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Good moves on mining and climate

November 29, 2011 ·  By Dean Tony La Vina

Good moves on mining and climate

Groups led by Alyansa Tigil Mina picketed in front of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources calling public officials and President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino to uphold climate justice, cancel the mining policy and defend IP rights.

These past weeks, even as most media and public attention focused on the controversies surrounding former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President Benigno Aquino III made potentially game-changing decisions in favor of the environment. First, he instructed his top environmental officials and Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa to review the current mining policy and recommend policy reforms to make mining consistent with sustainable development. Second, the Climate Change Commission headed by the President approved the National Climate Change Action Plan, establishing it as the blueprint for our country’s response for the global problem of climate change.

I welcome and praise both these moves of the President. They are timely, needed and could have far-reaching positive consequences.

The government, after thorough review, must modify the national policy on mining. As the Ateneo School of Government has concluded in a comprehensive study that we are completing this month: Responsible mining is possible under certain conditions. But reforms are needed for these conditions to be fulfilled.

First, government must correct the current system’s inability to value natural and environment resources properly; such a flaw means we are making decisions from a starting point of ignorance or at best inadequate information about what we are losing (or gaining) when a decision to allow mining is made. Mining cannot also be good if the revenue coming from this industry benefits only a few and does not uplift poverty in the places where it is done. Studies show that the highest incidence of poverty is in such places.

The ASoG study finds that government and community shares in mineral revenue are minimal, raising the question of whether the current mining fiscal regime meets the criteria in the La Bugal case where the Supreme Court ruled that the Mining Act of 1995 was constitutional provided it was implemented in a manner that truly benefited the country. The Court, in that case, stated that the government retained control of mineral resources in the country through regulation. Thus, if the government and society writ large is not benefiting from the current mining revenue system, modifying that system is justified.

Second, environmentally responsible mining is not possible where the government is unable to draw the line on “no-go areas” (such as protected areas, forests, prime agricultural land, fragile islands, etc.). Mining must be prohibited in our critical ecological systems, such as in Palawan and other fragile island ecosystems. This is non-negotiable.

Third, the ASoG study calls for a national moratorium on the processing and approval of new mines pending the fulfillment of the conditions and capacities necessary for responsible mining. A new national mining policy, based on consensus, holistic economic valuation, and better revenue distribution, must be adopted first. Different capacities—among others on environmental monitoring, legal enforcement, post-mine rehabilitation, ensuring free and prior informed consent by indigenous peoples, and ensuring public participation by all stakeholders—should be built. Good policy is not enough; we must implement things properly and consistently.

As for existing mines, a compliance inventory must be made and those violating environmental rules must be closed down.

When the ASoG study was released for peer review last week, it was criticized by many anti-mining organizations for not going far enough. They also rejected ASoG’s acknowledgment of the serious efforts of many companies to practice responsible mining. As for the industry, to our surprise and disappointment, they refused to engage with us and declined to participate in the peer review conference where they were given equal representation with other stakeholders. Instead, in an advertisement (not in the Standard) and through a columnist (also not in the Standard), ASoG was criticized for not having invited them (untrue) and for presentors and papers that were anti-mining (both false accusations). Fr. Jose Villarin SJ, Ateneo de Manila President, rejected these criticisms and, after conferring with me (the study team leader), invited the industry to dialogue with us.

I trust the high-level policy group that is reviewing the mining policy. Aside from Secretary Ochoa, whose leadership of the group signifies how important this is to President Aquino, the other officials involved are DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, Climate Change Commission Vice-Chair Lucille Sering, Presidential Assistants Neric Acosta and Bebet Gozun, and Mines and GeoSciences Bureau Director Leo Jasareno. These officials know the mining industry well and understand stakeholder concerns. I am confident they will not fail society and future generations when they go to the President with their recommendations.

On the National Climate Change Action Plan, the President as chairman and the members of the Climate Change Commission (CCC)—Vice-Chair Sering, and Commissioners Heherson Alvarez and Naderev San?o —have definitely exceeded expectations and done well for the country and for our common future. The NCCAP is a product of more than a year of study and consultations conducted under the no-nonsense leadership of Vice-Chair Sering who, being a Mindanawan like me, takes climate change personally because its impact is and will be severe for our island.

The NCCAP is a world-class document, the best I have seen in a developing country (and I have reviewed over a hundred of these plans). It’s signing triggered praise among and was welcomed by many stakeholders including by Aksyon Klima, a broad coalition of citizen organizations working on climate change. It embodies what some of us have proposed for years now—an integrated adaptation—mitigation approach to climate change. Its ultimate goal is to build the adaptive capacities of women and men in their communities, increase the resilience of vulnerable sectors and natural ecosystems to climate change, and optimize mitigation opportunities towards gender-responsive and rights-based sustainable development. Seven strategic priorities, which I will elaborate on next week, are identified: Food Security; Water sufficiency; Ecosystem and Environmental Stability; Human Security; Climate-smart Industries and Services; Sustainable Energy; and Knowledge and Capacity Development.

Until implemented properly, the NCCAP is of course just a document. What gives me hope implementation will happen is this combination: the visionary and dynamic leadership of Sering and her CCC colleagues; full support of the President and cabinet members like Gozun, Acosta, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad (a big supporter of the Commission from the onset); a young, energetic, competent and committed Commission staff (many of whom I am proud to say I have mentored); and most essential, the community of local government officials (exemplified by Albay Governor Joey Salceda), scientists, activists, and ordinary citizens working together to defeat climate change.

This week, over 20,000 government officials, scientific and technical experts, advocates, business people, and lobbyists converge in Durban, South Africa for the annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010, governments will make major decisions that determine global progress (or lack of it) in addressing climate change. The Philippine delegation, led by Commissioner Saño this week and Vice-Chair Sering in the ministerial segment that will follow, will be in the center of the action, playing lead roles among others in the climate finance, adaptation and forests negotiations. And when it speaks, the delegation will stand proud: after all, in our own backyard, in our country, good environmental moves are being made—in mining and yes, in climate change.

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