MANILA, Philippines – Whether the Philippines’ call for urgent climate action will be heard during high-stakes negotiations at the United Nations (UN) climate summit in Egypt rests on the shoulders of its 29-member delegation.
As the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) wrapped up its first week and enters the more tense second week of negotiations, however, the Philippine team finds itself without its original head of delegation as well as top officials of the Climate Change Commission (CCC).
Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, who was appointed CCC chairperson-designate by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., returned to the country last week to attend the deliberation of the 2023 budget in the Senate, according to several Filipino civil society representatives observing the negotiations in Sharm El Sheikh.
For the same reason, Secretary Robert Borje, CCC vice chairperson and executive director, also flew back home after only a few days in the conference. He was present in the Senate last Thursday, November 10, for the scheduled deliberation of the commission’s proposed P128-million budget in 2023.
The hearing was deferred to this week, however, after Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda questioned the absence of CCC commissioners Rachel Anne Herrera and Albert dela Cruz Sr. Both officials are also part of the delegation in Egypt.
“They are not negotiators, I know that very well,” Legarda told the Senate plenary. “If Secretary Borje – the vice chair – is here, why are Rachel and Albert there?”
Legarda said she would reserve her questions for the CCC until the return of the two commissioners to the country.
The Senate is expected to finish deliberations on the 2023 National Expenditure Program by November 16. COP27 is scheduled to end two days after, on November 18.
“The two commissioners must come home…. They need to come home this weekend,” Legarda said, adding that the CCC must be ready to present a report about their work in COP27 to the Senate plenary.
Rappler reached out to members of the Philippine delegation to ask about their next move following the developments, but none have responded as of writing.
In this year’s COP, Filipino climate delegates and negotiators are expected to represent and forward the country’s interests and demands on climate finance, climate adaptation, loss and damage, and technology transfer, which are the priorities outlined in a statement by Loyzaga as head of delegation.
According to Filipino observers present at COP27, Philippine ambassador to Egypt Ezzedin Tago is the new head of the Philippine delegation. He was initially designated deputy head. A career diplomat, Tago has no known prior experience in climate negotiations.
However, Tago’s yearslong experience as a diplomat can still be advantageous in the climate summit hosted by Egypt, according to a former Philippine negotiator and a veteran observer in the UNFCCC processes.
“The leadership of the delegation is good, including our ambassador to Egypt who, while not a climate expert, is a veteran diplomat,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “He knows Egypt very well and that gives a big advantage to us.”
The challenge faced by the Philippine delegation now is whether it has enough knowledgeable negotiators to sit through the numerous negotiations, often happening simultaneously, the source added.
“The issue is whether we have enough negotiators in the process that know both the technical issues and procedural rules so that our delegation can get good outcomes for the country.”
Neither the CCC nor the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) bared the changes in the delegation officially representing the Philippines at COP27, where world leaders and climate negotiators are expected to concretize commitments and measures to address runaway climate change.
PH may be lacking ‘strong steering heads’
Prior to the start of COP27, Loyzaga said the Philippine delegation would press for climate finance and assistance from wealthy nations to help developing countries adapt to worsening climate disasters.
Last Friday, the DENR sent a press release to the media on Loyzaga meeting French President Emmanuel Macron during a high-level talk on carbon and biodiversity last Monday, November 7. The environment secretary, along with Tago, also met with French Minister Christophe Bechu prior to the summit, where they discussed possible bilateral discussions and cooperation on climate change, natural parks management, and plastics management.
While seasoned Filipino climate negotiators remain in Sharm El Sheikh, the absence of its climate heads could still have an impact on the delegation’s work, said Rodne Galicha, convenor of Aksyon Klima, a network of climate advocacy groups.
“Without Secretaries Loyzaga and Borje, we may be lacking strong steering heads. The diplomatic experience of Borje and the scientific and technical expertise of Loyzaga matter,” he said.
Borje was the chief of protocol and presidential assistant for foreign affairs of former president Rodrigo Duterte before he was appointed to lead the CCC in March 2022. He was also part of the Philippine delegation to COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.
