By Renato Redentor Constantino

We had our chance last week. The Philippine government could have taken a break from its pom-pom waving and caused the passage of the climate treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.

A ratified greenhouse accord would at least have given the Philippine government a semblance of independence. It would at least have signaled our country’s resolve in pursuing another preventive war, the genuine one, whichdemands to be waged.

Not the appalling “war on terror” but the campaign to prevent serious damage being inflicted on the world’s climate.

A “war” that intends to phase out the use of fossil fuels and not a flimsy oilman’s excuse to invade a sovereign country in order to grab its oil.

“Long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: human-induced climate change,” said Sir John Houghton, the UK’s most eminent climate scientist, in a blistering attack on Bush in July. Houghton took Bush to task for “an abdication of leadership of epic proportions.”

Climate change. It’s the greatest environmental threat facing the planet today and yet the US, the country most responsible for emitting the greatest portion of greenhouse gases that has caused the alarming warming of the planet, has gone on a trajectory that, if not changed, can only spell ruin for the entire global populace.

A trajectory de fined by America’s twin acts of aggression to secure the fossil-fuel resources of the Middle East and Central Asia.

And, before that, its disgraceful withdrawal from the Kyoto climate treaty, which seeks, among other things, to curb the use of oil, gas and coal.

The US represents only 4 percent of the world population yet it produces 25 percent of global greenhouse gases and the US has no wish for that to change. Or maybe, more accurately, the fossil fuel interests lodged firmly in Washington does not want that to change. Companies like Enron and Exxon-Mobil didn’t lavish the Bush campaign for nothing. And high on their priorities was the gutting of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrialized countries to return their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in order to stabilize the climate.

The Protocol merely calls for the start of reductions among developed nations, and a very fractional reduction at that. Yet the Rogue State still said no, and in 2001 it rejected the Protocol.

It is a fact that our excessive burning of fossil fuels is raising our planet’s thermostat to dangerous levels, provoking “an unprecedented catalogue of weather-related disasters” like storms, floods, droughts and fires.

According to Munich Reinsurance, the lead player in a business sector considered by many as a canary in the coal mine on the issue of global warming, “[T]he insurance industry must be prepared to face quite new loss dimensions in terms of natural catastrophes because the loss trends will continue to grow worse. [W]e are still at the beginning of a truly menacing development. [T]he negative effects of climate change will become more and more pronounced, manifesting themselves, especially in the form of extreme weather situations.”

As the World Meteorological Organization propounded in July, “Recent scientific assessments indicate that, as the global temperatures continue to warm due to climate change, the number and intensity of extreme events might increase.”

It makes one think of the estimated 15,000 people who died in France in August as a result of the deadliest heat wave ever to hit the country. Or the swift collapse in March last year of Larsen B, an Antarctic ice shelf 200 meters thick with a surface area the size of a small European country.

According to Dr. Warwick Vincent, a biologist in polar eco logy, “the most recent changes are substantial and correlate with this recent increase in warming seen from the 1960s to the present. A critical threshold has been passed.”

Need it be mentioned that the Philippines, an archipelagic country, is especially vulnerable to climate change? Increases in sea levels are expected to inundate low-lying areas in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. Irrigation waters are projected to be subject to increased salinity.

More frequent and severe storms and droughts pose grave risks to Philippine agriculture. Diseases like dengue borne by insects that thrive in warming climates are expected to become more widespread as temperatures increase and government spending for health services deteriorates.

“For the American superpower, the Philippines has renewed geopolitical importance, in the light of the global antiterrorist campaign. [T]he US presence in East Asia should increase in scale and intensity,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople who, like the rest of the Arroyo administration officials, fawned over the visit of US President Bush to the Philippines on October 18.

The same Ople who said only months ago when he was still a senator that “allies of the United States frown on what they perceive to be US unilateralism. The world’s only superpower must be accountable to people outside their country because what the US does affects people outside its borders.” Ople was referring to the issue of global warming, which he said “is not a distant threat but an imminent one, especially in the Philippines.”

A global threat which the Kyoto Protocol seeks to alleviate.

Unfortunately, said Ople at the Philippine Senate, when most of his vertebrae was still intact, “the United States is the biggest single stumbling block to the implementation of the Kyoto treaty.” If the Foreign Affairs secretary can’t locate the spine that once upon a time empowered him to say this, perhaps his former colleagues at the Senate can help him in his search.There is still time for Sen. Manuel Villar, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to teach the Arroyo and Bush administrations a lesson about leadership. A lesson that may be taught via the Senate’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

Passage of the treaty would proclaim that if the head of the superpower and his underlings will not take the steps necessary to protect Philippine interests and the global commons, a few good men in the Philippine Senate can and will.

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