#COP19: Negotiating on who is to live and who is to die?

Lucille L. Sering
'[If] several developed countries...cannot meet their commitments. Shifting mitigation responsibilities to developing countries will not solve the problem.'

This is the full text of the ministerial speech of Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) of the Philippines, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, November 20. Sering heads the Philippine delegation to the conference.


Mr. President, His Excellency, and other heads of delegations, good morning.

First of all, in behalf of the Philippine delegation, I would like to express our sincerest gratitude in the outpouring of sympathy for our country expressed by the citizens of this world. As the Philippine delegation tries to focus on our work here, we cannot avoid being distracted as our hearts and minds are back home. But we have work to do. We may be tired, but we are not broken.

Let me just point out some events going to this conference. In September this year, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that human influence on the climate system is clear. That it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. That warming in the climate system is unequivocal.

According to the Mauna Loa Observatory of Hawaii, as of October 2013, it confirmed an increasing trend in CO2 emissions. Other reports of greenhouse gas such as methane and nitrous oxide are also showing the same trend.

In November 8 of this year, the world was witness to Typhoon Haiyan or locally known to us as Typhoon Yolanda. The timing of Typhoon Haiyan to this climate talks is impeccable. It is like some divine hand is trying to send us a message, reminding us why we are all here in the first place.

The world was united when we all signed into this convention 21 years ago and came into force two years after. The main objective is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic or human interference with the climate system.

Negotiations without concrete action

Nineteen years has passed since the convention came into force. And if we were to review our progress, would it be right for me to conclude that we failed miserably? Looking at science, and how it manifested itself not only on Typhoon Haiyan, but also other events like Katrina in the United States, heat waves in France, the wildfires in Australia, and other extreme events occurring after observed increased warming, should we not all be ashamed being here?

You cannot blame us for being impatient. We cannot go on negotiating every year without concrete action to avoid further warming. We now know that warming oceans fuel super typhoons, and that, in all probability, this is going to be the norm. We are forced to brace for these changes even if it was not our fault.

You see, if the developed countries have shown the leadership to reduce greenhouse gases at the onset of this convention, we, the most vulnerable would not have to adapt. We would not have the need to push for adaptation support.

I now ask this question: Is this convention still relevant to the times? Every time we attend this conference, I am beginning to feel like that we are negotiating on who is to live and who is to die.

We have all reasons to be angry, because we put our faith in this process 21 years ago, and yet we still could not get together to act despite the sense of urgency. We all signed it because, at the end of the day, we are citizens of the only planet we have.

‘It is ultimately about the future’

We continually engage in this process because we all acknowledge that this requires a global response. We want to be part of a concerted effort, believing that what we agreed would be respected and implemented. That we are motivated by accepted science. That we are so inter-connected, that the suffering of one is a concern to others; That we are, most of all, guided not only because it is moral to do so, but because it is our obligation to do so.

We are disheartened by declarations of several developed countries that they cannot meet their commitments. Shifting mitigation responsibilities to developing countries will not solve the problem.

These comes at a time when we need to see more ambition based on equity, to show more enhanced action due to its urgency. We may not be rich, but we are a proud people. WHEN WE COMMIT, WE DELIVER.

We have been ready to contribute based on the ground rules of equity, common but differentiated responsibility as espoused under this convention. We all signed up to that.

We must keep stressing that we are looking for constant progress and increases in ambition on all fronts (mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology) as these will create the conditions for a successful conclusion, rather than regression in some cases and very weak ambition in others.

In the face of the suffering of vulnerable countries, we need to see a higher mitigation ambition from our developed country partners.

We demand support so that we can contribute more.

In the face of historical emissions of developed countries and current inaction, we demand the institutionalization of a mechanism that can help our countries face the losses and damage that climate change will bring.

Ultimately, this is not simply about the text, as we all know. This ultimately is about the long-term future of our countries and our peoples. This is about whether our countries will be able to preserve the space that the convention provides to us and which we need in order to adapt to climate change effectively and build a better and more climate-resilient economic future for our peoples.

Relief is only temporary

These climate talks started with Typhoon Haiyan as the backdrop. We are encouraged by the immediate support shown by the international community. We are deeply touched especially here in Poland to see ordinary citizens in churches giving donations to the Philippines.

We have seen how the world showed overwhelming sympathy for the Filipino people, and for that we are truly grateful. And these pictures of solidarity showed by your constituencies give us hope – that when push comes to shove, we show our humanity; that, despite our language barriers, we speak as one.

