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Philippines needs a climate change awareness campaign

Advertising and media agencies discussed the vital role of the industry in building critical mass awareness for climate change the day after Tropical Storm Trami left the country in devastation

The Philippines needs a strong national response to climate change, something that is lacking despite the fact that it is acutely vulnerable to its effects, said experts at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Manila on Thursday. 

Speaking about the work of the Climate Change Commission, vice chairperson Secretary Lucille Sering said, “We’re supposed to be in-charge of probably the biggest awareness campaign our country will ever face, and yet I couldn’t even get our national government to sit on a meeting so we can understand how we could get our people involved.” 

She said a majority of Filipinos have personally felt the effects of climate change, and yet most have done nothing to reduce it. Worse still, a portion of the population do not know what climate change is. The lack of knowledge and confusion is mirrored in other sectors of society, including some businesses, local public offices, and journalists who report on the issue. 

A majority of Filipinos have personally felt the effects of climate change, and yet most have done nothing to reduce it. Worse still, a portion of the population do not know what climate change is.

“The need to discuss climate change and how to mitigate its effects have become more urgent now,” said Ging Reyes, head of integrated news and current affairs of ABS-CBN, one of the country’s main media companies. 

Reyes, along with Sec. Sering and other experts, shared their perspectives at a one-day seminar called, “Building Critical Mass Awareness of Climate Change – engaging Media, Advertising and Entertainment Sectors.” 

The talk was organised by the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Media Alliance for Social Awareness, also known as The Media Alliance, with the support of the ADB. 

The seminar comes just a day after Manila suffered its worst flooding yet for the year due to Tropical Storm Trami. The thirteenth tropical storm to hit the Philippines this 2013, Trami intensified the seasonal southwest monsoon rains, leaving at least 17 people dead and over one million people affected. It has cost the country over $1.7 million worth of damages, in both infrastructure and agriculture. 

Media has a part to play

Satinder Bindra, principal director for external relations at ADB, opened the session and said, “There is a need for change and inspiration at this moment.” 

Experts said the media and advertising industries have a key role to play since it can shape people’s perception. The rest of the private sector, likewise, can help reduce climate change through their influence on public consumption. 

The question is, according to the organisers, “How do they, and can they, work together to address critical mass awareness for a rapid national, regional and global response to climate change?”

For Oscar M. Lopez, keynote speaker and chairman emeritus of the Lopez Group of Companies, which owns the Manila Electric Company and the Energy Development Corporation, part of the solution is acknowledging that carbon emissions contribute to climate change and that a multi-sector approach is needed to address it.

He said, “The Philippines releases an insignificant percentage of the greenhouse gases compared to that generated by industrial countries.” And yet, even if the Philippines was a carbon-neutral country, it would still be one of the most affected countries due to climate change.

He added that this is also because of the country’s geography, located in the world’s Ring of Fire, where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are frequent, and being in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, or the area where the northern and southern hemisphere winds meet. 

Little knowledge of climate change in the Philippines

Apart from this, Sec. Sering noted the many other challenges facing the country’s climate change mitigation efforts. The reality is that while 85 per cent of respondents have suffered from climate change based on a recent survey commissioned by the World Bank, about 38 per cent have ‘only little’ understanding of the issue.

The rest, or 12 per cent, said they had ‘extensive’ knowledge, while others had ‘partial but sufficient’ (35 per cent) knowledge and those who have ‘almost no understanding’ figured at 14 per cent. 

The findings are not surprising, said Sec. Sering. Both her and Lopez mentioned a lack of dialogue, research and a deep disconnect between the national and local levels of government. 

Creating mass awareness is difficult when the leaders themselves cannot be an authority on the matter, explained the secretary. Even Filipino journalists need training on the subject, admitted news chief Reyes.

Voltaire Tupaz, multimedia reporter at news social media site Rappler, revealed that he has to make his stories ‘sexy’ to generate views. Otherwise, the most number of hits relating to climate change would be mostly on the suspension of school classes due to typhoons and floods, he said. 

Role of the private sector

Jones Campos, executive director of the Advertising Board of the Philippines, added that companies must be sustainable to address climate change. Instead of “fire-fighting” and being “always reactive” to natural disasters, companies can help by advocating conservation. 

Sustainability, he defined, is when companies become financially viable, socially responsible and caring for the environment all at the same time. He cited firms like Metro Pacific Investment Corporation, which conducts environmental initiatives such as mangrove planting and coastal and underwater clean up. 

Amor Maclang, founding director of Geiser Maclang Marketing Communications, said that “endemic to our day-to-day work should be the consciousness about the environment and being able to do good and do well at the same time.” 

Climate change mitigation is not a typical campaign. It is not about sending press releases or creating catchy taglines, she said. Companies have to realise that communicating is finding out what is best for everyone involved. For instance, there was a push for mining in Palawan last year, but they were able to help ban mining on 78 eco-tourism sites. 

“The mineral wealth of the Philippines is $840 billion and we assisted advocates like Gina Lopez, for example, and everyone from indigenous people to lawmakers to leave it in the ground because eco-tourism is a better economic alternative to communities than mining,” Maclang shared. 

Accountability was part of the reason this campaign was successful, and it has to be the same with any type of business or organisation. Fast-moving consumer good companies and real estate firms, she said, must be challenged to be more accountable, since their industries greatly affect land and resource use, which have environmental consequences. Full disclosure is a necessity. As she puts it, share of the market means share of the responsibility. 

In the same vein, Reyes said that media agencies have to provide substantial information to raise climate change awareness as this helps avoid loss of lives in times of natural disasters. It is also about giving a face to climate change to make the story more relatable to the public or using citizen journalists to provide a layman’s point of view, added Tupaz.

As example, he presented video clips of footages given by concerned citizens showing raging floods in hard to reach, rural communities. He also showed a video report of local residents in Cateel, Davao Oriental, who were trying to rebuild their town that was ripped apart by Typhoon Bopha late last year. According to Tupaz, “The Filipino spirit is resilient, but infrastructure is not.”

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