State of Paris climate talks

We are now in the final stretch of the marathon climate change negotiations that was launched in Durban, South Africa in December 2011 just around the time Typhoon Sendong hit the Philippines and killed thousands in my hometown Cagayan de Oro. I remember hearing the news of that tragedy, including of relatives and friends dying in the floods in my city, when I was boarding the plane to return to Manila. I knew then that I could not walk away from the work that had to be done to overcome the challenge of climate change. This is personal, I told myself. We can get this done.

Four years later, here we are in Paris, France, on the eve of a new agreement on climate change. I am certain now that in a few days, perhaps on Friday or at most on Saturday, the 196 countries and regional economic organizations who are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be adopting such a new agreement. Whether the new agreement is ambitious and adequate enough is uncertain but for sure it will be adopted. From the 86 pages that came out of the first negotiating meeting in Geneva, Switzerland last Friday, to the four dozen pages that came out of meetings in Bonn in June, August, and October, we now have a manageable 21 pages as the second week of the Paris Conference of the Parties begin.

For sure, there are still many brackets in the text, signifying contentious issues and text that are not yet agreed. Ministerial consultations continue, a process we are intensely involved in given that we have three cabinet members leading our effort in Paris. Secretaries Emmanuel de Guzman, Ramon Paje and Neric Acosta will be intervening in the ministerial consultations backed up colleagues from government, civil society, and academe.

Secretary Paje will be delivering a powerful speech today and will once again echo our main demands in this negotiation: that the world adopt a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap on temperature increases from pre-industrial level, that human rights (including the rights of indigenous peoples) and ecosystems integrity be protected in responding to climate change, that a review and rachet up mechanism be incorporated to ensure that we can increase ambition over time, that support in terms of finance, technology transfer and development, and capacity building be provided to developing countries so we can adapt and mitigate better, and that a loss and damage mechanism is set up as part of the Paris deal.

We had a good first week here in Paris as a Philippine delegation starting with the powerful speech of President Aquino; the President framed the issue as a global fairness and justice issue and that resonated with many. Our successful leadership of the Climate Vulnerability Forum, where we were able to increase membership from 20 to 43 countries and the great work of our negotiation teams that ensured our positions are all in the final negotiation text showed  that a united and inclusive Team Philippines, one that harnessed our best and most experienced minds for a single goal, can make a lot of difference.

The preamble of the draft agreement supports what we would like to see in this agreement. For example, it recognizesthe intrinsic relationship between climate change, poverty eradication and equitable access to sustainable development, and reaffirming that responses to climate change should aim to meet the specific needs and concerns arising from the adverse impacts of response measures. It also takes accounts of the specific needs of developing country Parties, and especially those that are particularly vulnerable to climate-related events,

The draft agreement emphasizes the need to respond to the urgent threat of climate change on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, in particular, the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Although not yet agreed, it notes that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.

An important paragraph for us is the emphasis given by the draft Paris agreement on  the importance of promoting, protecting and respecting all human rights, the right to development, the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable climate situations as well as promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, while taking into account the needs of local communities, intergenerational equity concerns, and the integrity of ecosystems and of Mother Earth, when taking action to address climate change.

The first version of this paragraph was introduced by the Philippines and we have consistently fought for its inclusion. When we first proposed this in Lima, Peru last year, we only had a few allies. Today, its almost universal the acceptance of this idea that human rights and climate change are inseparable.. We are very proud that we will likely win this battle and provide the climate change regime with a necessary human rights connection.

Important also for us are the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities and the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Finally, the draft agreement affirms the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information and cooperation at all levels on relevant matters.

Last Saturday, when the final negotiation text was adopted, everyone in the plenary hall, nicely named La Seine, was happy that good will and trust has prevailed so far and we are all hopeful this spirit will endure next week. It’s not over until it’s over of course. But I am more hopeful now than I was when we landed on this great city Saturday and even as late as Thursday when we seemed stuck.

I agree with my friend Dan Reifsnyder, co-chair of the negotiating process, that this is a historic moment. Dan Being American, I was able to predict that he would mention Charles Lindbergh’s historic landing of the first transatlantic flight here in Le Bourget in 1927 and he did. That was good, mentioning Lindbergh because what we need next week is the the spirit which made this global hero fly the Spirit of St. Louis – one of imagination, hope and courage.

In the same plenary, Dan’s co-chair from Algeria, Ahmed Djoghla, shared a quote from Africa: “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”

Together, this week, we will make history. I am sure of that.


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