Q and A: Tony La Viña on PH’s new strategy in climate talks

Pia Ranada

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Q and A: Tony La Viña on PH’s new strategy in climate talks
'This strategy positions us well for Paris in that we will be seen as a constructive player, finding solutions for moving forward rather than being hardline on positions'

MANILA, Philippines – How did the Philippines contribute to the crucial United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru?

A week after the talks, the Philippine delegation’s spokesman, former climate change lead negotiator and environmental lawyer Tony La Viña explains to Rappler the delegation’s strategy and the achievements and failures of the conference.

The world is currently trying to keep the Earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius. The Lima talks is an important run-up to the Paris conference in 2015 which seeks to come up with an agreement compelling nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – the word’s best bet in stopping global warming. (READ: 7 national priorities on climate change)

The Philippine delegation had caused a stir among both Philippine and foreign advocacy groups present at the talks for being less aggressive in pushing for key concepts it had championed in the past.

Rappler: What was the Philippine delegation’s strategy in negotiations at the Lima Conference of Parties (COP)? 

Tony La Viña: The strategy was to signal two pivots: one, that we will ally more with the vulnerable countries and less with the less developed countries (LDCs) and second, that we will approach climate change from a human rights perspective so that climate change actions are always respectful of human rights, especially the rights of indigenous peoples and women. A human rights approach will also open up the convention process to many stakeholders as never before.

How would you assess the strategy in terms of effectivity in helping build towards a concrete and effective Paris agreement in 2015?

In terms of perceptions of the delegation, we were successful even as we have been criticized. But this strategy positions us well for Paris in that we will be seen as a constructive player, finding solutions for moving forward rather than being hardline on positions.

The human rights framing has a lot of potential for us to build alliances with similarly-minded countries but it will be an uphill climb given that many countries see climate change as a sovereignty issue and one between states only and excluding peoples and communities. 

United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director, Ibrahim Thiaw (2-R), and his collaborators, present the first study on Breach Adaptation Adjustment of the UN's UNEP program at the Climate Change Summit of Lima (COP20) in Lima, Peru, 05 December 2014. EPA/Paolo Aguilar

What was different about the Philippine delegation in this COP? 

One major development in the Philippine delegation is the unprecedented inclusion and participation of diplomats from the DFA in the climate change negotiations. There were 5 of them in Lima and hopefully we will have more in Paris. This is a negotiation for an international treaty and that is only right.

Secretary Lucille Sering and DFA Assistant Secretary Gary Domingo should be credited for this change. Asec Domingo should also be credited for his leadership in making human rights a priority for us; his prior experience in Geneva was helpful in this respect.

Personally, I also want to single out foreign service officer Val Roque whom I worked closely with in Lima in the Paris Agreement negotiations. He is one of the best I have ever worked with in the 20 years I have been involved in this process – he is focused, a good listener and fast learner, worked long hours, and is totally committed to the national interest while understanding this is a global concern.

How would you evaluate the Lima conference? Successful or not? What were its accomplishments, if any?

I think it was a success given that 190 countries were able to agree on how to move forward toward Paris. The only real outcome of Lima is that the final document – The Lima Call for Climate Action – guides countries on how to prepare and offer their commitments called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions).

The guidance is very clear and we know what to do. Everything else – the nature of the agreement, its legally binding character, the rules for compliance, loss and damage, climate finance – still has to be negotiated. 

What were the main advocacies of the Philippine delegation this COP and were there any differences between previous advocacies?

We shifted our emphasis to our vulnerability given Haiyan and Ruby and similar events and that our lot belongs with island states and LDCs while aware that we are also a middle income country and have interests similar to bigger developing countries.

As I pointed earlier, the shift to human rights is a big thing even as we affirm CBDR. But CBDR we also reframe in that we called for universal action – including our own willingness to take commitments. The president in his New York speech already signalled this. 

FOR THE EARTH. People attend a candlelight vigil organized by the Interfaith Council of Peru at a park in Lima, on November 30, 2014, just hours before the opening of Climate Change Conference hosted by the government of Peru. Cris Bouroncle/AFP

Was anything achieved in the discussion for a mechanism on loss and damage? What were the achievements, if any? 

Yes actually. A good loss and damage decision was adopted and the Philippines, led by the brilliant Alice Ilaga (Department of Agriculture Climate Change Office Director) played a big role in it. 

Which countries question the mechanism?  

The developed countries generally are skeptical about it but they have come around to accepting it. I am confident that it will become part of the Paris Agreement.

What were the developments in the “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR) issue?  

CBDR continued to be accepted by all countries but many have started to reframe it to ensure that it is not an excuse for inaction by any country. The Paris Agreement for the first time will require all countries to act and to make legal commitments but differentiation will continue, as it should, with developed countries and bigger developing countries having to contribute more to solve the problem. This is a good development for the world given the universality also of climate change as a challenge.

Which countries questioned CBDR?  

The developed countries but only with respect to big developing countries like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa and rich countries like Saudi Arabia. The question that is raised is whether the countries that were poor and developing, or rich and developed in the early 1990s, and the countries that contribute the most or least to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere when CBDR was accepted are the same countries today. 

Nobody is questioning the application of CBDR to LDCs and island states. The Philippines is in the middle so we need to be more sophisticated.

My own personal view is that we should act on climate change, use our own resources so we have ownership in what we do, and use assistance only from developed countries to supplement what we have decided to do. And per the long term, I hope to see a compensation and liability regime established to ensure climate justice. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.