I write this column with the news from Minister Laurent Fabius that the Paris climate change conference will be extended by one day, to Saturday, Dec. 12.
There are still serious issues that have to be resolved. Indeed, two all-night negotiations, participated in by the Philippine delegation, have failed so far to overcome the differences between countries on these issues.
There are three of these major cross-cutting issues: Differentiation, Financing, and Level of Ambition.
Differentiation is the question of how to distinguish between obligations of developed and developing countries in addressing climate change. It includes clarifying the obligation of developed countries to provide support for developing countries’ actions and determining whether the more economically developing countries should be obliged to provide such support.
The issues around climate finance are always challenging in the climate change negotiations. It involves the setting a level of financing that is adequate, predictable and scaled up, that responds to the needs of developing countries, and that can be measured, reported and verified through a transparent manner. Assistant Secretary Joy Goco is leading a superb interagency team from the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance, and Department of Foreign Affairs in these negotiations. They are supported by experts from civil society in their tasks.
Finally, there is still debate around the level of ambition of the agreement—whether to adopt a 1.5oC or 2oC limit, linked to quantified targets for a pathway towards a low-emission, climate-resilient sustainable development. Should there be a long-term goal of the Paris agreement? Would a higher limit leave behind and make vulnerable millions of people in small islands and poor countries, exposing them to higher risk to climate change impacts? Would a lower limit be too much a barrier to sustainable development of developing countries?
The Philippine delegation, led by Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman, the visionary and strong-willed Vice-Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission, has been very disciplined and focused in its work here. Aside from ably leading the delegation, Secretary de Guzman has done a great job chairing the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a group of 43 countries that has found a united voice here in Paris.
Secretary de Guzman is joined here in Paris by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and presidential adviser, Secretary Neric Acosta. They are supported by able senior officials and technical experts from various departments, including a number of skilled diplomats led by Assistant Secretary Gary Domingo. I am also happy that other senior joined us in Paris to help out, including DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones, Science and Technology Assistant Secretary Raymond Liboro, and Transportation and Communications Assistant Secretary Regina Ramos. In additional, several experts from academe and civil society has been playing critical roles in the Philippine delegation.
As the delegation spokesman and the most experienced among all its members, I am very proud of the work we are doing here in Paris. We are one of the most influential and admired. Already, we have won three Rays of the Day awards. This honor is given by global civil society to the delegation that has distinguished itself in the way that it has articulated and promoted the most climate-, planet-, and people-friendly positions on that particular day.
We have been working hard for a reference to a 1.5°C limit, even as part of a compromise on a broader range of 1.5°C or 2°C, linked to a clear decarbonization pathway, where there is differentiation between developed and developing country obligations.
It looks like we will be successful with the inclusion of human rights in the agreement. Two provisions in the preamble address this priority of the Philippine delegation. Paragraph 11 acknowledges that climate change being a common concern to humankind, Parties should, when developing policies and taking action to address climate change, promote, respect and take into account their respective obligations on human rights.
Paragraph 12 is also important; it calls on Parties, when taking action to address climate change, to promote, respect and consider, in accordance with their respective obligations, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
The preamble also has a good provision on ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, when taking action to address climate change.
I am proud to claim that the human rights and ecosystems integrity provisions of the Paris Agreement are an outcome of close collaboration between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ateneo School of Government. Those provisions were first proposed in Lima, Peru by Assistant Secretary Domingo and later on were advocated successfully by Foreign Service Officers Val Roque and Elaine Mae Laruan-Hernandez. My team from ASoG provided the legal and policy support for this important breakthrough that links human rights to climate change.
One particular issue that remains pending is the establishment of a loss-and-damage mechanism through a stand-alone article in the Paris Agreement separate from adaptation. We need this to ensure the recovery, restoration and resilience of communities, livelihoods and ecosystems adversely affected by slow onset events, extreme weather events and other climate change impacts. Thankfully, veteran negotiator Alice Ilaga, from the Department of Agriculture, is ably leading this work.
The climate negotiations is being held in Le Bourget, Paris’ oldest airport. As we enter into the last day of this four-year process, will we be able to land safely all the “planes”—long term goal, loss and damage, human rights, ecosystems integrity, and climate finance—still flying in negotiation airspace or can a mishap or big crash still happen? Is it possible that we will fly home empty handed?
It’s past midnight in Paris. We will work beyond dawn. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And when that happens, that moment when we remove all the brackets and adopt the Paris Agreement, we will celebrate and inaugurate a new era of international cooperation on climate action.
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