Part 2: The Philippines’ influence on the Paris Agreement

Those of us in Le Bourget the evening of December 12, 2015, were genuinely happy with what we have achieved but we were also acutely aware that the hard work must continue in the years ahead

Our interests since the beginning of the climate change negotiations in 1990 has remained constant: how to make sure that the threat of climate change is averted and its worst impacts does not affect us; and how to ensure that the global mitigation interventions to address climate change benefit our sustainable development and not hinder it. (READ: Part 1: The Philippines at its best at Paris climate talks)

Hence, the Philippine delegation pushed for certain points and fought against some – what we call our red lines – in the Paris agreement because they will affect our capacity to face climate change in specific ways. We crafted our position on mitigation, human rights, adaptation, loss and damage, technology transfer, finance, and capacity building with a vision on how their inclusion in the historic climate change deal would be captured in real programs and policies to be implemented on the ground.

Limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius

The Philippines, as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an advocacy alliance of 43 developing, middle-economy and small island states, has campaigned for the temperature cap of 1.5 degree-Celsius goal since COP20 in Lima, Peru. In Paris, we did herculean work to achieve this goal and our efforts paid off as 112 countries eventually supported it, with France and Germany joining the call by the penultimate day of the conference.

On the last day, the Philippines also joined the High Ambition Coalition, led by the Marshall Islands, which was composed of more than 100 developed and developing nations and included the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Australia, countries very big carbon footprints. The coalition also aimed to having the long-term mitigation goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman told the Vatican delegation during our bilateral meeting with them, the difference between 2 and 1.5 degrees is the number of small islands all over the world (including some of our islands) and the millions of people that live in them that will have to be sacrificed with the higher threshold. A 2 degrees Celsius increase also means severe impacts on the agriculture and food security of many poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Mountains and deserts will be especially impacted as well.

Article 2.a of the Paris agreement now states that countries will “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” This is an important victory for the Philippines and other vulnerable countries. Going to Paris, we would have thought we had a 25% probability of achieving this language. After the first week, we thought we had a 50% probability of success. In the last two days, confirmed especially by a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabia where they signaled that a compromise was acceptable, we knew that the victory was secured.

5-year review of mitigation commitments
How could greenhouse gas mitigation be made effective enough to limit global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius? Countries have pledged, through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), to lower their emissions through measures that they themselves specified in consideration of their own national priorities and socioeconomic circumstances.  As of now, 185 countries have officially submitted their INDCs, with Venezuela adding their own to the list soon. The Philippines, for its part, aimed for a 70% carbon emission reduction by 2030 in its INDC, given substantive and adequate support from developed countries.

Photo by Guilliaume Horcajuelo/EPA

The Philippines agrees that much needs to be done to keep the temperature below dangerous levels. That’s why we supported a 5 year-review provision for the mitigation commitments. The adequacy of the pledges will be gauged in a global stocktaking to do be first done in 2023, or 3 years after the Paris agreement takes effect in 2020, and every 5 years thereafter. Countries anytime though could raise the ambition in their commitments, as stipulated in Article 4.11 of the agreement, and we urge them to do so in a way that will enable them to also attain equitable and sustainable development.

It is true that the current commitments will still lead to a 2.7 degrees Celsius increase in temperature. That is not acceptable. But this review mechanism agreed to in Paris and built regularly into the agreement is its saving grace. If we do it right, by the second or third cycle, we could be on track to the 1.5 degrees goal.

Support is critical

We need funds not only to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but also to adapt to the effects of climate change, which could range from longer, drier spells to intense, more frequent rainfall. These events have potential pronounced impacts on the income of farmers and fisher folk as the former would have a more difficult time growing their crops, while it would be dangerous and too risky for the latter to brave stormy seas. Their decreased production could then harm food security and aggravate poverty.

Communities that also live in locations that are exposed to multiple hazards such as strong winds and storm surges would also have to be relocated.  These would entail funds, but the financial assistance should not come in the form of loans.  Alicia Ilaga, director of the Climate Change Office at the Department of Agriculture, said it well when she pointed out that countries already vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as the Philippines should not bear the burden of having to be mired in debt for funding that have been supposedly designed to help them.

Our adaptation team, led by Ilaga, worked hard to make sure that the funds would be grants-based. Complementing their efforts was the work of the finance team, which supported the inclusion of a provision in the climate change deal that aims to achieve a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the allotment of climate finance.  The technology transfer team, on the other hand, pushed for the provision of funds for all stages of technology cycle so as to guarantee that the support will not just be given for research and development but also implementation.  

