Start of Paris climate talks

The Paris climate change summit began with a bang yesterday with more than a 100 heads of states converging here on the first day to deliver national statements urging action and collaboration on climate change. The conference venue is Le Bourget, the first airport of Paris built in 1919 and famous as the landing site for Charles Lindbergh‘s historic solo transatlantic crossing in 1927. It was also in this airport, on 16 June 1961, where the Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected here. Currently, the Paris Air Show, the world’s oldest, takes place in Le Bourget. Because of its size, it was chosen as the venue for this meeting where 50,000 participants are expected. Among these are a couple of hundred of Filipinos, not just the official delegation but also many media people, scientists, activists, and youth delegates.

In her opening speech, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, appealed to all of us who are here: “The eyes of the world have been on Paris over the past few weeks. Now, the eyes of the world are on you. National climate change world that delivers support for developing countries and that catalyzes action from all. We need predictable timeline, clear goals that respond to science and responds to the urgency of the matter. The world is looking to you, the world is counting on you.”

Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of host France and incoming president of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, delivered a short welcome statement, promising three things to characterize their country’s leadership of this process: trust, transparency,  and Ambition. He committed to do everything to achieve compromise.

As I write this column, heads of states have begun their speeches, with President Aquino slated to speak Monday afternoon. He will also be convening a high level event of the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF). I will write about his statement, one of the most awaited and likely to be very influential, and the CVF event in my next column.

While national leaders are taking center stage on the first day, this meeting is not just about governments; it is also about the persistent spirit and the strong will displayed by citizen movements around the world, attributes that have helped create important changes in this process and have shaped the upcoming new climate agreement in more ways than one.

One of these citizen movements is the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group (RSWG), a coalition of 42 nongovernment organizations from different countries. The Ateneo de Manila School of Government (ASoG) is a part of and anchors this coalition. From 2010 onwards, we have worked for the inclusion of REDD+ safeguards , or measures that minimize the potential negative effects of REDD+ (Reducing emissions through deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+)  on indigenous peoples, biodiversity and forest-dependent communities. REDD+ incentivizes developing countries for the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest stocks, but we believe it should not be seen as just a mitigation measure as it has environmental and governance implications.

For this past year and here in Paris, the RSWG is working on two issues: expanding the principle of a rights-based approach to other elements of the new climate agreement and making sure that the new climate change deal will capture and reflect the value of ecosystems integrity. In our latest briefing paper “Ensuring  the Right Climate Actions for Ecosystems and People,” we point out that actions taken to maintain or enhance ecosystem integrity and resilience will help countries “achieve their mitigation and adaptation objectives and to avoid ill-conceived climate responses that perversely undermine progress towards these objectives.”

Equally important is our position that “respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling rights are fundamental to long-term success of climate actions.”  The participation of vulnerable and marginalized groups in the development and implementation of mitigation and adaptation initiatives will help make them sustainable.  We stress that human rights and ecosystems integrity complement each other as they provide a holistic approach to climate actions, one that will maximize social, environmental and economic benefits.

Both are captured in Article 2.2 in the draft Paris agreement.  Thankfully, the  Philippines is the champion for the inclusion of language on human rights in the current draft“. I am proud to say that our country is also responsible for language in the draft recognizes the importance of ensuring the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems.

More specifically, the RSWG is working so that Article 2.2 mandate countries to ensure the protection of human rights “including those of indigenous peoples, gender equality and the full and equal participation of women” and also ensure “intergenerational equity and a just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs and food security.”

We also want to have ecosystems integrity and rights captured under the mitigation and adaptation sections. For the section on transparency, we believe that the Paris agreement must clearly state that countries have the obligation to provide accurate, transparent, complete, consistent and comparable information on the implementation of adaptation actions and steps taken to improve ecosystems integrity.

Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the Paris agreement must disallow finance for actions that increase greenhouse gas emissions or those that compromise integrity and resilience of ecosystems and pose threats to communities and violate their rights.

RSWG, working through countries like the Philippines, will maximize these two weeks of negotiations to make sure that the new agreement will recognize the existing obligations of countries to protect the integrity of natural ecosystems when they undertake actions and investments. We will also push for the development of a work programme that will guide land use actions and the regular provision of information on how countries have considered the impacts of climate initiatives on ecosystems integrity.

We will do our best to make sure the Paris agreement will guide countries on how to do it right – with ecosystems integrity and rights, we could never go wrong.

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