Greenpeace campaigns for climate justice in the Philippines

A decade ago, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has battered the province of Tacloban and most of Eastern Visayas in the Philippines. It devastated Tacloban which affected 16 million Filipinos, killing at least 6,300 people and costing approximately Php 89.5 billion (US$1.6 billion) in damages. Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the super typhoon, there is an ongoing movement for climate justice and to stop the use of fossil fuels by Carbon Majors. 

Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño told Maritime Fairtrade in an interview: “10 years is a short time for a full recovery after such a devastating typhoon such as Yolanda (Haiyan). 

“But (a decade) is a long time for people to endure the agony of picking up the pieces and going through the slow pace of rebuilding their lives. 10 years should also have been enough time to build back better, to foster a new better normal, but akin to many disasters, much of the opportunities that the crisis presented were missed.” 

Naderev “Yeb” Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

Now, public infrastructure was reconstructed and new roads were built, but a few houses remain in the danger zones. However, Saño said there were several missed important opportunities. This included good governance, economic and livelihood opportunities, shelter, health care, education, basic services, protective infrastructure, and social protection.

“Unfortunately, despite the ‘return to normal’, many impacted families are yet to have permanent housing with adequate services, politics still favor patronage, many children do not have access to education, good health care is only for those who have money, and communities remain highly vulnerable to climate impacts,” he added.

Given the experience of Typhoon Yolanda, Greenpeace Southeast Asia has made improvements to its protocols. Since 2013, the environmental organization has improved its response to climate emergencies, and added in the provision of emergency solar power and communications systems.

The calamity opened the eyes of the Greenpeace staff as they witnessed the tragedy. It also changed the way of telling the stories as they should be told — bringing attention to the forefront of the climate-impacted frontline communities.

“Tacloban emerged as a rallying point for us, with many of us having roots in Tacloban, and friends and loved ones perishing from the storm,” Saño shared.

Rainbow Warrior returns to the Philippines 

On November 8, ahead of the 10th anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, docked in Tacloban City to begin the 2023 Greenpeace Ship Tour in the Philippines.

The Rainbow Warrior is one of the most energy-efficient ships since 1978. It was built and equipped with the technology that reduces carbon emissions and uses wind power. It has exhaust gas treatment, a central filling, and a venting system to prevent spills, thus making it eco-friendly. The ship returned to the Philippines sailing in Manila, Tacloban, and Bohol. 

Hettie Geenen, captain of the Rainbow Warrior, said in a press statement: “My crew and I are pleased to be here in Manila, it was the stop here that convinced me to keep sailing for Greenpeace. It was the connection with the people: hearing all the stories, listening to all these people. 

“We stand in solidarity with the communities of Tacloban, Bohol, and now Manila — their stories will not be ignored. They are not responsible for the climate crisis, it is the polluters that caused this. We hope world leaders will listen come COP28, and make polluters pay for their role in worsening climate change.” 

Saño shared: “The Greenpeace Ship Tour will carry their stories of hope beyond the Philippines to foster international solidarity for climate justice. 

“Communities in the Philippines that are least responsible for climate change are on the frontlines of the crisis, losing their lives, homes, and livelihoods from floods, storm surges, landslides, destructive winds, and intense rains brought regularly by super typhoons. 

“Meanwhile, many coastal communities are also experiencing the threat of rising sea levels and ocean warming and acidification, also brought about by climate change.”

Hettie Geenen, captain of the Rainbow Warrior, in Manila. Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

Rainbow Warrior in Bohol. Photo credit: Geric Cruz/Greenpeace

People’s Museum of Climate Justice

As part of the effort to raise awareness of climate change, Greenpeace Philippines opened the People’s Museum of Climate Justice in Malate Catholic Church, Manila. The museum features art pieces and mementos from Filipino survivors from Eastern Visayas, Bohol, Metro Manila, and different parts of the Philippines. 

“It is really the people’s museum because it is created by the communities themselves for the people and we hope that by sharing these stories we are able to surface their personal narrative of climate change,” said Eunille Santos, Museum Project Lead, Greenpeace Philippines, 

Greenpeace also conducted several community workshops in Eastern Visayas, Bohol, Davao, and Metro Manila attended by different communities from Luzon. The staff discussed with the locals their experiences in creating their pieces for the museum.

“A museum is a bastion of memory, a collection of tangible and intangible artifacts that carry narratives and experiences of people, put forward to be immortalized. For us coming from communities at the receiving end of the impacts of the climate crisis, this is our physical concretization of strength — strength that defines our truth, (a) truth that refuses to be just sidelines of history,” Mark Simbajon, a Super Typhoon Yolanda survivor, said in a statement.

People’s Museum of Climate Justice. Photo credits: Alecs Ongcal / Greenpeace

Carbon Majors and the Climate Justice Movement

Last year, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) issued the National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC). Citizens and several non-government organizations filed in 2015 requesting CHR to investigate Carbon Majors for human rights violations resulting from the impacts of climate change. 

The Carbon Majors include 47 oil, gas, and cement companies whose activities have been the largest contributors to CO2 methane emissions since the Industrial Revolution.

