I was too tired for dinner when I got home after building a TekPak solar-powered generator for a community whose power was out by Super Typhoon Goni to show solidarity during the Finance In Common (FIC) Summit. But, while preparing for bed the power went out.
The whole of last night, I felt like I was living in a nightmare. It was pitch black. Winds howled through my home in Quezon City, interrupted only by the sound of shredding roofs and breaking tree branches. This only ended when we started to catch a glimpse of sunlight covered by grey clouds. Sunrise. The nightmare was over.
Because of the power outage, I could only turn on my phone sporadically to check on friends, family and the 350 Pilipinas volunteers. Thankfully they were all safe and accounted for. However, we were all shaken. Some were forced to evacuate their homes to escape rising flood waters, others were struggling to reach their families whose houses were severely damaged by the strong winds, and we waited for more updates to come. As much as I wanted to keep track of everyone, the need to conserve our mobile phone batteries forced me to stay online only for a couple of minutes, and then wait to come online again after an hour or two.
When power was restored I finally saw the extent and severity of typhoon Ulysses’ (International name: Vamco) impact. Ulysses triggered the worst floods that Metro Manila experienced in years. Thousands of homes in low-lying areas were submerged in floodwaters forcing residents to scramble onto rooftops to await rescue.
Imagine this: Ulysses is the fifth typhoon to have made landfall in the Philippines in the past 3 weeks. This is our life. I am fortunate to have a roof over my head, and my house intact today. Many others were not. I know it is not if, but when the next typhoon will come for me and my family.
Adding insult to our typhoon-induced injuries was the news that despite the net zero pledges from China, Japan and South Korea, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank still refuse to commit to reduce their coal investments at the FIC Summit.
Looking at my phone — and the pictures shared by my friends and family of their destroyed homes — I felt nothing but rage. How is it that, amidst a Summit where public financing institutions promised to tackle the COVID-19 and the climate crisis, we see the forces that benefit from our suffering win the day by choosing climate inaction over game changing leadership?
This form of inaction is the consequence of climate denialism entering the realm of policy-making. In our work, we often equate climate denialism with the outright refusal to listen to science: climate change is real and fossil fuels are the biggest driver of this crisis.
However, there is a more sinister form of denial. One that is more subtle and patronizing, one which covers outright neglect and inaction with flattering marketing terms like ‘resilience’ and the ‘development imperative’, often reinforced by dysfunctional governmental regimes who hide their incompetence with repression. We have to contend with these in the struggle for climate justice.
The COVID-19 pandemic is already complicating disaster response efforts. Ensuring physical distancing, regular hand sanitation and the wearing of face masks when searching for people amidst storm-levelled villages is no easy feat. We simply cannot thrive while living these dual crises.
Sadly, this is how it is for most of Asia, where 60% of the world’s population live, who are also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of a warming climate.
In an ideal world, the 440 public financial institutions at the FIC would have acted on their responsibility to chart a future that ensures our region’s capacity to thrive justly and sustainably, by shifting the financial investments to one that prioritizes access to vital social services and low-carbon development. And they would state a clear timeframe to end support for fossil fuel projects. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
While we emphasize the need to respond to things that are urgent, like the humanitarian response for the ever-increasing and ever-intensifying climate induced disasters, there is also the more pressing need to organize our ranks in demanding accountability for this omnipresent, existential threat.
It is in these uncertain times that we are forced to contend with holding on to the contradicting feelings of despair and hope while we gather ourselves to persevere in this protracted uphill work for climate action that is grounded on science and justice.
The global financial architecture should be reformed to benefit people and the planet. We must come together and demand an end to fossil fuel finance, and start charting a Just Recovery plan for all especially the most vulnerable. The money must move towards building sustainable, healthy, and resilient societies.