Ramos, Duterte, and the Paris Agreement

Dean Tony La Viña

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

While I agree mostly with President Ramos, I actually understand where President Duterte is coming from. He is asking the right and good questions.

In recent days, we have read about President Fidel V. Ramos upset at President Rodrigo Duterte on the latter’s apparent rejection of the Paris Agreement because of concern that it would limit our industrialization. Commenting on Duterte’s latest statement in Cagayan about not honoring the climate change agreement adopted in Paris last December, Ramos does not mince wrote in his Manila Bulletin column: “In his consistently frequent insulting diatribes against the US, EU, and the UN, in which President Du30 also keeps complaining against the December, 2015,  Paris Agreement on Climate Change (crafted by 195 nations, the Philippines included), he is unwittingly shooting himself in the mouth, and also all of us, 101.5 million Filipinos. He may claim that to be more “insulting than friendly” to our long-established allies is part of his God-given “destiny.” But, this is obviously wrong, and full of S…. T !!!.”

President Ramos, in the same column, continues: “Ratifying the Paris Agreement will allow the Philippines to participate in the global effort to address climate change and advance the interests of our country and our people, as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. It will also enable us to secure more investments towards our climate goals and gain access to the financial, technological, and capacity-building support to be provided to parties of the Agreement. Not ratifying the Paris Agreement, on the other hand, will force us to continue on our own without having to consider or report on our contributions to the global response to climate change. Note, however, that our country has spent an average of 0.5% of its GDP per year for the past 25 years for “Losses and Damages;” so we are, in effect, already paying for the impacts of climate change to which we have contributed very little. (For perspective, the Philippines is responsible for only about 1/3 of 1% of yearly global emissions).”

FVR correctly observed that by not ratifying the Paris agreement, we can only be observers in the first meeting of the Parties that will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco two weeks from now. He called on President Duterte to immediately approve the Paris Agreement and certify it for Senate ratification to promote our country’s interests and fight for climate justice. In his words, “any further delay will increase Filipinos’ vulnerability to super-typhoons that are forecast to come soon (at least five)!!!”

While I agree mostly with President Ramos, I actually understand where President Duterte is coming from. He is asking the right and good questions. As a veteran climate change negotiator, I am a witness to how all of Duterte’s predecessors have asked similar questions and how they eventually came around to do the right thing for the country on climate change. I am confident that President Duterte, with the right legal, policy and technical advice, will eventually do the same. Hopefully, he will listen to the experts and to the people in his Cabinet that knows the issue well.

It is not too late to ratify the Paris Agreement in time for the first meeting of the Parties. If the President decides this week to endorse the agreement to the Senate, the Senate can concur by middle of next week, in time for the first Meeting of the Parties of the Paris Agreement which will be held in Marrakesh the week of November 14 (the climate change meeting begins November 7 but the first week will be mainly a meeting of the climate change convention which we are a party too). Being a non-party in the  first meeting means we will not be listened to as we are going to be mere observers. That would be unfortunate. If there is time, we should ratify by next week but if that’s not possible, our next window is from January-May 2017 so we can participate fully in next climate meeting in June of that year,

What Duterte should know about the Paris Agreement

The first thing Duterte’s people should tell him is that the Paris Agreement is not just a carbon emissions agreement but a comprehensive sustainable development agreement. It is an adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology and capacity building agreement – all of which are essential to our survival. We cannot cherry-pick  but have to accept the whole package. But we can do so our own terms. (Check Rappler’s coverage of the Paris talks here.)

To opt out of the Paris Agreement is to allow developed countries to escape from their responsibility to compensate us for causing climate change. The Paris Agreement is the only process where we can get developed countries to be accountable for their emissions through a loss and damage mechanism and through provisions that require them as a matter of climate justice to provide support to us so we can adapt to  and mitigate climate change. Indeed, the Paris Agreement has good provisions on finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. Our delegation worked hard in Paris to get the best text possible for these provisions.

The Paris Agreement does not impose emissions reduction limitations on us. We can determine our own targets based on our development needs. We can adopt targets but we can make that conditional on support by developed countries. That’s what we did in Paris – we did offer 70% but we said we will do it only if support was given. If the Duterte administration wishes, it can lower the number to maybe 30-40% and perhaps commit to do 10-15% of that as unconditional since we are already doing many things on our own. Such a decision would be credible and acceptable.

Climate justice is enshrined in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement. This is the first time that the term has been included in a legally binding, multilateral document. Such a mention, even if it is qualified, strengthens the ultimate objective of the agreement and the Convention. By recognizing the inextricable link between moral obligation and historical responsibility, the Paris Agreement is given more credibility. The explicit inclusion of climate justice is certainly a good start for the next era of climate action.

These elements, among the many that make up the Paris Agreement, is what makes this legally binding document historic and revolutionary. While no one is under the illusion that what states achieved in COP21 will solve the climate crisis, its outcome is certainly a strong and unified signal to the world that the all countries are ready to move forward with their climate commitments, and in the future increase ambition to achieve the goals and the objectives of both the Paris Agreement and the climate change Convention.

Philippine influence in Paris

The Philippines was crucial in creating the strongest possible outcome for Paris. In Article 8 on loss and damage, the Philippines led by its adaptation team was essential in getting crucial wording into the agreement, particularly on the reference to the Warsaw International Mechanism. Although some limiting language regarding liability and compensation in loss and damage can be found in the decision text, the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage in the Paris Agreement is no small matter—it lives to fight another day. And without a doubt, the adaptation team and the rest of the Philippine delegation are ready to fight for its survival.

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.