Typhoon Haiyan however showed us not only suffering but also stories of resiliency – how our people are still able to smile despite being barely able to eat. We may need help, but we are not helpless.

Again, we are grateful for the relief support. But as the word suggests, relief is only temporary.

The reason why Haiyan got so much attention was not just the suffering after, but the sheer magnitude and strength of the storm, never before seen in recent memory. Days before Haiyan, news all over the world covered the impending typhoon. It was described by experts as “off the charts.” This allowed us to prepare using whatever resources we had and braced for impact. We were probably ready for Category 1 to 3 storms, but not as strong as Haiyan.

We are humbled by comments on the response, and our government never lacked the intention to respond as fast as we can under the circumstances. You probably know of Haiyan but most of you probably do not know that those weeks before Haiyan, we had to deal with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2. Weeks before the earthquake, we had to deal with another typhoon locally known as Vinta (Krosa).

We only average 19 to 20 typhoons in a year, but Haiyan was already the 24th. Haiyan was followed 5 days by another typhoon locally known as Zoraida. And according to our experts, we are expecting at least 2 more before the year ends. We are running out of alphabets to name our typhoons.

Our resources are stretched but we will rise above this by focusing more on rebuilding back better. Better means planning long term based on vulnerabilities. With a perspective that defensive expenditure is an investment.

Translate hope to reality

There are extreme weather events that we might not be able to adapt to. That is why loss and damage is important to us. Loss and damage is not compensation but prevention. Our reality is, we will have to prepare for events stronger than Haiyan.

We are pushing for a loss and damage agreement simply because we do not want to be anywhere else. Knowing that the level of ambition of reducing emission is much to be desired and that increasing temperature will highly be likely, loss and damage is imperative.

We want to be where we are, hence our desire to strengthen our resiliency against climate change. We have seen exodus of people moving out of affected areas, but most of them are still hoping to be able to return as soon as the situation permits. We intend to translate the hope to reality.

As we mourn the dead, we have to take care of the living. And that will entail support that will last for months. The cost of the damage from natural disasters like Haiyan will result to an 8-10% reduction of our GDP growth and will likely still have an impact ’till 2014.

As we try to improve our financial capacity, we have to be cautious however in accessing financing that will add more burdens and limit our capacity to alleviate poverty.

International climate financing must address the needs first and profit last. We agree that it should be sustainable but it should also be responsive.

The swift capitalization of the Green Climate Fund is critical to helping developing countries adapt to and cope with the worsening impacts of climate change. The Philippines as the current co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, is committed to exercising leadership and ensuring the essential requirements are fulfilled by September 2014 so money will start flowing to countries that are in need and most vulnerable.

Many of our countries have put in place enabling policy environment to make our economies resilient, rebuild communities better and in a transformational manner – but we need international support to help us bridge the gap and make this transition towards climate-resilient, low-emission development.

This is everyone’s future

For the last 19 years, we meet but defer from year to year issues we cannot agree on. However, we cannot anymore afford to be doing business as usual. Climate change is not something that we should be flirting with. For us and for other poorer countries, this is real. And this also holds true for bigger economies, but the biggest difference is our capacity to respond.

We have to be forward-looking because our past efforts were proven to be not enough. Our concern is not yesterday, our concern is today, tomorrow, and thereafter. Our biggest concern is time. Because time is no longer on our side.

We reiterate our call for an effective and enhanced implementation of the convention that will produce concrete results and in an integrated manner – including, with respect to strong mitigation ambition from those who are supposed to lead this, effective action on adaptation, enhanced flows of financing and technology transfer to developing countries, and more operational capacity building activities.

We remain committed to the objectives of the convention and we hope that the COP presidency will lead us to the rightful path.

After Haiyan, we have seen how our little boys become men overnight. We see pictures of men playing basketball in the midst of debris. We are a people with a good of sense of humor, and we are using it to cope, knowing that there is nothing laughable about their ordeal. Our women, most especially, have shown strength in character, and selflessness. In all these, we are each other’s source of strength. That makes me proud to be a Filipino.

Citing messages posted by my countrymen affected by Haiyan, “Roofless, Homeless but not Hopeless.”

The Philippines may have fallen victim this early, but we will all eventually become victims of climate change. We do not wish to happen to anyone what happened in our country, but these can happen to you too. And hopefully these events, not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well, will serve as strong reminder that the time to act has long started. We can no longer afford any delay. This is not for us only. This is for our youth, the current generation, and the future.

Thank you very much, Mr President. – Rappler.com

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