Climate justice: Toward a sustainable future

Published April 24, 2021, 12:10 AM

by Manila Bulletin

After the historic Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force in November 2016 when 55 parties accounting for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gases (GHG) had ratified it, notable progress has been made.

According to the World Resources Institute, 189 countries have ratified or joined the Agreement, representing  81 percent of GHG.  This figure quickly shot up to 93 percent when President Joe Biden formally signified the United States’ participation when he assumed office.

Despite these written commitments, 2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded.   Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019.

According to a recent United Nations report: “Although greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop about six percent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary. Climate change is not on pause. Once the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, emissions are expected to return to higher levels.”

As the world marked Earth Day 2021, attention was focused on the top 10 GHG emitters, considering that the top three – China, the United States, and the European Union countries combined, contribute 41.5 percent of total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries – including the Philippines – for a measly 3.6 percent.  The other countries in the top ten are India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, and Iran and Canada.

The first round of preliminary GHG reduction commitments that were unveiled in 2015 would have cumulatively resulted in a global temperature that was at least 3 degrees Celsius hotter, a stark contrast to the avowed goal of the Paris Agreement signatories to cap global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

President Xi Jin Ping declared last year at the UN General Assembly that  China intends to achieve net zero emissions by 2060; Beijing has not officially announced is renewed national defined contribution (NDC).

All eyes are on the virtual World Climate Summit convened by President Biden where the new US commitment is expected to be known. Special ambassador on climate change John Kerry visited China recently to conduct negotiations on climate cooperation.

Climate justice is the core issue, considering that the burden of global warming is borne disproportionately by poorer countries that are more vulnerable to natural disasters.  UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres points out: “As is always the case, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit.”

Another key dimension is youth involvement.  Even schoolchildren are now participating in marches, strikes and protests – by hundreds of thousands – to call out the “intergenerational injustice of climate change.”

AmBisyon 2040, the Philippines’ long-term national development plan mirrors the country’s commitment to climate-related Sustainable Development Goals: Livable cities and disaster-resilient communities.

Climate justice is the key to assuring a sustainable environment for future generations.