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Weathering Storms: State Ventures into Climate Change Action

Our world today is not the same world our ancestors lived in a few decades ago. As human society develops—and it has undergone vast changes in this respect—so does the natural world around it. Development impacts on the ecology of Earth. This, in turn, causes effects that we must face. Climate change is one of these growing concerns.

In the 1960s and 70s, the world first became aware of an increase in world temperatures and the seemingly connected increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere. These were followed by an increase in devastating “natural” calamities—one of which is the very recent Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which ravaged parts of Central Philippines. Today, it is no longer doubted that CO2 concentrations, as well as those of other greenhouse gases (GHGs), are the major propelling forces behind climate change.

This is aggravated by the depletion of the ozone layer, a layer of gases in the atmosphere that absorbs the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The large amount of emissions from industries creates a “greenhouse effect,” which traps the Sun’s heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. This change in the Earth’s balance has resulted into many problems. This includes the shrinking of arctic sea ice and the consequent rise in sea level, significant changes in precipitation patterns globally, a generally hotter world, extreme weather (stronger storms due to warmer air), and abrupt changes in the seasons (e.g. spring comes earlier).1

The International Ventures
There are more problems that threaten the ecological stability of our world, as well as the capability of its people to survive. It is in response to these threats that world leaders came up with mechanisms like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol. But the adoption of such mechanisms is just half the battle; whether or not state-parties hold up their respective ends of the bargain makes all the difference.

Existing international efforts on combating climate change began with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with the assessment of the climate change situation. Though a scientific body, it does not conduct its own research. Rather, it reviews and assesses the most recent information produced worldwide on climate change.2 Due to the initial findings of the IPCC, consciousness of climate change inspired world leaders to eventually set up the UNFCCC. The parties to this treaty form the foremost body on international climate change efforts. This body paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol, the document which obligates state parties to countermand climate change, primarily through international emissions trading, clean development mechanism (CDM), and joint implementation (JI) of agreements.3

Currently, there are 196 parties and 165 signatories to the UNFCCC.4, available at http://unfccc.int/essential_background/convention/status_of_ratification/items/2631.php, (last accessed December 27, 2013).] Meanwhile, only 83 of the 192 parties to the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol signed and ratified its original text and amendments.5. available at http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/status_of_ratification/items/2613.php (last accessed December 27, 2013).] It must also be noted that not all these countries ratified it in its entirety. Some expressed reservations to protect their existing legislations, while others did not ratify the same so that it can be given effect domestically.

Clark Duncan’s article “Which Nations are Most Responsible for Climate Change?” provides insight on the status of countries’ contributions to climate change. It demonstrates that countries do not produce the same amount of emissions; some contribute to climate change more than others. China, United States of America and India have the highest percentage of current CO2 and GHGs emissions that affect climate change6 Their combined contribution comprise 50.4% and 36.3% of the total global CO2 and GHGs emissions.

Some large developed and developing countries have planned to address the climate change issue by reducing their carbon emissions. While there are other different GHGs that affect and are harmful to the environment, “by reducing emissions intensity alone, the impacts will be significant”7 in reducing the carbon footprint. Focusing on the top three contributors to climate change, it is important to ask if these countries have adopted and implemented domestic legislation to address the needs of the environment.

In terms of putting two and two together, David King, et al.’s The Response of China, India and Brazil to Climate Change: A Perspective for South Africa, The Guardian’s reports, and the 2014 Climate Change Report of the US Department of State contributed greatly to this work. These discuss the home-base steps, which leading climate change contributors employed to reach their set targets. Reports show that China, India and the United States have implementing legislations that mitigate the risk of climate change. Because emissions of carbon and GHGs cannot be totally eliminated due to possible negative effects to economies, the least nations can do is to control such emissions. To help achieve the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, “the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued cost-effective regulations aiming to reduce harmful air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry, while allowing continued, responsible growth in U.S. oil and natural gas production. These regulatory standards are projected to achieve a significant co-benefit of methane emission reductions, estimated at 32.6 Tg CO2e in 2015 and 39.9 Tg CO2e in 2020.”8

The Philippines’ Efforts
In the Philippines, efforts to combat climate change come from almost all sectors of society: national and local government, civil society, NGOs, and business or industries involved in advertising and public relations, agriculture, architecture and urban planning, broadcast, food, health and wellness, hotel and restaurant services, information and communication technology, manufacturing, mining, power and energy, property development, telecommunications, transport, travel and leisure, and utility.9.]

