Philippines, a firm leader and voice of the developing countries at the UN climate talks

By Imelda V. Abano

The devastating impact of climate change does not respect borders. Most of the poorer countries, like the Philippines, are scrambling on how to protect their people from intensifying climate emergency such as intense drought, floods, storms, food and water shortages. These destroy many communities and even small islands located in coastal areas.

International efforts to address this issue go back more than two decades under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, starting with the Earth Summit in Ro de Janeiro in 1992 up to the present Conference of Parties. This is where most of the more than 20,000 people from 195 countries join in the decision process at climate talks which are complicated but consensus-based.

For the past 12 years, I have covered the annual UNFCCC climate change talks and have seen Philippine delegates work through the night, with fatigue taking toll, and enduring patience from lots of huddling in the corner of meeting rooms to resolve the impasse in the climate negotiations. The process is slow but necessary to secure the future generation from the devastating impact of climate change. Scientists reckoned we would need to keep the warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

But a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a sobering picture of what would happen if the world exceeds a new target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means drastically reducing our carbon emissions. Agreeing on how, exactly, to do that is the rigorous job for the country delegations at the UN climate talks.

Climate Change Commission Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman said it is important for the Philippines to continue participating and stand as a leader and voice for developing countries in the international negotiations on climate change.

“Climate action and leadership resolve must be demonstrated by all. Now is the time for firm leadership. It is our moral duty to be clear about where we stand at the international climate talks,” De Guzman said adding that there is a need for clarity of commitments by all countries on mitigation and climate finance and to radically step up climate action.

Earlier, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin announced that the Philippines will no longer send official representatives to the UN climate talks requiring air travel. This came after President Rodrigo Duterte slammed the UN climate conferences saying that the conferences are just a waste of time and money.

The next round of climate talks will be held in Santiago, Chile in December where countries will work on the progress of climate action.

The Commission is the lead policy-making body of the government tasked to coordinate, monitor and evaluate government programs and ensure mainstreaming of climate change in national, local, and sectoral development plans towards a climate-resilient Philippines. In preparation for the Paris Agreement taking full effect in 2020, the Commission’s focus this year must be on the development of the Nationally Determined Contributions as a ready reference for private and public sector investments on innovative and transformative low-carbon and climate-adaptive projects for the country’s green economic growth.

Indeed, the need to move forward is greater than ever for the Philippines.

De Guzman said the Philippines is highly regarded in the climate negotiation process as a leader of developing countries. As Chair 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 stressed that 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. 

“We are in a climate emergency. In the climate talks, ours is a leadership voice on behalf of the climate vulnerable. The Philippines championed climate justice and other fundamental principles in the climate talks and has succeeded. We, therefore, appeal to our developed country Partners to exhibit leadership and deliver on their commitments,” De Guzman said.

In the past climate change conferences, the Philippines has been highly regarded as a leader of climate vulnerable nations, championing the principles on climate justice, human rights, ecosystems integrity, gender, climate finance, loss and damage, and comprehensive disaster management.

In 2013, the Philippines experienced the onslaught of Super Typhoon “Haiyan” that wiped out homes, killed more than 7,000 lives, displacing more than four-million people and destroyed infrastructure and agricultural lands leaving those who survived homeless and without any source of income. Damage reached almost US$5 billion.

Jessica Dator-Bercilla, Climate Change Advisor for Asia and the Middle East for Christian Aid said, “President Duterte raises a good point about accountability here. He is calling for climate action.”

“Moreover, I agree that if we cannot or do not have any intent to tip the scale towards our cause, we should rethink whether our participation in conferences is the best way to spend the Filipino people’s money. We participate with purpose and determination.”

Bercilla, however, said the President must champion climate justice and action and join the negotiations with intent. “Our negotiators have done incredible work. Boycott should never be an option,” she said.

Moving forward in the country, Secretary De Guzman said the Climate Change Commission will continue to: 1) sustain efforts to enhance awareness and understanding on climate change and associated risks; 2) promote science- and risk-based policy and development planning at the national and local level; 3) accelerate capacity-building for local government units; 4) invest in social preparation for low carbon transition of all sectors towards a green economy; and 5) facilitate efficient access to international climate finance.

Indeed, much work needs to be done if the Philippines is making a stand and giving all it can on climate action. A resilient low-carbon future is the only pathway that will secure inclusive, enduring development for all. Enough of indifference and inaction. While the UN process might be too slow, we need to start thinking about a more robust, local climate solution. This has already taken too long. So how do we step up climate action, then?

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

Topics: climate change , UN climate talks , Philippines
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