The global climate crisis
The Ahr-floodings in Germany in 2021 were a wake-up call for many people in Germany to accept that the effects of climate change are already here and not a problem of a distant future. Meanwhile, people in the most affected countries experience similar disasters, and even worse ones, on an almost daily basis.
As a result of climate change, disasters grow in frequency and intensity. Anika Schroeder, who coordinates the subject area of climate justice and poverty reduction at Misereor points out that people living in poverty are the ones most affected by those crises while the lack of a real support system (e.g. insurance, bank accounts, disaster relief) pushes even more people into poverty. The later we act, the more radical we have to be when fighting climate change. Based on the current status quo, the objective of the Paris agreement of holding global warming to 1,5 degrees will spectacularly fail. Worse, more and more governments decide to turn back on their commitments to the agreement. By the end of September, the UK and Sweden reversed their commitments, slashing their respective climate budgets and admitting to increasing carbon dioxide emissions.
Schroeder stresses, that the next three years are decisive for what will happen after we exceed the 1,5-degree threshold. “Will we be able to prevent the temperature rise from becoming irreversible? Only if we act decisively right now,” she says. Even though it is a common responsibility of all people, there are differentiated responsibilities and capabilities.
The unequal divide of causes and consequences
Former colonial empires not only (historically) cause the most pollution, but also profit from it. The richest 10% of the people cause more than 50% of carbon emissions worldwide while the poorest people 50% cause only 8%.
Schroeder states: “By fighting for climate justice, in the end we will lose destruction, deforestation, pollution and gain biodiversity, healthy food, medicine, education and so much more. For that to happen, there needs to be a shift in the way the so called three pillars of climate justice - mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage - are prioritized.” Right now, most funding goes towards mitigation (ending/reducing fossil fuels, conservation, and regeneration) while little goes towards dealing with the now unavoidable losses and damages that disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable people.
Especially the wealthiest countries are praising themselves for fighting climate change by reducing fossil fuel in the Global North without adequately addressing loss and damages. The Global North, currently at least, does not have to deal with imminent losses and damages. Yet, financial means are not provided to those who have to deal with loss of access to land, medicine and natural habitats. Most of the work is done by the affected communities themselves. They are constantly adapting to new challenges like rebuilding their homes after flooding or actively engaging as educators and organizers.
The Philippines as a hotspot
Elenita Daño, Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), points out that the Philippines are number one on the World Risk Report 2022 and are defined as a hotspot for climate risk.
High exposure to natural disasters, frequent storms, floods and earthquakes as well as the lack of (governmental) coping capacities mean communities have to be resilient and adopt again and again. As impressively shown in the documentary Delikado where citizen of the island of Palawan took it into their own hands to stop illegal logging, the local can however only achieve so much in a globalized world. More needs to be done on an institutional and international level. According to Daño, the Filipino government receives millions of dollars of international monetary aid, that does not reach the affected communities. The plan on cutting carbon emissions shows: Of a promised 75% reduction in carbon emissions, only 2,71% are financed by the Philippine government, while the remaining 72,29% are dependent on conditional money received from governments of the Global North. Thus, the government outsources its responsibility by promising action without using the money for the originally intended purpose or binding it to never adhering conditions in the first place.
The agrifood industry
Climate change is accelerated by capitalism and the advancing monopolization of money and power. Especially the agrifood industry has a huge impact not only on the amount of carbon emissions but also on how farmers are able to deal with the extreme weather conditions. The global agrifood industry is dominated by a few companies only. While 40% of the global seed market is controlled by only two companies (the German-based Bayer and the US-based Corteva) four companies (China-based Syngenta, German-based Bayer and BASF, US-based Corteva) hold more than 62% of the global market share in agrochemicals.
The ETC Group report about Food Barons explains how these companies “wield enormous influence over markets, agricultural research and policy-development, […] undermining food sovereignty.” And with the concentration of power, big agrifood companies are able to turn huge profits. Cargill and Dreyfus for instance increased their margin of profit during the pandemic by more than 60%. By remaining below the threshold of 40% market share held by one company, corporates successfully avoid governmental interference.
Ironically, it continues to be the farmers food web that feeds about 70% of the world’s population using less than 30% of the world’s land, water, and agricultural resources. The ETC group aims to support the call from the grassroots and to “put farmers, growers, fishers, hunters and consumers back at the heart of the food system and undo the power being usurped by industrial agriculture.”
Ownership and farms without farmers
Another issue is the ownership status of said companies as it´s increasingly normal for states like China and the UAE to buy large parts of company shares to promote themselves as pioneers of technical agriculture and using their already existing tech to greenwash and swindle their climate goals. This leads to an imbalance in the market, as state-backed enterprises often have an advantage over local competitors because of their state funding.
At the same time, the business model is changing rapidly as they evolve from being solely input based to also becoming farm services companies. This means instead of just providing the equipment, they now attach their products to services without which the equipment cannot be used. Complete dependance on one provider is the result.
The effects of this change can predominantly be observed in the Global North, manifesting itself in the way ownership over seeds, farm equipment and even farmland is being taken from the farmers. Daño points out that the goal of big agrifood corporations seems to be “farms without farmers” with big companies having total control over the whole production cycle including repair of their equipment and planting schedules.
