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We are out of time: Rapid progress needed at UN climate talks

By Imelda V. Abano

Katowice, Poland—The world’s nations have a lot to figure out to make swift progress in taking forward climate action. Several scientific reports provided snapshots of the likely future impact of increasingly severe climate change, as well as the world’s progress toward avoiding them.

Since last week, governments from more than 195 countries have been meeting  in Katowice, which lies at the heart of Poland’s coal-mining region of Silesia, for the 24th Conference of Partiesunder the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change. The UNFCCC aims to finalize the “rulebook”—rules and processes for turning the ambition into action—to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement.

But actions needed to be significantly toughened at the two-week COP 24. Nations of the world have a narrow path to preventing global temperatures from overshooting. This was particularly the stark warning of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report: Countries need to take “rapid and far-reaching” transition in energy, industry and transportation to keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Already, climate change is significantly increasing the likelihood of extreme weather, severe, widespread and irreversible impact on billions of people and the environment.

“Challenges brought about by the impacts of climate change, both rapid and slow onset, are getting worse every day we spend doing nothing. Inaction has its price. Countries should embrace the massive co-benefits of ambitious climate action,” said Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman, Climate Change Commission vice chairman and the head of the Philippine delegation to COP 24.

As chairman of the Climate Vulnerable Forum in 2015, the Philippines, on behalf of 48 developing countries, led the advocacy for the ambitious global warming threshold of 1.5C, now enshrined in the Paris Agreement as its long-term temperature goal (stated as: “limiting global average temperature to well below 2 °C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”).

De Guzman said the Philippine advocacy for a highly ambitious climate goal has upheld the fundamental principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, as well as historical responsibilities, and climate justice.

“Here in Katowice climate talks, the Philippines will be constant and persistent in our call for the provision of scaled-up, continuous, predictable, and adequate financial support of developed countries to developing countries. We continue to enjoin developed countries to improve their mitigation targets, mobilize climate finance, and accelerate its flow as well as the development and transfer of technology,” De Guzman said.

Climate justice

During the crucial second week of the climate conference, dozens of people protested and disrupted a side event inside the COP24 venue hosted by the Trump administration promoting innovation in coal and natural gas chanting “keep it on the ground” and unfurling a banner. During the weekend, hundreds of climate activists and environmentalists marched throughout Katowice, demanding that governments take tougher action to curb global warming.

Yet, here at COP 24 in Katowice, some countries refused to “welcome” the IPCC report on 1.5C that a huge majority of countries wanted to put at the heart of the climate talks.

Rodne Galicha, country manager of Climate Reality Philippines, said that climate justice, just and fair transition need to be highlighted in the climate talks.

“Climate debt must be settled once and for all. It is our moral obligation to lead the country to a more sustainable path and achieve below 1.5C. To welcome and take action on the 1.5C in the climate negotiations process are both moral and inter-generational responsibility. If we allow US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait to control climate action, this is a failed process,” Galicha said.

Galicha lamented that five years after Haiyan hit the Philippines, its impact continues to echo from within the communities of eastern Visayas to the halls of climate negotiations. Its survivors continue to struggle with recovering from loss and damage, he added, saying that the thousands of lives lost serve as a reminder of the consequences of allowing fossil fuels to continue dominating the energy sector globally.

“Everyone has a role to play in stopping further global warming within their respective capacities. Divestment is but one of the many feasible ways to contribute to solving the climate crisis, a personal investment with far-reaching benefits for current and future generations,” Galicha said.

Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development expressed his disappointment over the lack of significant policy support from the part of the government to shift from carbon-intensive coal energy to more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

“While there has been a global shift towards renewables this year, the Philippines and other ASEAN countries do not seem to be onboard, considering their energy policies and projections,” Arances said. “If we are to abide by the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, global emissions must reach their highest peak in 2020, but the recent UN special report on 1.5C indicates that this may not be possible by 2030,” he noted.

Arances cited the International Energy Agency report that in 2017, 70 percent of global energy demand was met by oil and gas which corresponds to the 1.2 percent increase in emissions in the same year.

“It is alarming that two years after the Paris Accord is when we reached a record high in global emissions. This means that developing countries like the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia can no longer use development to opt out of doing their fair share in cutting emissions,” he said. 

Imelda Abano is the president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists.

Topics: Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists , United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change , Climate Vulnerable Forum

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