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Implementation of Philippine climate laws still lacking, says UN special rapporteur

Ian Fry UN Special Rappoteur on climate change

Despite numerous policies in the Philippines relating to climate change, the government is still coming up short in implementing these laws, according to the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change.

In a press briefing at the end of his 10-day visit to the Philippines, UN special rapporteur Ian Fry called on the government to rapidly develop a strategic implementation plan for its climate change policies. He also recommended the development of climate actions that are sensitive to different sectors, including indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.

“The government does appear to have reasonable and good policies on climate change and disaster risk reduction, but there is clearly a gap in the implementation on the ground,” he said on Wednesday, citing reports he received from different communities during his mission.

In his interim report presented to the Philippine government, Fry also underscored the government’s pursuit of a development agenda that “contradicts the highly fragile nature of the country.”

Fry began his visit to the Philippines on Nov. 6, upon the invitation of the Philippine government. He met with different government officials, including the secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and officials from the Climate Change Commission (CCC).

He visited Baseco Compound in Manila to observe reclamation projects in Manila Bay; Tacloban City and several other cities in Leyte province to see the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, and Iloilo province to learn about the Jalaur Mega Dam project that has reportedly displaced indigenous communities.

He also met with several civil society organizations and representatives of different sectors during his mission.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts tasked to monitor and report on specific human rights, either from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Fry, an international environmental law and policy expert from Tuvalu, is the first special rapporteur on climate change. He was appointed in March 2022.

Revisions to climate change law

Fry said it is “without doubt” that the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

“This is creating enormous costs to the country and to communities through loss of lives, primarily through typhoons, storm surges and also droughts,” he said.

Among his recommendations to the Philippine government was the revision of the Climate Change Act, or Republic Act No. 9729, which was passed into law in 2009.

He also backed the adoption of the Climate Accountability bill, proposed by Rep. Edgar Chatto at last year's Conference of Parties (COP27) in Eygpt.

Also known as the CLIMA Bill, the measure seeks to hold big polluters accountable by penalizing them for their emissions.

While the CLIMA Bill hasn't been filed in either houses, and Rep. Chatto is so far the only author of the bill, other members of the House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change are mulling being co-authors. At the 10th anniversary commemoration of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, Rep. Anna Veloso-Tuazon said they are still reviewing the bill and are open to consultations with several stakeholders.

In revising the current climate change law, Fry said the government should strongly heed the report of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which called for actions against “carbon majors,” or coal, oil, gas and cement companies that are responsible for most of the global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The CHR report was a result of a national inquiry spurred by a petition filed by climate survivors and environmentalists. They petitioned the commission to establish how the human rights of Filipinos are affected by the increasing frequency and severity of disasters caused by climate change. 

Following a 4-year inquiry, the commission said that fossil fuel companies might be held legally and morally responsible for human rights violations in communities devastated by climate change.

“These companies are making enormous profits at the consequence of the impacts on communities within this country,” Fry said.

The special rapporteur said the new climate change law should include the creation of “extra-territorial powers” to hold accountable the fossil fuel companies that are outside the country.

Fry will present a comprehensive report of his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.

Reactions to Fry

The DENR has "no statement as of the moment," it said, preferring instead to wait until Fry presents the report of his findings. GMA News Online has also reached out to the CCC, but has yet to receive feedback as of writing.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Yeb Saño agreed that parts of the existing climate change law need to be revised and that elements in the CLIMA Bill must be considered.

"Incorporating the corporate accountability framework is really crucial, in line with making polluters pay and in the spirit of following through the recommendations of the CHR through the National Inquiry on Climate Change," he told GMA News Online.

For Aksyon Klima Pilipinas National Coordinator John Leo Algo, "what must not be lost in the CLIMA bill is setting stricter rules on holding fossil fuel corporations accountable for their actions that worsen climate change impacts and lead to human rights violations."

"Another key point is the establishment of a national loss and damage fund that will respond to the needs of victims of climate-related disasters, to be funded through several sources consistent with the 'polluters pay' principle," he added on email.

GMA News Online has reached out to Rep. Chatto but has not received feedback as of writing. 

— LA, GMA Integrated News