“The findings of the Commission on Human Rights are a vindication for the millions of people whose fundamental rights are being impacted by the corporations behind the climate crisis. This report is historic and sets a solid legal basis for asserting that climate-destructive business activities by fossil fuel and cement companies contribute to human rights harms,” said Saño.

He added it is a huge win for the Philippines climate justice movement as corporate polluters can now be held accountable and those affected can pursue litigation cases. 

Virginia Beñosa-Llorin, co-project leader, Make Polluters Pay Project, Greenpeace Philippines. Photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

In an interview with Maritime Fairtrade, Virginia Benosa-Llorin, co-project leader and Climate Situationer of the Make Polluters Pay Project, Greenpeace Philippines, said: “We continue educating the people because the study of Pulse Asia that recently came out shows the understanding of people on climate change is still low. 

“We do not have that level of awareness that will compel us because we think climate change is a natural (phenomenon), or it is just the environment. They will say the government already has many issues, should climate change come to the forefront? But this is the very foundation.” 

According to the Journal One Earth 2023 report, the largest 21 companies analyzed would disburse US$5,444 billion over the period 2025 to 2050. Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Saudi Aramco were included in the list of major contributors to the impacts of climate change.

In March, Shell published the 2022 Sustainability Report, its 2022 Climate and Energy Transition Lobbying Report. Shell pledged to reduce carbon emissions from operations by 30 percent in 2022 compared with 2016 on a net basis, and to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050. Shell said they are more than halfway to their target of a 50 percent reduction by 2030. 

“This report shows what we have achieved so far in our work to be a sustainable business. We aim to do this work responsibly, with discipline, and at pace to make a positive difference,” said Wael Sawan, Shell’s chief executive officer, in a statement.

However, in addition to becoming net-zero, Saño believed Carbon Majors can do more.

“Greenpeace believes that fossil fuel companies must pay their climate debt: give money to climate-impacted communities to compensate for the losses and damages, both economic and non-economic, experienced by people. They must also stop fossil fuel expansion and phase out fossil fuels by committing to a just transition. 

“The group calls on the Philippine government to demand justice and reparations by making polluters pay for climate impacts.”

He explained that fossil fuel companies profit from coal, oil, and gas consumption, catapulting global warming to dangerous levels. 

Oil spills adversely impact aquatic life, particularly the habitats of various aquatic animals, which is fatal (oil at a concentration of 1-3 mg/l for more than four days). Oil slick contamination in the ocean affects the photosynthesis process of phytoplankton algae and other aquatic plants. Oil pollution is harmful to fisheries and aquaculture.

In July, BP invested US$10 million in WasteFuel, a California-based biofuels company, to use technologies to convert bio-based municipal and agricultural waste into lower carbon fuels.

“WasteFuel projects will look to help with the growing volumes of global waste, whilst advancing the development of lower carbon solutions for hard-to-abate sectors. Achieving decarbonization in shipping will require a step-change, and biofuels have a key role to play in helping the industry to decarbonize,” said Gareth Burns, vice president, BP Ventures, in a statement.

Climate talks at UN COP28

The United Arab Emirates is hosting the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference this week. Delegates coming from almost 200 countries are expected to participate in the climate change convention. Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the state oil company Adnoc, is presiding over the international negotiations as world leaders and C-suite executives tackle the global climate crisis.

“We should make the government responsible because it is a conversation happening at COP28. It is a talk between countries. Our government should really take a response as we continue engaging our lawmakers,” added Greenpeace’s Llorin.

As Greenpeace Philippines puts a spotlight on the Polluter Pays principle, it also urges fossil fuel companies to immediately halt drilling and pledge to a fossil fuel phase-out.

“The Polluter Pays principle is about more than ethics; it is a fundamental tool for achieving climate justice. We must demand that fossil fuel companies bear the true costs of their actions, especially when the burden is disproportionately shouldered by climate-vulnerable countries like the Philippines,” said Saño.

Recently, House Representatives Edgar Chatto, Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong, Fernando Cabredo, Anna Victoria Veloso-Tuazon, Christian Tell Yap, and Jose Manuel Alba filed the Climate Accountability (CLIMA) Act. The development was announced at the “Climate Change Reparations: A Climate Justice Imperative” roundtable held in November at the Bayleaf Hotel in Manila.

The CLIMA bill will hold corporate climate polluters responsible for harms caused by climate impacts affecting local communities. If the bill passes, it will provide the framework for limiting fossil fuel expansion and aligning their businesses with the Paris Agreement. It will also support the facilitation of payment of climate reparations to Filipinos who were affected by calamities via a loss and damage fund.

“Corporations have known the impact of their business on the environment for decades, yet they continue to engage in defensive tactics and greenwashing to deflect responsibility for the climate crisis,” said Chatto. 

“This is why this legal framework is urgent and necessary, to curb this industry’s unbridled burning of fossil fuels and prevent further harms to the communities our state is mandated to protect.”

Llorin said: “We need to speed up the just transition. We should stop using non-renewable resources. The problem is the response is the same and we’re not allocating enough resources for transition. 

“The important thing is to have a just transition because it will affect different sectors when we transfer. We as a country, our president should really make the highest stand for climate justice because of what is happening.”

She added that as the country is veering away from transitioning and with more delays, the more impact the Filipino communities are facing.

Top photo credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace. Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño at the Climate Reparations roundtable.

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