France's Hollande arrives in PH for climate push

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – French President Francois Hollande on Thursday, February 26, arrived in the Philippines with actresses Marion Cotillard and Melanie Laurent to promote the fight against climate change.

The two-day trip to the Philippines, the first by a French head of state, is Hollande's latest attempt to drum up support ahead of a United Nations climate change conference being hosted by France in December. 

The presidential plane landed at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City past 11 am, where Hollande was welcomed by Philippine officials.

From Villamor Airbase, Hollande headed to the Rizal Monument in Manila to lay a wreath in honor of national hero Dr Jose Rizal. He was accompanied by former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

He will keynote several events before proceeding to Malacañang to meet with President Benigno Aquino III on climate change, the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, and other matters of mutual concern.

After his meeting with Aquino, the two leaders are expected to jointly call on world leaders to ensure that the Paris climate summit is a success.

At 1 pm, Hollande is set to keynote a business forum, “Philippines-France: Climate change and inclusive growth,” at the Raffles Hotel in Makati City, followed by climate change forums. 

Hollande has said he is determined to "leave a mark" on history by fostering a historic agreement to limit global warming that can make up for the failure to reach an accord in Copenhagen in 2009.

The Philippines is seen as a frontline state in the battle against climate change, having been battered by relentless storms in recent years that have emerged from the Pacific Ocean and claimed many thousands of lives. (READ: Activists to French president: Climate action not enough)

These included Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the strongest storm ever recorded on land, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing in November 2013.

The goal of the Paris pact, which must enter into force by 2020, is to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Scientists warn that at current greenhouse gas emission trends, Earth is on track for double that, or more – a recipe for catastrophic droughts, storms, floods and rising sea levels.

However most followers of the UN climate change diplomatic process are skeptical a pact can be agreed in Paris that will be ambitious enough to achieve the two-degree goal.

In an effort to raise awareness about the climate change fight while in the Philippines, Hollande will bring with him Oscar winner Cotillard and fellow French actress Laurent.

Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and UN climate chief Christiana Figueres will also join the delegation.

In what shapes as the most symbolic and emotional leg of Hollande's trip, on Friday, February 27, the French leader will visit the small town of Guiuan in Eastern  Samar  that was devastated when Yolanda hit with winds of up to 315 kilometers (195 miles) per hour.

Ties that bind

The Aquino government is also warmly embracing Hollande's trip, the first by a French head of state since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1947, as an endorsement of the Philippines' maturing democracy.

"The ties that bind the Philippines and France are underscored by the importance that the two countries give to democracy," Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told Agence France-Presse.

"The affinity between the two peoples and their shared democratic values are deepened on this historic visit by the French president."

France was the first nation to recognize the revolutionary government of Corazon Aquino, the current president's mother, in 1986 when she led a "people power" uprising that overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

A number of trade agreements on "green" sectors, including in transport, renewable energy and water treatment, are also expected to be signed. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com