Famers-led approaches are key
Even though these companies claim that their technical solutions are helping the environment, sustainable farming is not their priority. Instead, by aggressively promoting monocropping based on input-intensive and often genetically modified seeds as well as agro-chemicals, these companies force farmers into a vicious cycle of high dependence from the companies’ products. In the Philippines, where 90% of the Filipino farmers are small-scale farmers, this has become especially manifest in the corn and rice sector in which traditional and low-input seeds have been massively replaced by input-intensive, genetically modified, and chemical-dependent seeds. Moreover, farmers, who used to know exactly at which time of the year to plant and harvest their crops, are facing increasingly difficult challenges to farm efficiently as the weather cycle becomes more and more erratic. Lea Kliem, in her study on agro-ecological resilience argues that “to conserve and enhance agrobiodiversity, protect small-scale farmers’ livelihoods, and improve food security in the context of (unexpected) climatic, economic, and social shocks and disruptions” the focus needs to lay on strengthening the ability to withstand expected and unforeseen disturbances. Local initiatives and farmers-led approaches like that of the farmers’ network MASIPAG for instance are key to a resilient food system.
And in regard to the global agrifood business, the ETC group demands: “the elimination of all financial support to the Industrial Food Chain” and to expose “its high degree of transnational corporate control and its multiple abuses.”
Sea level rise in the Philippines
As a direct result of global warming, droughts intensify, the rainy season becomes unpredictable, and the sea level is rising. Aryanne de Ocampo from the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) stresses that the Philippine seas are not only a source of livelihood for millions, but also provide a significant share of the food intake as around 40% of protein consumed are from fish. As it stands today, the sea levels in the Philippines are rising even faster than the global average with 13,2 mm per year being 3 to 4 times the global average. The sea level rise, explained De Ocampo, “causes seawater inundation in coastal areas, shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion, and storm surge vulnerability.” A study by Climate Central projects that by the current pace the rising sea levels will sink parts of Metro Manila by 2050 and partially submerge other major cities in the archipelago.
Besides the dangers stemming from sea level rise, fisherfolk feel not only the effect from warming sea waters and depleting fish populations but are hindered to fish in their usual fishing grounds: Coastal lines disappear or dykes that may offer protection against storm surges and flooding often hinder the fisher from carrying out their jobs. Moreover, tourist resorts or other projects encroach coastal lines and usual fishing grounds. The fossil fuel plants and proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals South of Batangas at the shoreline of the very biodiverse Verde Island Passage or the Amazon of the Ocean is an example in place where fish are no longer able to lay their eggs near the shore preventing reproduction and causing a loss in biodiversity. CEED and other organization campaign to protect the Verde Island Passage.
Organizations like CEED engage with policy makers to force action on promised measures and inform the local people as much as they can on technological transformation. They are needed as interlocutors, as the governmental solutions often don´t consider the needs and wishes of those who are impacted the most. To adhere to the 1,5-degree goal from the Paris Agreement, CEED calls the Philippine government to rapidly expand renewable energies and phase out gas and coal by 2035. Amplifying the voices from the communities and campaigning against corporate interest however does not go without pushback.
Climate activists under attack
"Who are we talking about when referring to climate activists in the Filipino context?" Vennel Chenfoo, climate activist from the Philippines, explains that activists who campaign for climate justice and environmental protection in the Philippines - and who have done so already for decades - seldom call themselves climate activist. Often, their engagement goes beyond climate issues and encompasses the advocacy for rights to water, education, social justice, and more interrelated issues.
As government and private capital interests often directly clash with climate goals and the needs of affected communities, activists who are critical and campaign for change are under attack. Activists are systematically subjected to public vilifications and threats, surveillance, harassments, arrests, fabricated charges and in worst cases killings or enforced disappearances. For environmental defenders and climate activists the Philippines has proven to be the deadliest country in Asia for a decade already with 11 activists killed in 2022 and 19 in 2021 alone.
As impunity continues to persist, the vast majority of human rights violations is not being persecuted. To evade killing and disappearance, to protect their families, and to continue their advocacies some activists are forced to seek protection abroad.
Strategies of resistance and transformation
Is there any hope, given the current status quo when it come to climate change, the agrifood sector, the sea level rise or the situation of climate activist? The good news is there is still - although limited - time to act and make an impact for current and future generations. But it needs to be now and its needs to be decisive, all speakers stress. Measures and policies have to center at the most affected and most marginalized.
Along the need for urgent concrete changes Yolanda Esguerra from Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), the main initiator of the Rights Of Nature Campaign in the Philippines, sees the necessity of a broader and deeper transformation that acknowledges not only human rights but also the rights of nature. In her talk she underscores that human rights can only be defended if the rights of nature are acknowledged too. According to Esguerra, rights of nature "is rooted in the indigenous cosmology, tradition and culture that have always regarded humans and nature as indivisible, rather than separate entities.” Thus, rights of nature give importance to the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life redefining how we understand sustainability and the relationship of human and nature. Around the globe, so far more than 200 legal provisions and directives have enshrined rights of nature in 30 countries in the past 15 years. In 2019 the Rights of Nature Campaign in the Philippines introduced two bills on the rights of nature in Congress.
The approaches to achieve climate justice and concrete change are however manifold. While Elenita Daño from the ETC Group stresses the need for continuous education and information work, Amadeo Kaus of Fridays for Future Cologne emphasizes the need for multi-sectoral cooperation as his group pursued in its strike together with the public transport employees’ union early year 2023 for instance. And Katrin Ganswindt from Urgewald and Aryanne de Ocampo from CEED work together to convince European financial institutions such as the Deutsche Bank, Credit Swisse, HSBC or UBS to divest from gas projects in the Philippines. Human Rights Defenders in exile appeal to the Filipino Diaspora and the German public to join them demanding protection for all those who risk their life in fighting for the environment and climate justice.
The seminar was funded by