Prior to her political appointment, Loyzaga was president of the National Resilience Council, a public-private partnership that supports government and the private sector on disaster resilience. She was also executive director of the Manila Observatory, a scientific research institution studying atmospheric and Earth science.
Who’s who in delegation
Despite the shake-up, the Philippine delegation may still find its strength in its seasoned climate negotiators that are in Sharm, as well as the return of technical advisers who were absent from the 2021 delegation.
Negotiators represent their countries in the UN climate talks and work with negotiators of other countries, as well as negotiating blocs that have similar interests and demands in workstreams such as loss and damage, adaptation, and climate finance.
It is unclear if Loyzaga also serves as the Philippines’ lead negotiator.
In previous COPs, the head of a delegation is not necessarily the chief climate negotiator of the country. For instance, in COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, then-environment secretary Roy Cimatu was head of delegation, while former CCC vice chairperson Emmanuel de Guzman served as lead negotiator. Cimatu also left early and did not finish the conference.
This year’s contingent has 10 more members compared to the team sent to Glasgow for COP26, which was composed mainly of government officials from the finance and foreign affairs departments.
Last year’s delegation, headed by former finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III, did not have any official from the CCC – a clear departure from previous COPs.
This year, six CCC officials are registered as delegates. Joining Borje, Herrera, and Dela Cruz are Jerome Ilagan, Carol Kay Paquera, and Amelia Dulce Supetran.
Supetran is a senior technical adviser of the commission and a veteran adviser in several UN climate summits. Ilagan, from the commission’s policy research and development division, had previously attended the annual talks as well, most recently COP24.
From the DENR, there are seven representatives in the delegation: a mix of newcomers, a veteran COP delegate, and support staff.
While Loyzaga is new to the climate talks, the delegation includes Albert Magalang, chief of the DENR’s climate change office and a seasoned negotiator who has joined several COPs, including the monumental COP21 in Paris, France.
Analiza Teh, DENR undersecretary for finance, information systems, and climate change, also joins the contingent in Egypt.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla makes a return to the Philippine delegation as the lone representative from the Department of Agriculture. She had previously joined the Philippine delegation, most recently in COP21 and COP23 in Bonn, Germany, as an assistant secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority.
Also making a return this year is Energy Undersecretary Felix William “Wimpy” Fuentebella, who sat as Philippine negotiator on loss and damage in Glasgow in 2021. The energy official was reported to be instrumental in the final language of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage in 2021.
Created in 2019, the network was formed to provide technical support and assistance to climate-vulnerable countries. It is expected to be a key point of discussion for the 2022 summit.
Other registered delegates include representatives from the Department of Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Energy, and the House of Representatives, according to the provisional list of participants from the UNFCCC.
The Philippine delegation also enlisted the expertise of three veteran technical experts. From the Manila Observatory are Rosa Perez, a senior research fellow and former member of the CCC’s National Panel of Technical Experts, and Faye Abigail Cruz, regional climate systems laboratory head.
Angela Consuelo Ibay, head of the climate change program of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines, is also part of the contingent.
Perez and Ibay are both seasoned advisers and have institutional and historical knowledge of the Philippines’ positions on climate talks.
Call for transparency
Galicha said this current delegation is working more closely with civil society representatives compared to the delegates last year. Climate groups were able to present their positions to DENR and CCC during a COP27 dialogue in October, he said, but there have been no formal communication and discussion yet on Philippine positions in the ongoing conference.
“We laud CCC and DENR for opening doors to engage with CSOs and the academe. There are still many modalities to improve as we progress to a more transparent and inclusive governance,” he said.
Sans Loyzaga and Borje, however, Galicha hopes that the Philippine delegation would engage more with the Filipino climate experts and advocates who are present in Sharm – many of whom have observed and participated in numerous UN climate summits – since they could provide support during the negotiations.
In an earlier interview, former Philippine lead negotiator Antonio La Viña said it is crucial for the Philippine delegation to work with civil society to ensure they would be effective and successful in the COP. Similar cooperation in previous climate summits helped make this possible.
“This must have been an opportunity for civil society to lend technical expertise [behind] the negotiating benches, but we are just confined to informal meetings and huddles,” Galicha said. “We will continue to reach out to them.” – Rappler.com