Journalist calls for climate change as election issue

CHEERS TO freelance journalist Jhesset Enano for highlighting the lack of discussion of climate change in the current election campaign despite the magnitude and urgency of its impact on the Philippines. Her piece in the print newsweekly, OpinYon, reminded voters to consider the capacity of candidates to address this challenge.  Filipinos are among the most vulnerable in the world to extreme weather conditions such as prolonged droughts, violent storms, and rising sea levels. 

The periodical featured on its cover “Climate crisis as election issue,” as the main headline. It ran the article in the second inside page, paired neatly with a review of the delayed action in saving the environmental disaster that is Manila Bay. Enano set the stage for the argument by recalling the typhoons that darkened Christmases past, with some wreaking more devastation than others, such as Typhoon Odette last year. 

Backed by interviews with environmental lawyer Antonio La Viña, the article called for immediate national action as demanded by global efforts such as the Paris Agreement to which the Philippines is a signatory. 

La Viña pointed out that the country has yet to prepare its phase-out of coal as an energy source. Enano also cited Jon Bonifacio, the national coordinator of the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, who underscored the importance of action in the next six years, a crucial period that could make a difference in the way the country bears the brunt of climate change’s most adverse effects. Comelec’s statistics say that young people make up 56 percent of voters, hence the value of this call. 

Enano touched on the background of selected presidential candidates, their policy messages or actual experience, among them Senator Ping Lacson’s awareness of global actions, since he was assigned to manage the country’s post-Yolanda response; and the commitment by Senator Manny Pacquiao and Mayor Isko Moreno to providing disaster-resilient housing for the poor. 

She highlighted the more progressive climate change platforms of labor leader Ka Leody De Guzman and Vice President Leni Robredo. 

De Guzman identified climate justice among the pillars of his election platform, saying he would move to close coal plants if elected to the top post and emphasized that the root causes need to be addressed with systemic change. 

Vice President Leni Robredo,  through planned developments such as creating green jobs and investing in green transport and climate-smart agriculture, aims to turn the country into a “center of climate industry”. 

Continuously absent is Ferdinand Marcos Junior’s plans to mitigate the impact of climate change on the country he wants to rule.

Global warming  has not provoked more discussion in much of the media. Media’s own disinterest in climate change aggravates the problem. A complex subject that scientists could not agree on from the start, global warming issues have been politicized, delaying global agreement about addressing it. There are few reporters who will take the time to prepare for science-based interviews, and even those who understand how climate change has worsened disasters nevertheless continue to treat them as isolated news events.

Candidates respond to what they think will appeal to media and to voters. As the country has always been situated in the typhoon belt, disasters are seen as part of life, not as an effect of something that can be addressed strategically with policy decisions. 

It is time to set the news agenda so Filipinos can appreciate what can be done by government, protecting coastal areas or reorienting reclamation projects to environmental protection, among other policy directions. 

If candidates are not talking about climate change and the long and short terms goals they have to work on, journalists must bear a huge part of the blame.