What the Philippines can contribute to win against Climate Change

“We must not contribute to our own destruction.”

I have written many times that the global climate emergency is upon us. We are already experiencing its impact and it will only get worse. But are we helpless against climate change? Are the worst scenarios inevitable? Should we just give up and do what we can to prepare for what is to come?

The good news is that the impact of climate change is not written in stone. We can still win against climate change.

The bad news is that we are running out of time. As a global community, according to the scientific consensus, we only have 10 years – by 2030 – to implement measures that would turn the tide so that we can avoid the worst climate impact.

Those measures are and will be taken under the Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by 191 countries, including the Philippines, and came into force on 4 November 2016. The Agreement, which I helped negotiate for the country in 2015, can be a game-changer if implemented properly.

In the Paris Agreement, governments agreed to limit the global average temperature increase “to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and to pursue “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

The Paris Agreement frames each country’s commitments to achieve its objectives through an instrument called Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). These NDCs must be developed, adopted, and implemented with transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency, environmental integrity, and avoidance of double counting.

Before the Paris meeting in 2015, the Philippines communicated an intended NDC (INDC), articulating mitigation targets and adaptation measures needing international support for implementation. For mitigation, the INDC adopted a 70-percent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 relative to its Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario of 2000-2030 from energy, transport, forestry, industry and waste, albeit totally conditioned on the provision of the means of implementation that the country will receive in the form of technical, capacity and financial assistance.

Two months ago, on 15 April 2021, the Philippines communicated an updated NDC. The latest NDC retains both mitigation and adaptation components and articulates a dynamic baseline target similar to the INDC. However, there are substantial changes introduced compared to the INDC. In terms of the Philippine mitigation contribution, the NDC “commits to a projected GHG emissions reduction and avoidance of 75 percent, of which 2.71 percent is unconditional and 72.29 percent is conditional, representing the country’s ambition for GHG mitigation for the period 2020 to 2030 for the sectors of agriculture, wastes, industry, transport, and energy.” This commitment is referenced against a projected BAU cumulative economy-wide emission of 3,340.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) for the same period. In the NDC, the Philippines also set 2030 to peak its emissions, which means emissions will no longer increase after that year.

Dr. Manny Solis and I have analyzed the updated NDC. We welcome it and appreciate the work the government has done. But we also identify gaps and suggest ways to strengthen it.

We observe that the NDC commits a higher mitigation contribution compared to the INDC. Also, it commits to an unconditional GHG reduction as differentiated from the wholly conditional INDC. This is good

We are however surprised that the NDC dropped the forest sector to meet the country’s mitigation commitment. This goes against the grain that one of the actions needed to control the increase in GHG emissions is the conservation and enhancement of GHG sinks and reservoirs, including the important role of forests, as both a carbon sink and a source of GHG emissions. Without the forest sector, the Philippine mitigation contribution is weakened by its inexplicable absence in the NDC. It also robs our forest sector of an opportunity to attract climate finance to support forest mitigation and adaptation programs.

Another gap in the NDC to communicate clearly a baseline target is the planned and implemented policies and actions in the energy sector, as the Philippines’ biggest contributor – about 52 percent – to GHG emissions. This information is critical in determining the baseline to identify the policies that have or likely to have significant effects on GHG emissions, including their status, duration, impact and how these are estimated. For example, it would be good to see ambitious targets that will put us firmly on the path of transitioning our energy system from its reliance on coal-fired power to one that is anchored on renewable energy. We must not only impose a moratorium on unapproved new coal projects but not build those already approved and have a decommissioning plan for older plants.

The Philippines will be seriously affected by climate change. While our emissions are not as high as top emitters like the United States and China, we do emit significantly more than a majority of other developing countries (we rank between 30-40 of the highest emitters with more than 150 countries emitting lower than us). We must not contribute to our own destruction. Instead, we must contribute to win against climate change.

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