[OPINION] Our current climate policy is leading us to a future underwater

Leticia Labre
[OPINION] Our current climate policy is leading us to a future underwater
It's unfortunate that since President Duterte assumed office, our work in the international climate policy arena has come to a screeching halt

Ah! It’s that time of the year again! And no, I’m not referring to Christmas, but rather, to international climate change negotiations. They usually culminate at this time every year, with agreements or resolutions on how countries are to continue working together to combat climate change.

As a Filipino living in the diaspora, I used to get my regular fix of Filipino pride at these negotiations from the years 2009 to 2013 – a self-fashioned Christmas present I used as a balm for being away from home.

By then, I had already been living abroad for many years and had begun attending negotiations representing an international group of investors funding projects that decreased carbon emissions. 

Philippine climate diplomacy: a respected past

Even before observing my first round of talks, I had already heard of some of the Philippine negotiators by reputation – Tony La Viña, Bernarditas de Castro Muller, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Yeb Saño. Climate investors from all over the world knew them and respected them. They didn’t necessarily agree with the positions they took, but nevertheless saw them as unquestionably honest and tireless negotiators, and global experts in their areas of climate expertise. (READ: WATCH: Climate change, explained by a kid)

My heart swelled observing the professionalism of the Philippine delegation at these discussions. Input for the Philippine position was gathered from stakeholders and experts months in advance. The delegation huddled daily to share updates on the progress of the talks. Nuanced tweaks to the negotiating strategy were then rolled out in real time. 

Because we had a unique voice as one of the countries most affected by climate change, and some of our negotiators were regarded as so capable, we held leadership positions in the negotiating blocks most crucial to our country position and had a huge influence on international climate policy. (READ: [OPINION] Why the Philippines should declare a climate emergency

Some of the principles we championed from early on in the process such as ambitious targets, financing for developing countries, and social justice have been proven by the passage of time to be farsighted and wise.

The depressing present 

It’s unfortunate that since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, our work in the international climate policy arena has come to a screeching halt. The president has opted the Philippines out of official participation in climate change negotiations, which he has loudly excoriated as ineffective.

Admittedly, the process can seem ineffective to the unengaged observer. International agreements require consensus to move forward. When there are almost 200 countries to bring into the tent, consensus takes time. 

On the flip side, however, consensus ensures that climate policies reflect the input of all countries (or at least all engaged ones), which in turn makes agreements more stable and sustainable.

In opting us out of climate talks, President Duterte has unilaterally surrendered our influence on international climate policy. (READ: ‘Those in power have long abused the Filipinos’ resiliency’

What do we get out of it aside from losing the chance to have our say? Savings on a few airline tickets? I’m sure this will be a huge comfort to us when Manila is underwater in 2050, making like the modern-day version of Atlantis, as per the projections featured in the New York Times last October.

Opting us out of international negotiations also robs us of one of the tools in our toolbox for dealing with climate change. Even if we were doing all we could at the national level to respond to climate-related problems like mining, waste management, and the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, the global nature of climate change means that we cannot solve it without global cooperation.

The atmosphere is, unfortunately, a stubbornly communal asset that refuses to be subdivided like cake. Refusing to work with other countries to decrease the carbon in the air we all breathe makes as much sense as decreeing that the Philippines will be moving to Mars. (READ: [OPINION] It’s time to stop investing in climate change

Even if the President’s boycott was some sort of sophisticated bad cop play, he still needs a delegation to be his foil and play the good cop in order for it to be an effective strategy for eliciting his desired outcomes. A bad cop alone is just a nuisance.

Climate change is not an issue for the next generation. Super typhoons and record high temperatures alike are already a question of survival for the most vulnerable of our people.

Our government needs to respond to this existential crisis in a much more responsible way.  And at the international level, that means a strategy more nuanced and proactive than lazy, offensive bluster. – Rappler.com


International climate change negotiations are ongoing until Dec 13, 2019. For information on negotiation issues relevant to Philippine interests, please click here

Based in New York, Leticia Labre is a writing enthusiast using this space as a good excuse to embark on some adventures, gain wisdom, and make friends along the wayFollow her on Twitter: @beingleticia.

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