Address climate inaction, fund the People’s Green New Deal

September 22, 2022

by Melanie Joy Feranil

Natural disasters and climate inaction bring tremendous destruction to people and communities living in fragile contexts such as in the Philippines. These result in higher levels of poverty and inequality, breaking down of key social institutions such as education, healthcare, and government itself, political volatility, and higher levels of violence, particularly against women and girls.

To address climate inaction, the Panatang Luntian Coalition, together with its legislative partners, held a national roundtable between leaders, advocates, and experts in early September at the Manila Observatory, Ateneo De Manila University. It expounded, particularly, the Panatang Luntian Agenda reflected in the People’s Green New Deal (PGND) proposal, which will be re-filed at the newly convened 19th Congress of the Philippines.

The PGND seeks to counter the ‘Bayan Bangon Muli’ (BBM) economic stimulus plan proposed by the Romualdez leadership in Congress. According to the Panatang Luntian Coalition, while the BBM plan purportedly aims to tap remaining public resources to revive the dwindling economy brought by lockdown restrictions, the economic crisis will persist as long as the government’s climate inaction and injustice persists.

The Green New Deal sees that major issues in the ecological and climate crisis are interconnected with the chronic socio-economic crisis: continuing environmentally destructive projects and programs; reliance on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources; lack of rehabilitation and protection; lack of funds for forecasting and warning programs; continuing attacks on environmental defenders; and profit and export-oriented framework of natural resource utilization. These serve narrow interests and affect and hurt poor Filipinos the most.

Additionally, the PGND aims to expose the magnitude of the losses and damages accumulated through decades of environmentally-destructive activities led by carbon majors and producers. It addresses several environmental concerns such as extractives and environmentally destructive projects. It also provides alternatives such as community-based waste management solutions, just transition towards renewable energy, green spaces and commuter-centric transportation, environmental defense and climate justice, biodiversity and environmental conservation, and just recovery and national industrialization.

Finance and compensation

IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa discussed the finance and compensation mechanisms for the bill. In the context of climate debate, “reparations” and “loss and damages” are now largely invoked to hold polluting countries accountable for their historically excessive carbon emissions. In mapping out the course for collecting ecological debt, nations that suffer from climate change impact such as the Philippines  must be able to quantify and qualify their demands.

Africa said that: “The bill’s main point is to restructure the economy, in particular reconfiguring two aspects of global and national economies. These are protecting the environment and ensuring equitable development meeting the basic and developmental needs of the majority.” He stressed that substantial new public spending and re-directing of private spending is needed to finance the People’s Green New Deal.

According to Africa, there are many ways for the government to raise or otherwise mobilize the financing needed:

  1. Institutionalize correct budget priorities by: increasing annual and long-term budgets for environmental, social, and development purposes; lessening allocations for unproductive debt service and non-urgent infrastructure and military; and prioritizing local and environmentally sound procurement.
  1. Generate revenues for development by: issuing PGND or Green Bonds; levying a billionaire wealth tax and windfall land valuation tax; and making personal and corporate income taxes more progressive, while rolling back on regressive consumption taxes. There should also be a crackdown against tax avoidance by transnational corporations and high net worth individuals.
  1. Use financial and monetary policy for development purposes by: reviving national development banking; and using government debt to finance money creation for development purposes. There should also be a push for reforms in the international sovereign credit ratings system that corrects the bias of credit ratings for simple repayability. For instance, governments should not be penalized for incurring debt to fund desirable efforts to finance social services, social protection, and climate change measures.
  1. Demand climate justice and just compensation by: demanding an increase in and complying to climate finance commitments; reprioritizing multilateral/ bilateral loans and grants for development purposes; and negotiating debt relief or even undertaking unilateral cancellation when justified. The roundtable discussion also pointed out how the principles of climate justice and just compensation which are usually applied at the international level can be applied domestically.

By and large, the objectives of a people-biased Green New Deal cannot be achieved without meaningful new and additional spending. Given how small the 2023 proposed national budget is and how much is required, the possibilities for tapping the resources of the financial system should also be reviewed. Government spending should however remain the anchor of intervention.

Ultimately, non-urgent, import-dependent and debt-funded mega-infrastructure that does not uplift the lives of the Filipino people is still climate inaction. It is only through a Green New Deal that a shift to sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal can be achieved without leaving people living in fragility behind. It is only through a Green New Deal that the economic downturn brought by COVID-19 and the crises it surfaced can be tackled, in a forward-thinking manner, in the context of just recovery and national industrialization.

To guarantee that everyone benefits from our transition to a greener future, a strong and comprehensive policy framework is required. Hence, the Panatang Luntian Coalition’s resounding call for the current administration and policymakers is “Address climate inaction, fund the People’s Green New Deal!”