MANILA, Philippines – French President Francois Hollande, speaking from the capital of the Philippines, called on all countries to mobilize against climate change.
"We are facing a decisive choice for history. Either we close our eyes and close our future or generate such awareness that we will enable humanity to win," Hollande said at climate change forum with civil society on Thursday, February 26, the first day of his visit to a country deemed as among the most vulnerable to climate change.
He stressed the urgency of concrete commitments from countries all over the world, with only 8 months to go before a landmark international climate conference in Paris in December.
The gathering, called the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), aims to forge a legally-binding agreement for countries to drastically reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Only then can the world avert global warming by 2 degrees Celsius, the level at which climate change becomes irreversible.
Hollande said his visit to the Philippines is a powerful symbol of friendship and solidarity.
"Why did we come to the Philippines? Because we are friends, because it is a country France always supported. It is the country that can best embody climate destruction in the world."
He also asked those gathered – local government officials, civil society groups, environmental ministers and diplomats – to promote his joint call to action with President Benigno Aquino III.
"The 'Manila Appeal' goes beyond our two countries," he said. "It is for mankind."
Among his strongest statements was an appeal to other developed nations to help finance the climate resilience of poorer, vulnerable nations like the Philippines.
Climate finance is a sticky issue for many developed nations. Until now, pledges to the Green Climate Fund, a $100-billion annual fund for poorer countries, amount to only $10.2 billion.
"These countries are asking us to put in place a fund; financial means to guarantee energy transition in frontline countries so these regions in the world can, thanks to these investments, organize their energy autonomy and invest in renewable energy."
Hollande, speaking of the French principles of equality and justice, cited another controversial issue in climate talks: the extent of responsibility of rich nations for climate change.
"For decades and decades, we have used the resources of the planet to generate wealth and guarantee our prosperity while leaving behind so many poor people. Because of how we destroyed the planet, our first duty is to be fair vis-a-vis countries that precisely did not do anything irreversible for the planet."
He expressed his hope for a "Paris Alliance" to be formed at the Paris conference.
The French leader said the alliance would be formed by governments, civil society groups, international institutions, and businesses and would be "foremost an alliance for justice between countries."
Urgent action needed
Aside from Hollande, ministers from both countries gave speeches, including French Special Envoy for the Environment Nicolas Hulot, Philippine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Senator Loren Legarda.
French actress Melanie Laurent, known for her role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, also addressed the forum.
A celebrity with environmental advocacies, Laurent said: "The environmental crisis is not a problem for tomorrow but for today….We have done so many outstanding things: we've traveled to the moon, we've put an end to world wars, we've eradicated diseases. The same strength can save us. More than anytime before, we should do it together."
The event was also graced by Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard, Dean of Ateneo School of Government Tony La Viña, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Lucille Sering and Albay governor Joey Salceda who also co-chairs the Green Climate Fund.
Laurent and Cotillard, both known for their strong environmental advocacies, are part of Hollande's delegation to the Philippines. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.