United in Warsaw

The Philippines recognizes the role it has to play in mitigating climate change, but it can only effectively do so if there will be enough support from developed countries

We write this from Warsaw, Poland. It is Day 11 of the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. It has been a roller coaster ride so far for the Philippine delegation.  The range of issues we are faced with here is incredibly diverse and complex and the work has been really challenging – from the loss and damage negotiations to the climate finance discussions to making sure forests are not commodified and the right of indigenous peoples and local communities are not compromises to making sure we have the right foundations for a Paris Agreement. In addition, because of Haiyan/Yolanda, it has been difficult for our delegation not to think of what was happening. In fact, some of us, like our lead negotiator Yeb Saño, had family members affected by the storm.

As our head of delegation Secretary Lucille Sering, Vice-Chair of the Climate Change Commission as she began her ministerial speech, statements high-level officials deliver on behalf of their country: “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.” 

Loss and damage mechanism

In her speech, Sec. Sering argued why a loss and damage mechanism should be established here at Warsaw, two days before the talks close on Nov. 23 and after the Philippines, together with all our developing country allied, was reported to have walked out of the negotiations on loss and damage due to the lack of support from some developed countries.

Sering pounded on this point a week after Saño made the personal decision to voluntarily fast until a meaningful outcome of COP 19 was achieved. For the Philippine delegation, given what the country is undergoing in the aftermath of the strongest typhoon that made landfall,  the creation of loss and damage mechanism in the climate change convention has become our highest priority. More than anything, we need a vehicle for climate justice that will enable us to secure funds, assistance, and compensation in the face of loss and damage arising from human induced climate change.

The adaptation negotiators of the Philippine delegation, led by Department of Agriculture (DA) official Alice Ilaga, have poured their energies into crafting strategies to steer the negotiations toward the creation of the mechanism. They have day in and day out, discussed the viability and timeliness of introducing modalities on loss and damage with other countries.    But after more than a week, the talks have hit a standstill early morning on Wednesday over the functions of the mechanism. Prior to this, problems have already emerged after some developed nations refused to see loss and damage as a separate concern outside of adaptation. But the very purpose of loss and damage though is to address the “limits of adaptation,” as Ilaga has said.

Extreme weather events can still destroy properties and livelihoods because of their intensity even if adaptation measures have already been set in place. Loss and damage would streamline the transfer of finance that is beyond emergency relief. It would introduce insurance schemes that are helpful in building resilience.

Failure to respond to climate change

The lack of progress in loss and damage shows the spirit of stagnancy that has permeated the talks, however. As Sering has said, the UN Climate Change talks have went on for 19 years without producing a strong, global response to the problem of climate change.  During her speech before other ministers that have converged in Warsaw this week, she asked:  A:nd 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 wave in France, the wildfires in Australia and other extreme events occurring after observed increased warming, should not we all be ashamed being here?”

Sering questioned the relevance of the climate change convention and in the most powerful moment of her speech, she raised the stakes: “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 on 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.  We continually engaged 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 is it moral to do so, but because it is our obligation to do so.”

Finance and carbon cuts

The stalemate over loss and damage exposes the bottlenecks in the negotiations, which primarily revolved around money. Some developed countries are reluctant to provide compensation for loss and damage, reflecting their refusal to also commit sustainable sources of climate finance.

This is our battleground. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries have the obligation to extend unconditional assistance to countries vulnerable to climate change. What gave a human face to this obligation is the recent tragedy caused by super typhoon Haiyan in parts of our country.

It is hard to sustain and transform sympathy into commitments in the climate change negotiations, however. The reality is, there have been disasters before this, but domestic considerations and economic insecurity have caused some countries to adopt a rigid stand on the subjects of emission reduction and provision of finance. Our negotiators are working hard in Warsaw, however, to make sure that lessons are and would be learned from Haiyan.

We have one consistent response to the challenge of developed nations for developing countries to also reduce emissions: we will not back down from this responsibility. “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,” Sering said.

The Philippines recognizes the role it has to play in mitigating climate change, but it can only effectively do so if there will be enough support from developed countries.

“We’re willing but we should do only what we can,” Vicente Yu, the country’s negotiator under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Enhanced Platform (ADP) said. “We can do more if they provide finance and technology transfer.” The ADP works on developing the mandate of the 2015 agreement.

COP19 has been dubbed as the “Year of Finance” but there are no clear commitments yet nor are there definite funding sources. There are different channels for climate finance and we have pulled all stops to drive the discussions forward among all three – the Green Climate Fund (GCF), loss and damage and adaptation.

The GCF is a $100-billion financing mechanism envisioned to enable developing countries to develop initiatives for adaptation and mitigation by 2020. Developed countries have stressed that private finance is important in providing capitalization to the GCF. The Philippines has reiterated though that public finance should be the primary source of the GCF.

“Private sector is not funding this agreement,” Bernarditas de Castro Muller said, referring to the 2015 legally-binding climate change agreement mandating developed and developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Roadblocks on the GCF have implications for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation or REDD-plus. Alaya de Leon of the Ateneo School of Government facilitated an informal session with negotiators who agreed that REDDplus finance should be under the GCF. But since the mechanism remains an empty vehicle, questions were still raised on how much really would go to REDDplus, and how.

The Philippines is one of those that worked to ensure that countries though would provide verifiable information on how REDDplus safeguards – or policies and actions minimizing risks to indigenous peoples and biodiversity – are being implemented. This is consistent with our call to place mitigation and adaptation measures within the human rights context.


After a week of grueling talks that are wanting of victories, no matter how small, ministers have arrived at COP19. This has the potential to raise the level of urgency for action, but expectations remain realistic. 

The Philippine delegation, however, wants to convey one central message – and that message is hope. It’s not an empty avowal. From day one here in Warsaw, Poland, Philippine negotiators, inspired by the resiliency of their fellowmen, have been working hard to fuel international commitments of providing resources for countries most affected by the impacts of climate change.

Sering will echo the delegation’s unified call for COP19 to be remembered as the climate change talks where the building blocks for loss and damage were successfully introduced. She will also reiterate that developed nations have to provide real, sustainable funds for adaptation and mitigation. Our firm stand on these issues would be made known to the rest of the world even as frustrations and pessimism gripped the negotiations.

The UN climate changes talks in Warsaw will be over in a few days. But we will continue, up until the very last minute, to drive home our message of hope as the Philippine delegation. Because as Secretary Sering pointed out at the of her well-applauded speech: “We can no longer afford any delay.  This is not for us only.  This is for our youth, the current generation and the future.” – Rappler.com

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