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) compiled and reported some of the country’s efforts to fight climate change in the publication Climate Change Adaptation: Best Practices in the Philippines. Among these is the Climate Change Act of 2009, which created the Climate Change Commission. The Commission is mandated to formulate the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change and the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP). The framework, meanwhile, is supported and appended to the country’s existing legal and policy mechanisms, such as the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, and the Philippine DRRM Act of 2010.

Significantly, the thrust of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) is to promote climate change-responsive policies and actions at the most basic level, such as building ecologically sustainable towns (“eco-towns”) that capitalize on rural development.10 In the NCCAP, the CCC identifies seven thematic priorities: food security, water sufficiency, environmental and ecological stability (which includes strict implementation of environmental laws), human security, climate friendly industries and services, sustainable energy, and knowledge and capacity development.11

One government agency seen to have a hand in implementing Philippine international obligations is the Department of Energy (DoE). Its thrust is to develop sustainable sources of energy.12 Aside from implementing the Malampaya Gas-to-Power Project that lessens Philippine dependence on imported sources of energy, the DoE is now also undertaking the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) or the “Green Energy Roadmap” of the Philippines.13 One of the concrete fruits of this program is the Cagayan de Oro City Solar Farm, which generates 1-megawatt or 14,000,000 kWh of energy.14

The DENR is also involved in climate change actions, largely in terms of enabling citizens to adapt to the effects of climate change. Notably, different bureaus and regional offices on shoreline, watershed, and forest preservation; indigenous peoples assistance; and food security through climate change adaptable crops.15

The DENR is also the agency tasked under the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 to set the emission standards for fuel use and develop the action plan. In Henares v Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the Supreme Court refused the issuance of a writ of mandamus compelling LTFRB and DOTC to require public utility vehicles to use compressed natural gasses.16 This is primarily because the law tasks the DENR (not the DOTC or the LTFRB) with the law’s enforcement.17 A limitation may thus be seen from this ruling, which to an extent constraints the attainment of the ultimate purpose of the law.

From these, the Philippines seems to be adapting further its risk-exposed communities to the many adverse effects of climate change. This owes greatly to the fact that the Philippines, as evidenced by recent natural disasters, is more prone to climate change’s devastating changes in ecology. Although the country’s disaster management-focused measures are necessary in our situation, the enhancement of efforts to mitigate—instead of merely adapting to—the grave effects of climate change should instead comprise a significant part of the Philippine Climate Change Action. The operation of laws such as the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 are essential to our efforts to successfully combat climate change’s looming threat.

Editor’s Note: The principal authors are sophomore students at the Ateneo Law School. This article is based on their term paper for Public International Law.

  1. “Feeling the Heat: Climate Science and the Basis of the Convention,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, available at http://unfccc.int/essential_background/the_science/items/6064.php, (last accessed January 5, 2014).
  2. “Organization,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change website, available at http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization.shtml#.UslY9LTwif8 (last accessed January 5, 2014).
  3. “Kyoto Protocol,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website, available at http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php (last accessed January 5, 2014).
  4. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Status of Ratification of the Convention” [Last modified 2013
  5. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Status of Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.” [Last modified 2013
  6. Clark, Duncan. “Which Nations are Most Responsible for Climate Change?.” The Guardian, , sec. Environment (April 21, 2011), available at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/21/countries-responsible-climate-change (last accessed January 4, 2014).
  7. King, David, Megan Cole, Sally Tyldesley & Ryan Hogarth, The Response of China, India and Brazil to Climate Change: A Perspective for South Africa. (University of Oxford Working Paper 2012), available at http://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/research/library/The Response of China India and Brazil to Climate Change_ A perspective for South Africa.pdf (last accessed January 4, 2014).
  8. U.S. Department of State, “2014 Climate Change Report”, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/214946.pdf, (last accessed January 5, 2014).
  9. Climate Change Adaptation Best Practices in the Philippines, ed. Dr. Corazon PB Claudio (Manila: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 2012), available at http://climatechange.denr.gov.ph/ (last accessed February 5, 2014) [hereinafter Climate Change Adaptation
  10. <emId., at 79
  11. Id., at 79, 80
  12. Id., 97
  13. Id.
  14. Cagayan Electric Power and Light Company, Inc., “Welcome to Cagayan Electric Power and Light Company, Inc.”, available at http://www.cepalco.com.ph/solar.php (last accessed February 5, 2014).
  15. Climate Change Adaptation, supra note 9, at 99-111
  16. Henares v Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and Department of Transportation and Communications, G.R. No. 158290, October 23, 2006.
  17. Id.

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