  One good thing I am glad about is that even though I am the youngest in age, they did not consider me as one in terms of advocacy work.

The first topic was an overview on Climate Change.  It is a topic one can relate to because we are experiencing its impact and we are racing against time to develop plans to adapt to its adverse effects.  Also discussed were the outcomes of the negotiations in the UNFCCC, the journey from Rio via Kyoto Protocol to 2015.  All these served as an introduction to climate change global policy, key actors and trends.  At the end of this session, one thing I am sure of, climate change is not simply an environmental issue but of socio-political and economic conflicts and interests of states.

A series of presentations and workshops on the ACT strategic plan for 2011-2014 and doing advocacy work such as knowing the ‘who, what and why’, the use of media, and tools such as lobbying and networking were given to equip participants more in doing their advocacy work.  Case studies from Cambodia, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Malawi made the discussions more interesting, knowing and understanding how each organization combat climate change. I also had a chance to report our case in the Philippines on the impacts of global warming caused by climate change, how our laws protect the environment and, ironically, also contribute to the worsening effects, and how we are dealing with it.

Additional topics discussed are the different approaches to equity in climate change, tackling ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, bunkers, and the big event transpiring on 2015.

As a result of the workshops, we created action plans for the region, one of which is an online platform where our discussions would continue.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to be part of the global advocacy on climate change, taking the standpoint of the world’s poor who are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change and the least able to adapt to its challenges.  This training empowered and inspired me to do something more than what I am doing now.

I saw how important it is for us to understand that the world is changing fast, thus, we should act faster.  Global warming is real!  Aside from the economic and political battle, we should go back to the grassroots to educate, equip and empower people who will ultimately face the harsh realities and impact of climate change.

In the global context, it is not that easy to win the fight.  But through these kinds of alliance, and other initiatives on climate justice, there’s hope springing in my heart – a hope that someday, people will see the most essential things beyond the blinding effects of greed and power.  That is, life in its fullness for ALL.

Climate Change, whether we like it or not, is an urgent agenda of all.  Whether countries are classified as developing or developed, local or international, ordinary citizen or government leader, we can do something to decelerate the changing climate.  Humans caused climate change, thus, humans have the power to reverse it if only they will have the political will.

If we think beyond ourselves we can truly start caring for our planet.  Let us be instruments of a paradigm shift in others.  Tree planting, segregating garbage and saving electricity and water are little ways but they are not enough.  We should cease our indifference and question laws, policies, national and international agreements whose implementation cause harm to our environment.  Because Mother Nature cannot speak, let us be its advocates!

We can achieve a lot when we work together!  We can bring our environment back closer to its original form, ‘where all that God had made, was very good’ while we still have time…

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The above reflection was written by Ylah Alba, a youth volunteer at the NCCP.  Below is the report she shared with fellow participants during the workshops.

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Climate Change: A Report from the Philippines

Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) By the Numbers

6 million affected people

1,067 reported death

834 missing

973,207 displaced people

216, 817 houses totally or partially

307 formal schools damaged.

Indeed, Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) left a tremendous tragedy in the lives of my fellow Filipinos in Southern Mindanao last December 4, 2012.

In 2011, two major typhoons hit Mindanao, an area historically seldom (only about once every 12 years) visited by tropical storms.  On December 2011, Typhoon Sendong (Washi), the 2011’s world’s deadliest storm, triggered flashfloods in Northern Mindanao leaving 1,403 persons dead, 1,089 missing and 70,000 displaced families.  Nearly a year hence came Typhoon Pablo whose wrath is far worse than Sendong.

Stronger typhoons, greater floods due to rising sea levels, more killer landslides, and drought await us for the next days.  Not to mention the indirect effects like scarcity of food supply, water supply, vulnerability to water-borne and other diseases, etc.

