UN climate chief: Transport is future challenge for PH

MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations climate change chief praised the Philippines for its progressive laws on renewable energy but was disappointed with its urban transportation system.

"Have you seen the streets of Metro Manila? Cleaner transportation and more efficient transportation, I think, is the next wave. The first wave which we can all engage in, and where the Philippines has already taken a leadership role, is in the cleaner generation of electricity. If you ask me what the future challenge is for the Philippines, it's transportation," Christiana Figueres said during a February 27 press conference.

The transportation system in Metro Manila has made headlines before because of hair-pulling traffic jams, wanton air pollution and faulty train lines – all of which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and thus drive global warming.

Figueres said the Philippines can follow the lead of other developing countries which have adopted a bus rapid transit, a system with dedicated lanes and stations for buses.

Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is in the Philippines to accompany French President Hollande during his two-day visit to the Southeast Asian country.

Her presence in the trip is meant to help it fulfill one of its main purposes: to build momentum for a major climate change conference France is hosting in December.

The summit, convened by the UNFCCC, aims to forge a global deal to stop global warming from becoming irreversible.

Figueres, as head of UNFCCC, plays an integral role in drumming up political will among countries to support and help implement the agreement.

Green energy 'revolution'

Renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency are two strategies countries should take to curb climate change, said Figueres.

Both strategies reduce the use of fossil fuel in generating energy. It's the use of fossil fuel sources – like coal and petroleum – that has led to the unabated emission of greenhouse gases which warm up the planet.

Figueres lauded the Philippines' landmark Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which could be why, today, 40% of the country's energy mix is generated by RE. 

To skeptics of RE, she said the sector is quickly transforming and becoming more attractive and practical.

"I see a lot of transformation underway. Let's start with the technology itself: the cost of solar energy has decreased by 80% since 2008 and the cost of wind energy has decreased by 40% since 2008. Technologies are much more mature and more commercially-viable."

Last year, 2014, was the year with the biggest global investment in RE with $312 billion going to the clean technology, she added.

Solar energy has also become 48% more efficient. In 60 countries, the price of solar energy has become competitive with the price of fossil-fuel-based electricity sources.

The biggest hurdles to mainstreaming RE – storage capacity and integration into power grids – is also being addressed by innovators, businessmen and governments, she elaborated.

Looking towards Paris

Figueres is also optimistic about the Paris climate conference. 

Powerful countries like the United States and China have "taken the lead" in stating their commitments on greenhouse gas reduction, she said. 

And so far, no country has said they want to pull out from the Paris agreement.

"There is much more awareness in both the threats of climate change and the opportunities in climate change. There is more enthusiasm to be able to do this together," she said.

But she admitted that climate finance – financial and technological assistance to help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change – would be a tricky issue for all countries to agree on.

The $100-billion annual Green Climate Fund for these countries now amounts to only $10.2 billion in pledges.

But Figueres said the goal is for these funds to be "dispensed" this year to developing countries with priority to be given to adaptation and resiliency projects.

It would be up to the Green Climate Fund board to decide which countries will get the funds first.

Another challenge of the Paris deal is to convince countries to shift their investments and economies to cleaner, more energy-efficient technology and infrastructure. 

The world will need to spend $90 trillion in clean, climate-resilient infrastructure, especially in developing nations that are often the most helpless victims of climate change. 

The threats of climate change were made more evident to her during her visit to Guiuan, Eastern Samar with President Hollande earlier that day. 

The resilience of the people in the town – the first hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) in 2013 – inspired her. 

"They didn't feel themselves as victimized. They felt themselves as having been struck by a typhoon but it actually energized them to be even stronger and more courageous and become an even stronger community with more solidarity." 

The Philippines, named the country most impacted by climate change, has become an "international emblem of vulnerability to disasters caused by climate change," she said. – 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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