5 things Aquino should say in his UN Climate Summit speech

MANILA, Philippines – What should President Benigno Aquino III say during his 4-minute speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York on Tuesday, September 23?

The speech, to be given in front of 120 world leaders, could be a “powerful platform” for a climate-vulnerable, developing country like the Philippines to help build political will for the world to meet critical climate change mitigation targets, say local environmentalists.

This is Aquino’s chance to prove the Philippine government is a “shining example in climate leadership among developing countries,” Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), told Rappler in a September 15 interview.

As the 3rd most climate-vulnerable country in the world according to the 2013 World Risk Index, and one that has not yet fully recovered from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the Philippines is in a unique position to move climate change negotiations forward. (READ: Social Good Summit in Tacloban)

The Tuesday summit is seen by advocates and policymakers to be crucial in building political will to ensure that an ambitious legally-binding agreement is made in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Paris in 2015.

The Paris summit aims to come up with new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets that will take effect in 2020.

According to Climate Change Commissioner Lucille Sering, Aquino is likely to talk about local efforts in building resiliency to climate change. (INFOGRAPHIC: Grading Aquino: Climate change action needs improvement)

But climate justice advocates are hoping for more. Here are 5 key messages they hope Aquino will mention in his speech:

1. Demand for a lower temperature target

The current consensus among the international community is to prevent the warming of the Earth from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists from the UN-led Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say anything above 2 degrees C spells catastrophe for the world.

But this target is not good news for tropical countries, says local climate justice advocates, because what's average for the rest of the world is hotter for countries near the Equator  countries like the Philippines.

Arances says there is a small but growing consensus, especially among developing nations (many of which are tropical countries) that the warming limit should be 1 degree C or 1.5 degree C.

"Aquino should definitely echo those demands, especially to developed countries," he said.

2. Call for more ambitious emission reduction targets from developed nations

Though the United States and European Union have announced plans to reduce carbon emissions, Aquino should express criticism for these targets.

For instance, the commitment made by US President Barack Obama to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 is a reduction of emissions from 2005 levels.

"That baseline means the target is not really ambitious because carbon emissions were already high in 2005. The baseline should be 1990 levels or even lower because only then will the emission reductions be large enough to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees," said PMCJ campaigner Khevin Yu.

3. Call for climate change adaptation funds to be given to vulnerable, developing nations

Aquino should admit to the difficulty the Philippine government is experiencing in post-Yolanda rehabilitation, even as the next major typhoon could be just around the corner.

Damages wrought by Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009 amounted to 2.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), based on a World Bank study. Yolanda alone cost at least P40 billion (US$899 million) worth of damage, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC)

Illustrating the large costs shouldered by developing countries due to extreme weather events – which scientists have linked to climate change – would emphasize the need for more pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF is a fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change impacts. It is supposed to reach $100 billion (P4.4 trillion) by 2020, to be replenished yearly.

The GCF would help poorer nations adopt renewable energy technology, develop climate-resilient crops and strengthen disaster preparation.

But Aquino should push for the GCF to reach $100 billion even before 2020, said Arances and Yu, given the urgent need to curb GHG emissions and make vulnerable countries more resilient to climate change.

4. Call for the issue of “loss and damage” to be discussed in the 2015 summit

The concept of “loss and damage” was heatedly debated in the Warsaw climate change conference in November 2013 because some developed nations disagreed on the point of having to “compensate” affected nations for damages caused by extreme weather events.

The controversial concept is based on the idea of “historical responsibility” – that developed nations that used fossil fuel to drive their economic growth since the 1800s should cut back more on GHG emissions than countries with developing economies.

Some developed countries want the “loss and damage” clause to be discussed outside of the 2015 Paris summit.

But Aquino, as the voice of vulnerable, developing nations, should insist that it be discussed within the summit to prevent further delays of assistance that could go to calamity-struck countries.

5. Announce more ambitious Philippine targets

For Aquino to speak credibly about the urgency of making ambitious climate change targets, he should be able to set his own initiatives as an example, said Arances.

While the Philippines boasts landmark climate change legislation such as the Climate Change Act of 2009, People’s Survival Fund Act of 2011 and Renewable Energy Act of 2008, Aquino should set the bar even higher by announcing more ambitious targets.

For one, he should announce that he will immediately sign the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the 3-year-old People's Survival Fund which for the first time, has P1 billion ($22.5 million) in programmed funds in the proposed 2015 national budget.

The PSF is meant to fund climate change adaptation programs by local government units.

The President should also renew his commitment to increasing renewable energy usage in the country. Environmentalists worry about the 26 new coal plant projects approved by the government set to begin operations in 2020. (READ: Green groups to DOE: What happened to renewable energy?)

At the rate we are going, said Arances, the Philippines can expect a 90% fossil fuel and 10% renewable energy mix by 2020. In order to fulfill the Renewable Energy Act, Aquino should be gunning for renewable energy to be 50% of the country's energy mix by 2020. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

image