8 reasons why PH should honor UN climate commitments

Renee Julienne M. Karunungan

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'The whole world has started to recognize that environment and development go hand in hand. Why can't we?'

On Monday, July 18, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that he will not honor the country’s commitments to the UN Paris agreement. The Philippines committed to an ambitious 70% emissions reduction by 2030. Dutete, however, believes that the Philippines still needs to develop and should do so by relying on dirty energy.

This view, however, is backwards and needs to change.

Here are 8 reasons why the Philippines must honor our climate commitments to the UN: 

Argument 1: The Philippines is not a big carbon emitter and developed countries who emit the most should be the only ones responsible in acting for the environment, right? WRONG.

Sure, the Philippines contributes negligible amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. In fact, some corporations like Shell and Chevron have emitted more CO2 than the Philippines. But why do we still need to commit to reducing emissions? Because all developing countries put together contribute 63% of current CO2 emissions.

Sure, still not as much as one developed country. But if all developing countries think like we do — that we need to continue emitting at the same level (or even more!) — then that’s 63% of CO2 in the atmosphere that we will continue to emit. That doesn’t really help us in solving climate change, does it? 

Argument 2: But that’s unfair! Developed countries have industrialized because of emitting and we still need to develop, so that means we should still be allowed to emit, correct? RIGHT AND WRONG.

Yes, it is definitely, totally unfair! They have become rich for degrading this planet and guess who’s feeling the impacts of climate change? Developing countries like the Philippines.

IMPORTANT POINTS. Here are the facts about the climate deal. Photo courtesy of COP21

But should we then continue the tradition of harming the environment for the sake of development? I don’t think so. Heard of sustainable development? Sustainable development includes environmental sustainability. We need to work with the environment, not against it. Development while protecting the environment is possible. 

Argument 3: But the UN is a hypocrite and favors developed countries only! Why should we be part of a body that is inefficient and are always talking but acts very slowly? Well, let me explain.

The UNFCCC is actually founded on the framework of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) and equity. CBDR and equity ensures that developing and least developed countries are given the opportunity to develop while developed countries are told to “lead” carbon mitigation. Developed countries have now taken responsibility for the damage they have done.

And while some are still somehow reluctant, the UNFCCC is a process where developing and least developed countries can negotiate with rich countries on what terms they would like an agreement to be implemented. Developing and least developed countries have been working together through negotiating blocks (G77 + China, Africa group, AILAC, SIDS, LDC, LMDC, etc.) to ensure that their voices are heard in these negotiations. 

Argument 4: But have developed countries already committed to this? They cannot even fix climate change in their own backyards!

There is, undeniably, what we call an “ambition gap.” Simply put, we recognize that developed countries need to commit more according to their historical responsibility (based on their carbon emissions in the past). This is what we call fair share. Right now, developing countries have committed more than our fair share and developed countries have not.

HOWEVER, take note that in the Paris agreement, countries are supposed to renew their commitments every 5 years and these commitments can only be more ambitious. There will be “no backsliding.” So while we are urging developed countries to commit more, the Paris agreement ensures us that their commitment only gets better. And no, climate change cannot be fixed in their/our own backyard because climate change has no boundaries. 

Argument 5: Okay, but still, we do not have the same technologies as rich countries! We don’t have the money to invest in expensive renewable energy! RIGHT and WRONG.

Yes, we do not have the same technologies… yet. And renewable energy (RE) has become cheaper through the years. This is why, in the Paris agreement, there is a section on climate finance and technology transfer where developed countries shall help developing and least developed countries to transition to clean energy. Also, that RE is still quite expensive is not stopping other developing countries from investing in it and committing to 100% renewables.

Argument 6: But what about workers who work in coal plants? There is what we call a “just transition” to ensure that workers in dirty jobs will be equipped with skills and will be able to transition to clean jobs. 

Argument 7: But if we shut down all coal plants now, won’t we have brown outs all the time? And as a developing country, don’t we need a lot of energy now? And isn’t renewable energy unreliable? WRONG.

One, we will not shut down all coal plants NOW. It will be in a span of at least 50 years. So current coal power plants will continue to operate. We know that we cannot shut down all coal plants right now. What we want is a slow phase out of fossil fuel. But we need to start transitioning as early as possible  

And worry not about blackouts because according to National Renewable Energy Board chair Pete Maniego, a report from the DOE’s Power Bureau to the NREB last month said that the base-load supply already exceeds base-load demand in Luzon and Visayas. Base-load supply is projected to exceed base-load demand in Mindanao after the completion of the coal fired plants under construction this year. 

“Therefore once all of the new coal plants are operational within the year, there will be no more energy crisis even in Mindanao,” Maniego said.

On its reliability, a new study says that renewable energy is actually not as unreliable as we think it is.

Argument 8: Wait, is climate change even real?! Is it really caused by us?! Maybe it’s a conspiracy by scientists and politicians so we can just protect the environment for nothing!

Hey hey, climate skeptic, I’ve got news for you: Yes, man made climate change is REAL. There is already a 97% scientific consensus on this.

The whole world has started to recognize that environment and development go hand in hand. Why can’t we? –  

Renee Karunungan is Dakila’s Climate director and Climate Tracker’s outreach manager. She recently finished a short course on climate change and development at the University of East Anglia.

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