It is true that the current commitments will still lead to a 2.7 degrees Celsius increase in temperature. That is not acceptable. But the 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. 

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.

In Paris, our adaptation team 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.

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.

What Aquino committed in Paris

The Paris Agreement is the most differentiated climate and environmental agreement and thus allows countries to join based on their own interests. The differentiation in the agreement is flawed because it means developed countries and big developing countries like China and India cannot be pressured to do more on reducing their emissions; but this kind of differentiation is good for countries like the Philippines so we can choose our own path to low-emission development.

The previous administration decided to offer an ambitious INDC but it made it contingent on support by developed countries. That was a strategic decision and it was done with care. It’s a no-harm commitment because we said we are bound only to the target to the extent that developed countries provided finance and technology for us to achieve it. We have already been spending money on climate change and will continue to do that; but if we need to do more, it must come from our partners.

The 70 percent emission reduction we committed to is a reduction from business as usual (BAU) emissions by 2030, meaning from the increase we would have had if we didn’t do anything. If we did nothing, our emissions would double or even triple. What we have offered is to reduce what that doubled or tripled amount would be by 70%. And as I said, we also made our commitment contingent on support – finance and technology – provided by developed countries and if no money or technology were forthcoming, we cannot be held to account for that target.. So there is little risk for us and a lot to gain. And the timeframe allows us to plan properly. We can also choose to modify that commitment to something less ambitious. One possibility is to offer a 40% reduction target, with10-15% unconditional (those we are already doing with our own resources)

In the climate negotiations, we have been pushing all countries to reduce emissions but especially developed countries which are historically responsible for the early emissions and majority of current emissions and big developing countries who are increasing their contribution (China is now the number one country in terms of annual contributions). We belong to neither group – as a middle-income country, we are in the group of countries that contribute less than 1 percent each of the total emissions (we contribute .34%, similar to the Czech Republic’s contribution). Majority of countries actually emit even less than us – small island states, least developed countries, etc. – with many of them already having zero net emissions or contributing less than .01%. 34 countries emit more than us but 160 countries emit less than us. 

Added together, those of us who are in the 1% or less emissions still would total a fifth or a sixth of total global emissions. That’s why even the lesser emitters also have to reduce emissions because if they don’t, the problem won’t be solved. For a country that suffers climate change, that is not acceptable. And a country that suffers climate change should also not contribute to the problem even if very little. That’s like suicide – contributing to your own destruction. This explains why many vulnerable countries offered ambitious NDCs.

As to the reduction goal preventing us from being industrialized, it should not. From a practical point of view, it simply means we need to transform our energy system to rely more on renewables rather than on coal. There are many other reasons we should do that – economic, environmental, health – other than climate reasons. It also means we also have to take care of our forests and land better so that it does not emit carbon and become a better sink. Other sectors can also help – waste, transportation and industry, and eventually agriculture. 

All these are consistent with our sustainable development; all the measures we should take must be no-regrets and good for us. 

The Paris Agreement can actually give us the means to do all of these and more. If we were smart, we would use the agreement to transition to a clean energy system, protect our forests and improve land use, make our cities more sustainable, and support environmentally friendly industrialization.

Marrakesh and beyond

The agreement adopted in Paris last year was a long time coming. Six years after the disastrous Copenhagen climate conference, the world finally has a strong climate agreement that can serve as a foundation for effective climate action. While Paris is the maximum and limit of what governments as a collective can agree on right now, the Agreement is still not adequate to address climate change effectively.

But while it is imperfect, the Paris Agreement is not bad and although, certainly flawed from a climate justice point of view, the Agreement is the only one possible at this time if we want global cooperation. Thankfully it is not the least common denominator agreement but the optimum possible with an opening for improving it in the years to come. For sure, it is the only multilateral game in town for the next 10, perhaps 20 years. 

If the Philippines decide not to do ratify the Paris Agreement, we have to be ready to address climate change on our own. Isolation is the result of not ratifying what is likely going to be a universal agreement.

If we ratify the agreement, it is important to consider very carefully our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). As pointed out, there is nothing to stop us from lowering our ambition even as it will mean diminished leadership in the climate negotiations. The important thing is to commit to something we can really implement and which is good for us. 

The Paris Agreement is a good document whose consequences will last generations. While this legally binding agreement in itself is not enough to solve the climate crisis, it as strong, ambitious, and as equitable as it can be for an agreement that required consensus by 195 countries—a positive beginning to a long and hard journey towards climate justice.

For the Philippines, this is an important agreement, as climate change is more than just an environmental, social, political, and economic issue for our country – it is an issue of survival. It is an issue of the very existence of the Filipino people. And while the world has finally agreed to act together on climate change, the actual work to reach the goals that have been set in the Paris Agreement has only just begun. Everyone must do their part, and efforts must increase in the coming years if actors are to effect real change. The buck does not stop in Paris. 

The show of force, commitment, cooperation, and solidarity to adopt this agreement in Paris is impressive and inspiring, but this document’s worth on paper cannot be measured by its words alone. Only the genuine effort, ambition, and successful climate action that the agreement inspires can the world truly say that the Paris Agreement has fulfilled what it set out to do. But until then, there is much work to be done.

The Paris Agreement has a life of its own, regardless of what we do. We can certainly decide to isolate ourselves and be the only country in the world that does not ratify the Paris Agreement. If we decide to do that, we must be ready to address climate change on our own with our resources and with no one to help us. Among others, we will not be able to take advantage of the Loss and Damage mechanism that the Paris Agreement establishes.

Climate change is real and will continue to grow in intensity regardless of us. That’s why principled engagement with the government and continuous cooperation with the international community is the only option. – Rappler.com


The author is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.



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