In 2009, the Philippines passed the Climate Change Act.  While it aims to address the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change, existing laws, policies, and development projects such as mining, land conversions — where agricultural lands are converted into industrial zones and residences; legal logging and privatization contradict it.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), weather researchers and reporters, calculated in 1999 that a 1-meter rise in 2025 will inundate more than 5,000 hectares and displace more than 2 million people, more than half of whom will be from Manila.

In the Philippines, we acknowledge that we cannot reverse the threatening effects of climate change, that’s why we as church people puts on the issue of building resilient communities and increasing the capacity of people to cope with it.  As one of the top five disaster prone countries and only contribute a total amount of 0.27% greenhouse gases, are suffering the most.

WHAT WE DO

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines, under the Program Unit on Faith, Witness and Service recognizes the issue of Climate Change as not only environmental but also a result of socio-political and economic injustices.  Climate change is integrated in the whole environmental justice issue.  We are part of a broader network called KALIKASAN, (literally, nature) and we work on climate justice issues.

Our development work focuses on three major parts. EDUCATION, ADVOCACY and SERVICE.

Climate Change is a popular word in the Philippines, but only a few appreciate and fully understand it.  Hence, we actively conduct trainings, seminars and workshops for the regional ecumenical councils, churches and other organizations, creating awareness on the issue.  Disaster Management and Disaster Risk Reduction are tackled, to build more resilience and increase the capacity of the people in responding to disasters.  We also form and distribute materials that people can refer to regarding climate change and environmental justice.

As a national secretariat, we oversee, facilitate and jointly evaluate of the programs of member-churches and their local church congregations; and, regional ecumenical councils that directly work with the communities.  We are glad to say that most of the Regional Council Formations are very capable in doing disaster risk reduction and management work themselves.

Second is advocacy.  Filipinos are naturally resilient in coping with natural calamities brought about by typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural hazards.  However, recently unusual and unexpected effects of such calamities compounded by extractive and exploitative mining, illegal and legal logging, land conversions, poverty and globalization make us tremble.  Thus, these are the same things we stand firm against and act in solidarity with other groups.  Sadly, there are government laws that permit environmental plunder and are used as legal instruments to open up the whole country to foreign mining firms to extract resources at people’s expense.  The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and Indigenous Peoples Rights Act are some of the examples.  Mining is a very pressing issue now because it doesn’t only destroy and extract our natural resources but also displaces indigenous peoples and, worse, death for those who fight for their ancestral lands and environmental activists.  These environmental plunder contribute to the worsening effects of climate change in the country and human rights violations.

We facilitate exposures and fact finding missions for others to learn the truths from the grassroots level.  National Philippine media is also being controlled by those powerful few, exposing only those that will benefit them.  Thus, we do research and publish materials and make use of the web and social media to disseminate the information regarding the vulnerability of the country.

We also issue statements regarding effects of climate change and related and surrounding issues therein.  We also do legislative lobbying with our leaders and puts political pressure together with our network and partners to push for a just and sustainable development, minding the rights of the common people especially the poor. Dialogues and campaigns help a lot in pressuring the government to listen to the cries of the masses.

Lastly, service.  We provide direct services to those affected by disasters.  It is important to ensure that the services and support really go to those who need it and not in the warehouses of the government.  Furthermore, it is our principle to reach out to those least served by the government and other NGOs in time of disasters.  This brings us to the farthest communities affected by disasters who are usually cut off by road cuts, destroyed bridges and landslides.

We, as a minor contributor in carbon emissions, will continue to do our part.  But we appeal strongly to the international community for climate justice.  Please don’t let us feel hopelessness in exhausting our efforts in trying to mitigate climate change.  Don’t let us sink fast in the next years.  Don’t let coffins and cadaver bags in disaster stricken areas run out again.  What is in power that thousands of people must die.  We appeal to all to stop treating as like subjects in a statistical chart.  Our lives are your lives too, for one life represents all.  Please value our lives.

“We should convince ourselves that we should do more than what we are doing now” (Rev. Rex R.B. Reyes, Jr., NCCP General Secretary).

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