From Marrakech, hope for climate change

Last Friday, November 18, the 22nd session of the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change closed in Marrakech, Morocco. Two weeks of intense negotiations produced credible outcomes that bring hope for addressing climate change. Marrakech built on the goodwill from COP 21 last December 2015 when 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement. That agreement came into force last November 3 on the eve of COP 22.

In the second week of Marrakech, during the high-level segment, the Philippines was represented by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez who delivered a powerful speech that called for urgent and ambitious action. Lopez explained passionately why climate change is high on our agenda:

“The Philippines is a country of 7,000 islands which has the highest endemicity per unit area in the planet. This means that 70 percent of the biodiversity found in the Philippines can only be found in our country. We have more than 3,000 species of marine life, some of which includes a snail—the venom of which has been found by a Nobel laureate to be better than morphine in addressing pain without the side effects. Our sponges and shells are effective in addressing cancer, and we are barely scratching the surface of what there is. This is not just the wealth of the Philippines—it is the wealth of all of us together.

Should the planet escalate to more than 1.5 degrees [increase in temperature], we lose all of that. The planet simply cannot afford an indecisive ambiguity about what needs to be done. The situation is clear—anything more than 1.5 degrees will destroy possibilities for quality of life. We do not need to give up economic growth—from clean energy, to sustainable transportation, to all facets of life. We need to have the courage to change the way we do things. We cannot and must not build an economy based on suffering.”

The Philippine statement echoed the stand of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), of which the Philippines is a member (we chaired the CVF up to earlier this year when we passed the baton to Ethiopia). Assistant Secretary Evelyn Cruzada, of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, delivered a strong statement on our behalf during the CVF High Level Meeting held last week. According to the Marrakech Vision of the CVF: “The response to climate change is climate justice and social justice in action... This requires limiting to the maximum the increase in warming below if not well below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a peaking of global emissions by 2020 at the latest, and the achievement of net carbon neutrality by the 2050s in realization of the Paris Agreement.”

CVF countries, including the Philippines, will “strive to meet 100-percent domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible, while working to end energy poverty and protect water and food security, taking into consideration national circumstances.” They promised “to help each other with our respective transition plans to transform our energy, transport and other sectors, and together ensure support is made available in terms of capacity building, financing and technology.”

The CVF emphasized the importance of people being effectively informed about climate change and equipped as communicators of climate risks and actions. It promoted a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach in pursuit of sustainable development and the convergence of all key stakeholders, both private and government and civil society.

Finally, the heads of state and government delegations attending COP 22 issued the “Marrakech Action Proclamation for our Climate and Sustainable Development” to signal a shift towards a new era of implementation and action on climate and sustainable development. According to them: “The Marrakech Conference marks an important inflection point in our commitment to bring together the whole international community to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time. As we now turn towards implementation and action, we reiterate our resolve to inspire solidarity, hope and opportunity for current and future generations.”

Governments reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, noting its rapid entry into force, its ambitious goals, its inclusiveness and reflectiveness of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities. They acknowledged that there is extraordinary and irreversible momentum on climate change worldwide that is “driven not only by governments, but by science, business and global action of all types at all levels.”

The Marrakech Proclamation calls for the highest political commitment to combat climate change and strong solidarity with those countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, including supporting efforts that enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability. It calls for urgently raising ambition and strengthening cooperation among countries to close the gap between current emissions trajectories and the pathway needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goals.

The Proclamation also calls for increased support: among others an increase in the volume, flow and access to finance for climate projects, alongside improved capacity and technology, including from developed to developing countries. More specifically, governments committed to strengthen and support efforts to eradicate poverty, ensure food security and to take stringent action to deal with climate change challenges in agriculture.

The Philippine delegation was influential in Marrakech. I was there the first week and continued to observe their work, through the delegation’s Viber exchanges, in the second week. The competence and dedication of the delegation—our leaders, diplomats, technical officials from various departments, and colleagues from civil society organizations and academe—is truly impressive. As I mentioned in my previous column, the backstopping work of our diplomats and the lawyers of the Climate Change Commission was exemplary.

With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, solidarity with other developing countries is essential. China is now the undisputed global leader on climate change and we must reinvigorate our long-time alliance on this issue with our big neighbor. While continuing our membership in the Climate Vulnerable Forum, I would urge President Duterte and our decision makers to position the Philippines to rejoin the Like Minded Developing Countries, an aggrupation of developing countries that we co-founded in 2011 during the Durban climate conference and which we left in the 2014 Lima conference. There were good reasons for the pivot we made that year; but with the recent developments, domestic and global, rejoining the LMDC is imperative for a stronger negotiating position in the climate process.

Coming back from Marrakech, the Philippines must now ratify the Paris Agreement. Hopefully, the President will endorse the Agreement soon to the Senate for its concurrence, a constitutional requirement. But unfortunately, the Department of Energy is not yet on board and ratification is on hold as a result.

I understand where Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi is coming from, given DOE’s mandate to ensure energy security for the country. But, as I will propose in a later column, the resistance might be coming from the wrong premises. In fact, if implemented properly, the Paris Agreement will lead us to a more energy secure future.

Marrakech was good. Let us move forward now to ratify and implement the Paris Agreement.

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Topics: Tony La Viña , Conference of Parties , United Nations Framework Convention , Climate Change , Marrakech , Morocco
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