On support issues, the Philippines worked closely with colleagues from the Group of 77 and China (G77), the coalition of developing countries led in Paris by South Africa. In the negotiations on finance, the G77 group was led expertly by veteran negotiator Bernaditas Muller, a Philippine national.

Loss and damage

Not all challenges posed by climate change could be adapted to, however. This is why we need to address loss and damage separately. It is one big win for us and other vulnerable countries that the Paris agreement contained a whole article (Article 8) about it.  Unlike in prior decisions by the Conference of Parties, developing countries succeeded in delinking loss and damage from adaptation.

Article 8.4 states that countries would cooperate and facilitate to enhance understanding, support and action in the areas of early warning systems, emergency preparedness, risk insurance and facilities and resilience of communities, livelihoods and ecosystems, among others.  

We first fought for the recognition of loss and damage in COP19 in Warsaw under the headship of then Commissioner Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño (truly a global hero whose courageous acts as a government official and a pilgrim for climate will long remembered). Now that it is considered as a separate area of global priority from adaptation, it feels like we’ve come full circle, but we also agree that steps are yet to be taken for it to be fully translated to concrete measures.

Big victory for human rights and ecosystems integrity

Venezuelan Ambassador Claudia Salerno, who headed the coordination group for the Preamble, said that the preamble captures not only environmental concerns but also social, economic and cultural considerations as well. We couldn’t agree more. The preamble strongly pushes for countries to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” with particular reference to rights of indigenous peoples, subjects that the Philippines has fought for to be recognized in the agreement.  As early as Lima, we have raised why the Paris agreement must be anchored on human rights, something that has been lacking in its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol.

CLIMATE JUSTICE. Protesters attend a climate change march on a highway in Manila on November 28, 2015.  Noel Celis/AFP

Like the 1.5 goal, it did not seem likely on the eve of the Paris talks that we would get human rights language into the agreement. Building a coalition around this issue was critical and we worked on that the whole year long with Mexico, Chile and a handful of countries. By the first week of Paris, it was clear that most countries have come around to support the language we needed and by Thursday, coincidentally December 10 when human rights day is celebrated worldwide, we were sure that human rights would finally be integrated into a climate change agreement.

There is a reason why we wanted to emphasize this link between human rights and climate change. We will better understand why we are doing what we are doing – we want this agreement to be successful because we – including farmers, young people, survivors of disasters not just in the Philippines but in other countries – all of us, including the one reading this – have the right to a cleaner, greener world, and so do the generations to come.

Similar but less controversial to human rights was the Philippine leadership and advocacy of the inclusion of language ecosystems integrity in the Paris Agreement. We successfully argued that climate change was not just a carbon agreement but that its impacts and the impacts of mitigation interventions have serious consequences on ecosystems, natural resources, and biological diversity.

Paris and multilateral processes

Governments are not the only actors on climate change. Peoples and communities can and must work together to do something more and to get governments and the private sector to be more ambitious. But the way forward for that is not through a consensus based process, which is what multilateral processes are all about. Consensus means everyone, or mostly everyone, must agree. That’s a very high bar and because of that compromises have to be made.

The big question for us these past few years is whether we should even have these multilateral processes at all as they can be complex and unwieldy. Paris was a strong and loud confirmation for such processes. Without them, both small and the least powerful nations will have no say at all on global decisions. If you were a negotiator from those countries, as we were, It was very clear that we able to have a big footprint on the agreement, that we shaped it as much as the biggest players.

This influence in the Paris negotiations did not of course materialize from nowhere. From the early years of the climate negotiations, we were always a strong player as evidenced by our contribution as a country to the shaping of the Kyoto Protocol. In more recent years, we have also been looked up to for our leadership on forest and land use issues as well as for the role we played from 2011-2013 in catalyzing the coalition of Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC). Although we did a pivot in 2014 and left LMDC, the success of this group in preserving the development space of developing countries will benefit us as well. Philippine national Vicente Yu, who works for the South Centre, played a critical role supporting the LMDC and we benefitted as well from his advice in the final stages of the Paris negotiations.

If global climate change politics were reduced to bilateral or regional relationships, only the big emitters and those with deep pockets would have a say. Who wants that?

While we believe Paris is the maximum and limit of what governments as a collective can agree on now, the Agreement is still not adequate to address climate change effectively. But while it is imperfect, the Paris Agreement is not bad; it is certainty not a least common denominator agreement where people leave the conference unhappy and depressed.

Those of us in Le Bourget the evening of December 12, 2015, were genuinely happy with what we have achieved but we were also acutely aware that the hard work must continue in the years ahead. But for a few minutes, if possible some hours, days or even a few weeks, we can rest and say – “Well done, for now at least, well done.” –