Next steps on climate change

Dean Tony La Viu00f1a and Purple Romero

Obama just announced his new climate action plan, where he vowed to increase efforts in steering America toward a low carbon, clean energy economic path. He appealed to the American public to help him in "keeping the United States a leader — a global leader — in the fight against climate change."

The World Bank, with the collaboration of our Climate Change Commission and Department of Budget and Management, also launched its Philippine Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR) on June 25, which showed that while the government has invested in climate policy reforms, there are still financing gaps on knowledge and capacity development.

The Philippines currently spends 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product on climate change related-efforts. Lord Stern, an economist in the United Kingdom and author of the Stern Review, said countries should allot two percent of their respective GDP to battling climate change.

The CPEIR was launched days after the World Bank released its report "Turn down the heat: climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience" on June 19. In the report, the World Bank warned that global temperatures could reach 4 degrees Celsius within this century if no immediate actions are taken to reduce the carbon footprint. The World Bank added that higher temperature may lead to severe drought in Africa and increased frequency of extreme weather events in already vulnerable countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

These happened as negotiators from over 170 countries participated in the last midyear climate change talks in Bonn, Germany from June 3-14 to thresh out more details and firm up strategies on climate finance, adaptation and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-PLUS).

Three bodies under the United Nations Framework on the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) - conducted parallel meetings. The SBSTA provides advice to the Conference of Parties (COP) - the ultimate decision-making authority in the Convention - on scientific and methodological issues, while the SBI advises the COP on the implementation of the Convention. The SBI reviews the national communications and the emissions inventory of countries, among others.

The ADP, on the other hand, was formed in COP 17 in Durban, South Africa to hammer out a new, legally-binding climate change agreement by 2015, where emerging economies like India and China would also set mitigation targets.

Negotiators in Bonn held meetings for two weeks. Side events by nongovernment organizations, indigenous peoples groups and other stakeholders were conducted in the nearby ministries of environment and transportation. The climate change talks centered on the fundamental objectives of mitigation and adaptation.

The midyear talks in Bonn were conducted in the run-up to COP 19, which would be held in Warsaw, Poland from November 11-22.

Adaptation and agriculture

The Philippines, as a country vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, has consistently pushed for deep carbon cuts and unconditional funding support for adaptation.

It is within this context that we highlight what transpired in SBSTA in the discussions on agriculture and adaptation.

The last day of the climate talks in Bonn saw Filipino Climate Change commissioner Naderev Saño pounding on one point: he spoke twice about the need to make sure developing countries would be able to participate in workshops on adaptation and co-benefits.

These workshops were introduced during the SBSTA after the parties failed to agree on the best way to proceed with adaptation in reference to agriculture.

During the SBSTA talks, developed countries pointed out that agriculture is also a source of greenhouse gases and hence should be an area for mitigation. Raising poultry and livestock, after all, produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano did not dispute this. But he said the economic impact of imposing mitigation measures upon farmers should also be taken into consideration, especially since majority of the developing countries depend on agriculture for economic growth. He added that Article IV of the Convention clearly stated that wealthy countries should support developing countries in strengthening their adaptive capacity.

Egypt suggested on behalf of G77 and China, a bloc that the Philippines belongs to, to include an intersessional workshop in Warsaw where experts could come up with scientific and technical recommendations on agricultural systems and sustainable development.

Developing countries like the Philippines raised though that these experts should come from both the wealthy and poor nations. "There should be balanced representation in workshops," Saño said.

Mitigation maze

Mitigation commitments and making the 2015 agreement more transparent were discussed in ADP.

UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said the ADP "has been an important meeting because governments are moving faster now from the stage of exploring options to designing and implementing solutions."

There was a resounding position that the new agreement should be made within a "rules-based" regime and that monitoring mechanisms on compliance and accounting should be developed.

The debate continues on the reduction framework, however. What is the most equitable way to share the mitigation burden?

Developed countries say that developing countries should decrease their greenhouse gas emissions based on their capacity. But industrialized countries should take the lead, according to developing countries.

"Article 4.1 [of the Convention] does not mention respective capabilities, it only mentions common but differentiated responsibilities," Philippine delegate Bernarditas Mueller said.

