Paris Agreement: Not perfect but good

Why did the thousands of people in Le Bourget, Paris erupt with joy and jubiliation when it was announced that the Paris Agreement had been adopted?

Imagine putting hundreds of die-hard Binay, Poe, Roxas, Duterte, and Santiago supporters in one room and telling them they cannot leave unless they are able to agree on one candidate to endorse and vote for. To some extent, that is what it was like in the final days of the Paris climate conference as we continued to debate while the hours ticked to the final showdown, necessitating in fact a one-day extension.

The climate change negotiations is even more complex than our parochial politics where the candidate have so far been unable to level up and instead some of them have resorted to challenging each other to slapping contests, fist fights, and even a gun duel. In Le Bourget, 195 governments and one regional organization (the European Union) gathered together to solve a global problem.

Climate change is the most serous international development, environment and security challenge. All countries must cooperate to overcome it. Unfortunately, its impacts as well as the consequences of the interventions needed to mitigate climate change are very different for every country. Some countries will suffer more than others. Some countries have also contributed to the problem more than others. There is inequality and injustice in the way the problem has come about; there is also inequality in the way its impacts are distributed. The saddest part about climate change is that it is the poorest countries, societies, communities, families, and individuals that suffer and will suffer most from it while the richest countries, societies, communities, families, and individuals, while not spared from its impacts, will have the most resources to adapt to its impacts.

That is why we rejoiced in Le Bourget. We actually did what looked impossible – agree as a world on how to confront and overcome the challenge of climate change.

Not only that we agreed, but the Paris Agreement is not a weak agreement, it is not a least common denominator agreement but it is actually the maximum possible that countries can agree to at this point. It is not perfect of course as many things still need to be done but here the perfect here would have been the enemy of the good. If Paris failed, it would have meant we wait another 10 years before the world acted on climate change.  Failure in Paris was unthinkable. I realized that Thursday night after another long day and night of nonstop negotiations. It would have been a betrayal of our children and their children, a forfeiture of the future.

While the Paris Agreement is not perfect, it is good. More importantly, within its text and structure, it can be improved over time. That’s the beauty of the agreement.

In adopting the Paris Agreement, governments unanimously recognized with certainty that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet. This is a big advance as it tells climate deniers they are wrong and irrelevant.

The Paris Agreement is a big advance for human rights by requiring governments, when taking action to address climate change, to respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, 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 Philippines was the first to proposed this principle a year ago and consistently advocated it up to the end. In Lima, Peru last December 2014, only 5 countries supported us. In February, in Geneva, the human rights coalition grew to 20 countries. By the last preparatory meeting in October, we had over 50 countries supporting our position. By Thursday night, the coalition with Mexico and the Philippines had the support of all developed countries and most developing countries. The last to hold out – the Arab countries who wanted an inclusion of the right of people under occupation (this referred to the Palestinian people; personally this was OK to me but unfortunately many developed countries led by the United States could not accept his for political reason) yielded on the last day and history was made.

A very important development in the Paris Agreement is the first time ever acknowledgement of the concept of climate justice. I would have thought it would take another ten years to get this so getting it now early means a lot.

The preceding principles are all in the preamble of the Paris Agreement but they are all written in legally binding language. They are now sources of rights and legal obligations.

The Paris Agreement is overall a legally binding agreement. The parties who will sign and ratify it will take on obligations that they must comply with. They have to take actions, monitor and measure them, and allow for their review and verification. What have not yet agreed upon are the compliance procedures to be resorted to when there is noncompliance. That work will have to be done in the next few years.

The Paris Agreement is good in terms of both mitigation and adaptation; its support provisions are however inadequate and should be improved over time.

The agreement’s principle aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The 1.5 degrees limit is a big victory for the Philippines and other climate vulnerable countries as it is a significantly safer defense line against the worst impacts of a changing climate. Although the current mitigation commitments can still lead to a 2.7 increase, the Paris Agreement thankfully has a built-in review period that will allow stronger comments every five years until we are in track for a ceiling of 1.5 degrees.

The Loss and Damage article is full of possibilities. The Philippines worked hard to shape that article through the last two years.

Laurent Fabius, President of the COP 21 UN Climate change conference and French Foreign Minister is correct: “The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high. Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense”

I agree with French President Francois Hollande who told us: “You’ve done it, reached an ambitious agreement, a binding agreement, a universal agreement. Never will I be able to express more gratitude to a conference. You can be proud to stand before your children and grandchildren.”

I give the last word to my friend Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): “One planet, one chance to get it right and we did it in Paris. We have made history together. It is an agreement of conviction. It is an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable . . . Successive generations will, I am sure, mark the 12 December 2015 as a date when cooperation, vision, responsibility, a shared humanity and a care for our world took centre stage.”

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