One more week to change the world: the Paris Promise

When French foreign minister Laurent Fabius opened the UN Climate Change talks on November 30 in Paris, he gave an honest assessment of where the world is right now in its goal of having a new, binding, equitable and ambitious climate agreement by December 11 – “Success is not yet assured, but it is within our grasp.” 

The first week of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) – which concluded on December 5 – saw important progress that will lead us to that success. We now have a 21-page draft agreement that provides direction for mitigation and adaptation actions. The Philippines did its part to keep the process moving forward and to also raise ambition.

As we enter the second week of the negotiations on December 7, the Philippine delegation has increased its rigor to make sure that we will go home with an agreement that will help the next generation address the challenges of climate change. 

Our delegation is composed of legal, policy, environmental experts as well scientists who came not just from the government but also from the academe and civil society. The delegation is headed by Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman, the vice chair of the Climate Change Commission. Our negotiators here participate under different tracks – in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) the Conference of the Parties serving as meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) and Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The ADP is the body tasked to shape the new agreement and also determine the pathways for emission reductions, adaptation and finance pre-2020, or before the new climate change deal takes effect in 5 years time. 

Human rights reference stays 

Under the clear guidance of Secretary De Guzman, we firmed up our strategies and maximized our alliances to make sure the draft will capture our priorities. 

We have good news. Last week here in Paris, our negotiators fought to keep the clear reference to human rights in the draft agreement – an important pivot that we started as early as COP20 in Lima, Peru. As the negotiations proceeded, some countries raised questions on what human rights are and on what they should cover. There were those who pushed for gender equality, rights of the workforce and rights of people under occupation.

The Philippines, aside from introducing the provision on human rights, also called for the inclusion of rights of indigenous peoples. We can now see human rights both in the preamble and Article 2.2 or Purpose of the latest draft released on December 5. This is a good indicator that human rights will be part of the new climate deal and we will work hard to make sure that it will be in the operative part of the agreement.  

There was also clear reference to scaled-up finance, mitigation ambition to limit global temperature below 1.5 degrees and for developed countries to provide technological, financial and capacity-building support to nations that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Nothing is yet final at this point and the language is still bracketed in the text, which means there could still be modifications. But we will have the ministerial next week and negotiations will be in the hands of high-level officials. Not only does this raise political momentum, it serves as a strong reminder to all countries here that what we will produce in Paris is a matter of global public accountability.

Ratchet up ambition 

President Benigno Aquino III has raised the importance of increasing ambition at the Leaders Event on November 30. Vulnerable countries such as the Philippines and other members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an advocacy alliance of 43 middle economy and small-island developing nations, have upped the ante with their vow to limit their emissions to help keep global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The CVF, headed by the Philippines, said that through ample support, they could and will achieve decarbonization by 2050.   

The message for the 1.5-degrees Celsius goal echoed loudly outside of the negotiations. Within the negotiations, however, a stumbling block to this target has emerged after Saudi Arabia opposed the submission of a two-year review on the adequacy of the 2-degree Celsius goal to the COP. This means that scientific research which could back the ambition for 1.5-degree Celsius could not be taken in as evidence.

It must be also highlighted that a cloud of doubt continues to hover over the adequacy of the mitigation targets set by 185 countries in their respective intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). This is why we demand that a 5-year review cycle be included in the Paris agreement. This cycle will inform the countries how much should be done in order to meet the emissions gap. It is an opportunity to ratchet up the ambition, one that we should seize. The Philippines INDC set an emissions reductions target of 70 percent by 2030. Meeting this goal is conditional on the support that will be provided by the international community.   

Support captured in Paris deal

This is why it is crucial for support – which could come in the forms of finance, technology transfer and capacity-building – to be explicitly included in all elements of the Paris agreement, from mitigation to adaptation and not just under the finance section.

Having provisions for support specified under each element emphasizes the urgency of scaled-up public funds and also makes the case for the necessity of parity between adaptation and mitigation in the new climate change deal. This parity should be defined by the needs and priorities of the countries – if vulnerable countries like the Philippines have to strengthen their adaptive capacity first, then the support provided to them must answer to that need. 

In this regard, we believe that it is only apropos that we demand for adaptation support to be grants-based. We could not have additional conditions attached to this assistance. This must be made clear in the agreement. 

Another area where support must be made explicit is in technology transfer. We want accelerated and scaled-up technological assistance for us to be able to effectively transition to renewable energy, establish more early warning systems and efficiently provide clean water for communities affected by disasters, among others. Having predictable, needs-driven support makes sense as this enables us to achieve a reliable level of resilience against disasters and also meet our mitigation targets in the long-term.

Paris committee

These issues will be taken up on the second week of the negotiations by the Paris committee, which will be chaired by the COP president. Under this committee, there will be four working groups on support and means of implementation, mitigation, ambition and workstream 2 or pre-2020 actions. There will also be a legal and linguistic review group that will look at the consistency of the draft agreement. 

We will provide extensive support to our government officials who are now tasked with making sure that our position is articulated in the negotiations. Aside from Secretary De Guzman, we also have Secretary Ramon Paje from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Nereus Acosta, the presidential adviser on climate change, to represent us in the ministerial, high-level discussions.

The work is far from over here in Paris. We will make the most out of the remaining 5 days to come up with a strong, binding and equitable agreement that will help build a better paradigm of development not just for the country, but for the world. Failure is not an option in Paris. –