High schools students of Bukidnon who performed a welcome dance and sang a traditional song of blessing.

The text of welcome address by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Chair, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats at the Second Workshop on Climate Change Cagayan de Oro,  February 11-14, 2012

Following what seemed a very stimulating workshop on Climate Change in Bangkok last November, I am pleased to welcome all of you here to the second in the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats series of discussions on the subject. I am particularly thankful to our Secretary General, Neric Acosta, Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection to the Philippine President, for facilitating our meeting here, where there is so much evidence of the potentially catastrophic consequences of Climate Change. I recall when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in Sri Lanka meeting with counterparts here and being astonished at the impact of floods here which made our own problems seem relatively trivial.

But we should also bear in mind that such problems are never trivial to those who suffer, and in each country, regardless of numbers affected, we need to do our best to avoid disaster, as well as to mitigate its impact when it occurs. Awareness of how climate is changing, and what areas this will affect adversely in each of our countries is of the essence.

At the same time we should also be aware of factors that maximize the impact of change, and also the need to explore remedies that address other issues as well. In that regard I am particularly happy that we have added a few more topics to the issues we identified at the last workshop. Demographic Changes and Settlements are of increasing concern in many of our countries with exponentially exploding urbanization presenting increasingly complex environmental problems. In dealing with these we need also to be aware of the positive impact that judicious investment and highlighting of socially productive economic opportunities can have.

I have been made particularly aware of all this recently in my role of Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, and in looking at some problems with regard to resuscitating the Northern Province that suffered so intensely during the period of conflict in Sri Lanka. To add to the deprivation caused by decades of terrorist domination, that paid no attention to either infrastructural development or the nurturing of human resources, we found too a collapse in the agricultural activity that has such potential in the area.

Tree planting - Cagayan de Oro

The swift transformation of the area also however has its own potential risks. We find for instance that neglect of irrigation facilities and coastal conservation has contributed to a risk of salinity in the water supplies. Hearteningly, Prof Abdul Kalam, the distinguished scientist who was President of India, suggested a remedy during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. He advised that the cultivation of Jetrofa would help with desalination, which roused my interest given how that plant had figured in our last deliberations as a possible source of bio-energy.

It struck me then that, in advocating a remedy for one aspect of environmental degradation, we could also contribute to positive action with regard to another. But to encourage growing of Jetrofa, as of Gliricidia, which provides valuable nutrients for soil as an alternative to expensive chemical based artificial fertilizers that have their own adverse effects, we need to ensure investment in bio-fuel plants. This is an example of how coherent governmental policy can contribute to many positive developments.

For never let us forget that, in advocating remedies, we need also to be aware of the crying need in our countries for promoting wealth creation, and ensuring a more level playing field for the vast majority of our citizens. It is easy for industrialized countries to advocate a go slow that will still leave the bulk of their citizens prosperous, but we need to provide alternatives for our own citizens if industrial development by traditional methods is to be slowed down. We must focus then on mechanisms that will address the dangers that contribute to climate change, but which will also contribute to solving immediate bread and butter concerns.

As I noted last time, we in Asia must speak for the voiceless, who could be ignored if we concentrate on remedies advocated by richer countries, which have contributed so much to climate change. We know that some Liberals, with less understanding of economic disparities that prompted the limited but committed interventions of seminal liberal thinkers in the 19th century, see liberalism as simply free enterprise, in the blithe assumption that the trickle down effects of economic growth will enhance opportunities for all. But we know that this does not happen, and we also know that disasters strike the poor most harshly, and their resilience is less.

Last time I mentioned irresponsible urbanization that enhances the ill effects of climate change, so our concern this time with demographic change is heartening. But we must also remember that trying to stop such shifts without ensuring adequate opportunities in the rural sector will be both unfair and unsuccessful. Investment policies that encourage redistribution are essential, as indeed we saw when the European Union devoted so much energy to enhancing opportunities in areas from which populations were migrating. We need to develop a coherent policy of support then, while ensuring that this does not lead to the rent-seeking dependency that has often marked such redistributive policies in the past.

In welcoming you here, then, I would like to affirm the need for maximizing economic opportunities for the worst off in the interventions we propose to mitigate the effects of climate change. I would suggest then an updated version of John Rawls’ Maxi-Min slogan, in that we should be minimizing environmental destruction whilst also maximizing opportunity.

Daily News 15 Feb 2012http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/02/15/fea03.asp