French president to visit PH, tackle climate change

MANILA, Philippines – French president Francois Hollande's visit to the Philippines next month aims to build momentum for the international climate change negotiations France will host in December, said his envoy for the environment in a January 23 press briefing.

Nicolas Hulot, the French president's Special Envoy for the Protection of the Environment, said one of the reasons for Hollande's visit is the Philippines' active role in climate negotiations and its experience with climate change's most disastrous impacts.

President Hollande is set to visit the country on February 26 to 27. His short stay may include a visit to Visayas, a region battered by recent strong typhoons, including Super Typhoon Haiyan, said to be the strongest in recent history.

The visit will also include a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III. As of writing, the final itinerary is still being worked out.

President Hollande's will be the first visit of a French head of state to the Philippines since the Philippine Independence. 

Hulot said the French leader's visit marks a commitment between both countries to pave the way for a successful Paris conference.

"The message we want to extend through this visit is to extend a hand to the Philippines and we also want the Philippines to extend its hand in France because we also need the help of the Philippines in the same way the Philippines needs the help of France," he said through an interpreter.

The Paris conference will gather 195 countries to arrive at a legally-binding agreement on how to curb climate change. Specifically, scientists say the best action plan is to limit the Earth's warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Any temperature beyond that would make climate change irreversible. 

But disagreements between states over controversial issues like climate finance (giving funds to countries already affected by global warming) and a loss and damage mechanism (compelling richer nations to "compensate" poorer nations for climate change impacts) are major stumbling blocks.

Spheres of influence

The Philippines and France – representing two different groups in the climate talks – might be able to clear such obstacles.

"The Philippines has influence over some countries. France has influence over some countries. Together, they may have enough influence to prevent or solve stalemates," said Hulot.

The Philippines has proven to be a powerful voice in recent climate negotiations. The Philippine delegation has consistently been recognized as a leader among developing nations, aggressively pushing for climate finance and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Its voice has become even more compelling after recently being hit by two powerful typhoons which coincided with the last two climate negotiations. Last December, a study named the Philippines the country that has suffered the most from climate change.

France, meanwhile, has also made strides in climate action. Its National Assembly recently passed an Energy Transition Law which seeks to make France more energy efficient and increase investments in renewable energy. 

Prepping for Paris

Hulot said that the Paris climate talks is a major agenda for the French government this year.

"France is mobilizing its entire diplomatic corps to convince different governments to make history in France." 

He said the role of France during the talks is to provide a "neutral environment" where fruitful negotiations can take place and to serve as a mediator.

"There will be 195 points of view from 195 states. The role of France is to extract the most legitimate of those arguments and make sure they are heard and understood," he said. 

One of the controversial issues to be put on the table is climate finance. 

States promised to give US$100 billion a year to developing countries to help them adapt to climate change and reduce their GHG emissions. But the $100 billion is yet to materialize even as typhoons and droughts are already hurting poorer nations. 

Hulot said some developed countries are recommending "innovative finance mechanisms" in order to push the topic forward. France aims to "promote and evaluate" these mechanisms, he said. 

Members of the Philippine delegation are also eager to have an ambitious and concrete Paris agreement.

Tony La Viña, the delegation spokesman said in a January 23 forum that the success of the Paris talks will depend on the courage of governments to step up in their commitments. 

To stop the planet from warming further, governments have to decide to leave fossil fuel behind, lessen GHG emissions from the transportation sector and shift to renewable energy.

The world cannot afford another failed climate gathering, said La Viña. 

"If we fail as we have in the last 20 years to put mitigating measures and prepare better for climate change, all bets are off on the kind of world we will live in." – 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.

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