Common but differentiated responsibilities was introduced in the Rio Summit in 1992. The text in the summit stated that "States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command. "

G77 and China and the African group said the 2015 agreement should not deviate from the Convention, nor should it be a reason to renegotiate the principles of Convention.

REDD-plus negotiations

Positive developments marked the negotiations on REDD-plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) as parties were able to forward draft decisions on drivers of deforestation, modalities for national forest monitoring systems and timing and frequency of reporting safeguards to COP19.

While not yet fully agreed upon, it appears that a solution to the issue of verification, which prevented agreement in Doha last December, is in sight.

REDD-plus is a mechanism where incentives are provided to developing countries for the sustainable management of their forests, which are carbon sinks. In COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, safeguards such as transparency and protection of the human rights of indigenous people were included in the implementation of REDD-PLUS.

The Philippines is a leading country in the REDD-plus negotiations with its negotiators chairing previous and current negotiating groups. We are known as champions of REDD-plus safeguards, including indigenous peoples’ rights, public and stakeholder participation, transparency, and reforms in forest governance. We have also been instrumental in making sure forests are not reduced to their carbon value and that non-carbon benefits are taken into account.

In Bonn, one issue was a debate on the term “livelihoods” in understanding drivers of deforestation. The Philippines proposed to change "livelihoods" to "local economies" because as explained by Philippine REDD-plus negotiator Alaya De Leon, identifying livelihoods as a driver of deforestation could have "negative implications." On the other hand, Thailand said livelihoods do not have a purely economic connotation, as it also has a social dimension, and Tanzania pushed for the retention of "livelihoods."

At the closing of the SBSTA session, Australia, in behalf of the Umbrella group (loose group of developed countries that are not part of EU) supported the position of the Philippines. Tuvalu also voiced reservations on the text on livelihoods as it could potentially affect indigenous peoples.

This is an important area as REDD-plus aims to operationalize within the framework of safeguards on biodiversity, land tenure and indigenous peoples' rights, among others.

There was also a divergence of opinions on the manner of submitting information on emissions. Developing countries want REDD-plus to be included under the international consultation and analysis (ICA) while developed countries want something more thorough.

The same debate on safeguard reporting arose. Some wanted ad hoc reporting on the REDD-plus platform, while other parties pushed for voluntary biennial reporting.

The REDD-plus Safeguards Working Group decried that the outcome on safeguards reporting is "profoundly weak, and ambiguous about when the first report should be produced and through which channel."

"This outcome provides a very poor signal. It shows little commitment to reporting effectively on safeguards and undermines confidence that they will be implemented effectively," they said.

SBI crashes

And then there was SBI, or the Subsidiary Body for Implementation.

The parties expressed disappointment when SBI talks were stalled after Russia, Belarus and Ukraine first sought for a discussion on having new rules of procedure before the agenda could be adopted.

Russia showed its dissatisfaction over what happened in Doha, when its clarifications about the second commitment of the Kyoto protocol - the legally-binding treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions - were dimissed by the chairman due to the lack of consensus.

Tuvalu, in the closing of the SBI plenary, said that what the 3 parties did was akin to "crashing the car to test the seat belts."

The work program on loss and damage, assessment of the nationally appropriate mitigation actions and the financial assistance given to developing countries were sidelined due to the collapse of the SBI.

Citizen organizations assailed the lack of progress in SBI; a youth organization echoed what UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in 2009 - "Nature does not negotiate."

Next stop: Warsaw

All roads now lead to COP19 in Warsaw, where parties remain hopeful that the next steps on crafting a 2015 legally-binding treaty on reducing carbon emissions would be on track despite the SBI fiasco.

Negotiators should work on the developments achieved in Bonn and find a way to address substantial concerns on mitigation and adaptation. They should not lose sight of the goals: and that is to have ambitious emission targets and to make sure that commitments to funding adaptation are realized.

We cannot delay action on climate change. There is a global call to expedite the establishment and implementation of solutions. That call should be heeded with urgency, as preventing the loss of further livelihoods and lives due to climate change is the responsibility of all nations. - Rappler.com