On the eve of Paris climate summit

Two days from now, world leaders will converge in Paris, France for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Meeting on the first day of the two week conference, the heads of state are expected to adopt a political declaration that will provide direction to the negotiations that will immediately follow the summit. COP 21 is the culmination of a long negotiation process for a new climate change agreement – one that will hopefully be ambitious, effective and adequate – that have been going on for four years. President Aquino and several department secretaries will be attending the leaders’ summit while a number of top officials led by Emmanuel De Guzman, a member of the Climate Change Commission, supported by technical staff and civil society advisers, will negotiate for the country.

The Philippines is in a unique position in the negotiations. It is currently the Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a collaboration of climate vulnerable countries that aims to elevate the voice of those who are at the frontlines of climate change impacts in the international arena. By holding the chairmanship at what could perhaps be one of the most crucial times in history, our country has the privilege and the responsibility to ensure that what comes out of Paris is an agreement that does right by those who are most affected by climate change.

Commissioner De Guzman frames very well the work we have to do in Paris – our position on a 1.5 degrees cap on increase of global temperature , our emphasis on human rights, and our hope for an ambitious and effective climate change agreement that will reduce emissions, ensure adaptation, and provide adequate support – finance, technology transfer, and capacity building – for the mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries.

The Philippine delegation will take its cue from the speech of President Aquino on Monday. That is one of the most awaited speeches because he will speak not only for us but for many vulnerable countries. I am certain President Aquino will do well and will be one of the most influential heads of state in the one day leaders’ summit on November 30. He will likely repeat his call for all countries to act on climate change based on common but differentiated responsibilities and to abandon the politics of blame. He will tell his fellow leaders that the Philippine is walking its talk by committing to reduce its emissions by 70% in 2030 based on its business-as-usual emissions between 2000-2030.

The delegation, over 50 of us,  will take over from the President after the leaders’ summit. For the first time since Kyoto, we have negotiators from all the critical departments – Office of the President, Climate Change Commission, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Energy, Transportation and Communication, NEDA, PAGASA, Finance, and Science and Technology. We will also have the benefit of the presence of key legislators Sen. Loren Legarda and Cong. Rodel Batocabe, ensuring that we can consult on legislative actions that might be taken after Paris. And of course there are a number of us from civil society organizations, including a number of lawyers, technical experts, and youth delegates from Ateneo de Manila, providing support to our negotiators.

I write this column just before I board my plane to Paris. This is my 15th conference of the parties as a negotiator for the Philippines; President Aquino is the fourth president I have served on this issue. I am humbled and honored by this and promise to do my best and help our government and people to secure the best deal possible.

As reported by Rappler, Commissioner De Guzman eloquently points that: “This is really the defining moment in our history. This agreement will essentially define the fate of humanity and our planet.” He adds: “We are an important player here, in these climate talks. We are considered the face of climate vulnerability.”

De Guzman emphasizes the human rights message we will be bringing as a country and delegation to Paris. The truth is what we will decide in Paris can mean life or death, prosperity or poverty, health or sickness, and above all hope or despair not for states or countries but for real individuals, families, communities and whole peoples.

The worse outcomes will happen if, in Paris, we fail to adopt the most ambitious mitigation and adaptation goals possible, if we don’t back up these goals with right levels of finance and strong technology cooperation initiatives, and if we also fail to respect peoples’ rights when countries implement  mitigation and adaptation programs.

I have told the story once before of the first time I visited Paris 34 years ago. It was spring of 1981, in fact it was May 1, 1981, workers’ day.  This was a few weeks before the second round of presidential elections that Francoise Mitterrand would eventually win, the first time in generations that a socialist was going to become the president of France. And so on may 1, 1981, here I was, this young activist and myself a socialist, who came from a country that was then ruled by a dictator where we could not even protest, where socialism was a bad name and could get you jailed and even killed, there I was marching in the streets of Paris with fellow socialists, communists who supported Mitterrand, workers, and young people. Victory was in the air. I have to say it was exhilarating.

At the end of that day, I recalled the words of the great French writer Albert Camus:  “In the depths of winter,  I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” That’s my hope in Paris for all of us negiotiators: that we discover in ourselves, all of us who are there, discover an invincible summer that will allow us to see things clearly with light and warmth.

In the city of light and of love, in the city where the United Nations in 1948 adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, in the city where the people of France more than 200 years ago overthrew a despotic monarchy and issued the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, lets add one more accolade – Paris, this is the city where the countries and peoples of the world finally turned around and once for all grappled with climate change, stared and wrestled it down together, and begin to overcome it – all of us, all countries and all peoples, and all, to use words from Camus again, in communion and solidarity.

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