From Paris to Marrakesh, a lost Philippines

The Paris Agreement is again in the news. Even as countries gather in Marrakesh, Morocco next week for the first meeting of the parties to the agreement, former President Fidel V. Ramos called to task President Duterte for refusing to ratify the Paris Agreement. According to Ramos: “Ratifying the Paris Agreement will allow the Philippines to participate in the global effort to address climate change and advance the interests of our country and our people, as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. It will also enable us to secure more investments towards our climate goals and gain access to the financial, technological, and capacity-building support to be provided to parties of the Agreement. Not ratifying the Paris Agreement, on the other hand, will force us to continue on our own without having to consider or report on our contributions to the global response to climate change.”

As I wrote earlier this week in Rappler, while agreeing with President Ramos, I get where President Duterte is coming from. He is asking the right and good questions. As a veteran climate change negotiator, I am a witness to how all of Duterte’s predecessors have asked similar questions and how they eventually came around to do the right thing for the country on climate change. I am confident that President Duterte, with the right legal, policy and technical advice, will eventually do the same. Hopefully, he will listen to the experts and to the people in his Cabinet that knows the issue well.

In my online article, I pointed out that the Paris Agreement is not just a carbon emissions agreement but a comprehensive sustainable development agreement. It is an adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology and capacity building agreement—all of which are essential for our survival. We cannot cherry-pick but have to accept the whole package. But we can do so on our own terms.

To opt out of the Paris Agreement is to allow developed countries to escape their responsibility to compensate us for causing climate change. The Paris Agreement is the only process where we can get developed countries to be accountable for their emissions through a loss-and-damage mechanism and through provisions that require them as a matter of climate justice to provide support to us so we can adapt to and mitigate climate change. Indeed, the Paris Agreement has good provisions on finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. Our delegation worked hard in Paris to get the best text possible for these provisions.

The Paris Agreement does not impose emissions reduction limitations on us. We can determine our own targets based on our development needs. We can adopt targets but we can make that conditional on support by developed countries. That’s what we did in Paris—we did offer 70 percent but we said we will do it only if support was given. If the Duterte administration wishes, it can lower the number to maybe 30 percent to 40 percent and perhaps commit to do 10 percent to 15 percent of that as unconditional since we are already doing many things on our own. Such a decision would be credible and acceptable.

Climate justice is enshrined in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement. This is the first time that the term has been included in a legally binding, multilateral document. Such a mention, even if it is qualified, strengthens the ultimate objective of the agreement and the Convention. By recognizing the inextricable link between moral obligation and historical responsibility, the Paris Agreement is given more credibility. The explicit inclusion of climate justice is certainly a good start for the next era of climate action.

These elements, among the many that make up the Paris Agreement, is what makes this legally binding document historic and revolutionary. While no one is under the illusion that what states achieved in COP21 will solve the climate crisis, its outcome is certainly a strong and unified signal to the world that the all countries are ready to move forward with their climate commitments, and in the future increase ambition to achieve the goals and the objectives of both the Paris Agreement and the climate change convention.

The Paris Agreement has a life of its own, regardless of what we do. We can certainly decide to isolate ourselves and be the only country in the world that does not ratify the Paris Agreement. If we decide to do that, we must be ready to address climate change on our own with our resources and with no one to help us. Among others, we will not be able to take advantage of the Loss and Damage mechanism that the Paris Agreement establishes.

Climate change is real and will continue to grow in intensity regardless of us. That’s why principled engagement with the government and continuous cooperation with the international community is the only option.

It is not too late to ratify the Paris Agreement in time for the first meeting of the Parties. If the President decides this week to endorse the agreement to the Senate, the Senate can concur by middle of next week, in time for the first Meeting of the Parties of the Paris Agreement which will be held in Marrakesh the week of November 14 (the climate change meeting begins November 7 but the first week will be mainly a meeting of the climate change convention, which we are a party to). Being a non-party in the first meeting means we will not be listened to as we are going to be mere observers. That would be unfortunate. If there is time, we should ratify by next week but if that’s not possible, our next window is from January-May 2017 so we can participate fully in next climate meeting in June of that year.

After doing a stellar job in Paris negotiating a good climate change agreement, we lost our way in the transition to the new government. I do not blame President Duterte for that as it happens all the time in all issues because of the nature of our political transitions and because institutional memory is bad in this country. But let’s fix this and we can do that by ratifying the Paris Agreement next week so our delegation can proudly participate as parties in the first meeting.

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Topics: Tony La Viña , Paris Agreement , Marrakesh , Morocco , President Fidel V. Ramos , climate change
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