More ‘change’ needed for environment, Green Thumb Coalition says

Green Thumb Coalition— widest network of environmental and climate justice groups assessed President Rodrigo Duterte’s First Six Months!

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have made unprecedented advances in environmental protection but there is still a long way to go, a coalition of environmentalists said.

In a press conference Thursday morning, the Green Thumb Coalition — a group that met with Duterte during the campaign season to discuss his positions on climate justice, human rights, food security, land use, mining, waste management, agriculture, energy, and people-centered sustainable development — laid out their thoughts on what has been done so far.

According to the coalition, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources’ stricter implementation of environmental safety guidelines, which included suspending mining companies in violation of environmental safeguards, was an “unprecedented deviation from the DENR’s inefficiency and lack of political will in the previous administrations.”

It said, however, that resistance from large mining companies and their sympathizers in government to the stricter implementation of environmental laws has meant that the gains expected from the comprehensive national audit have not been maximized.

“Thus, for many other mining companies violating the environment and people’s rights, business remains as usual,” the group said.

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While the president has indicated he will sign the Paris Agreement to lower carbon emissions and address climate change, the coalition said his attendance at the inauguration of two coal-fired power plants in Mindanao is inconsistent with the commitment to lower emissions.

“With 69 approved coal plants on the horizon and 41 more in the pipeline, the share of coal has eaten up renewable energy in the country’s energy mix,” Green Thumb Coalition said.

It said that the cost of renewable energy has been going down and the technology for it has seen “drastic development” while the cost of maintaining coal-based technology has been rising, making it potentially easier for the Philippines to follow “the global trend of decarbonization.”

It said that with the seeming continued reliance on coal and fossil fuels, “the Duterte administration has failed to distinguish itself from the coal addiction espoused by its predecessors.”

It said that while the decision to sign the Paris Agreement is a welcome one, “the energy and development path which heavily relies on the continued use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, and intensifies our carbon emissions lie contrary to the commitment to honor such an obligation.”

The group agreed with Duterte’s stand that industrialized countries have “historical responsibilities” for the climate crisis, but said that this must not be used to justify following in the footsteps of those countries. It said the Philippines should instead press these industrialized countries for compensation for the climate vulnerability that developing nations now face.

“Such compensation must come in the form of financial and technological aid in rehabilitation, adaptation and the transition away from fossil-fuel energy sources, which lie at the heart of the climate crisis,” it said.

The group also said that while the Philippine Development Plan offers favorable policies on environmental protection, it still follows a business-centered paradigm of development.

“Such a paradigm continues to marginalize the concerns and needs of Filipino citizens in favor of profit,” it said, adding that the existing “neoliberal” framework of development does not consider people the main focus of national development. Broadly, neoliberalism is a policy model that gives most of the control of economic factors to markets and the private sector.

“GTC urges the public to continue to exercise vigilance and criticism in the policies which pertain to our rights, our environment and our future,” it said.
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