climate change

[OPINION] The Philippines must be ‘all-in’ at Glasgow climate summit

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] The Philippines must be ‘all-in’ at Glasgow climate summit

Illustration by Guia Abogado

'We need partnerships that do not leave our country at a disadvantage. We need to avoid large loans from nations that largely caused global warming in the first place.'

Next month, world leaders will convene in Glasgow, United Kingdom for the 2021 UN climate summit (COP26). This is regarded as the most important conference since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, a landmark moment for planetary action.

The conference was supposed to occur last year, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many environmental groups, including in the Philippines, called for another postponement due to COVID-related restrictions limiting participation, the UK government is intent on pushing through with the event, including virtual spaces for dialogues.

What is at stake

“Higher ambition” or stronger commitments and actions by nations is arguably the main focus of COP26. The current pledges of all countries in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would lead to a 12% reduction in pollution by 2030, yet this is nowhere near enough to avoid more catastrophic impacts. Furthermore, a recent scientific report shows that global warming could surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next two decades without drastic emissions cuts.

Another key goal is to finalize how carbon markets will work, as defined under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Through this system, any nation may buy credits for emissions reductions from other countries that exceeded their targets. Under this “win-win” system, finance goes to countries that need to further cut pollution while overperforming nations are rewarded. 

However, carbon markets can be prone to discrepancies, such as double-counting, where emissions cuts may be counted twice upon transfer of credits, and merely offsetting pollution instead of actively reducing them. The details of this system need to be set at COP26 and avoid weakening global efforts to address the climate crisis.

Mobilizing climate finance also faces key problems that must be resolved immediately. Developed nations are way behind their commitment of $100 billion per year for developing countries in 2020 and beyond. Adaptation projects, which are vital for vulnerable states such as the Philippines, still receive far less funding than mitigation endeavors, such as renewable energy and reforestation. The Glasgow negotiations aim to resolve issues in increasing public finance, including negotiating on a new overall finance target on or before 2025.

The previous climate summit in 2019 laid the groundwork for new strategies to avoid loss and damage to communities and ecosystems. Expert groups were established to provide technical assistance to help vulnerable nations like the Philippines deal with local impacts, from sea level rise to droughts. It is crucial for these countries to push for new mechanisms for funding efforts against loss and damage at the upcoming summit, as well as a platform for directly networking with experts regarding this issue.

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Use available chances

The Philippines must fully capitalize on available opportunities at COP26. It is important for our negotiators to strengthen their presence in the discussions to be the voice of vulnerable groups and call for higher ambition from high-emitting nations. They also need to secure the necessary means of implementing the country’s adaptation and mitigation strategies, including finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building.

There have been difficulties in ensuring that adequate means of implementation flow from developed countries to vulnerable nations under the UNFCCC for decades. As a result, our negotiators have begun engaging in individual talks with developed countries and multilateral agencies (e.g., Green Climate Fund, ADB) to secure funding for our climate action plans. 

We need partnerships that do not leave our country at a disadvantage. We need to avoid large loans from nations that largely caused global warming in the first place.

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Nevertheless, neither this nor pandemic-related restrictions must be used as an excuse to not fully engage in the negotiations. Given the country’s high vulnerability to climate change impacts among other factors, securing these forms of assistance that high-emitting nations owe us is aligned with the imperative to pursue and uphold climate justice. 

If anything, we need our negotiators to exercise all available options to acquire these important resources. With more losses and damage awaiting communities and ecosystems without proper solutions, their success at COP26 and other engagements is crucial to determining our pathway to sustainable development. 

This becomes even more crucial when we account for our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only worsened the vulnerabilities of many communities to social and economic issues. As long as many agencies under the Duterte administration continue their incompetent response to the health crisis, it would ultimately weaken our short and long-term climate resilience.

It is worth repeating that climate-related policies and programs already being enforced by our government need to be enhanced. In its climate pledge, the Philippines aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 75% within the current decade, but only 2% out of this would be implemented without foreign support. Just because we seek assistance or claim what is rightfully ours does not mean that we will be completely reliant on other countries. 

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Strategies related to just transition from coal to renewable energy, food and water security, mitigating potential disasters, solid waste management, and empowering local governments and other stakeholders must be improved. These actions help us not only address the climate crisis, but also achieve our national development targets. 

In the era of the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic, we need our government to represent our interests at COP26 and secure the necessary tools for us to build a climate-resilient, sustainable future. When it comes to these crises, we are on the same side. Let us hope that they will make the right decisions and be more open to our support. –

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has been representing Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017.

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