Disappointed, not defeated, over Glasgow

Tagalog; Bisaya

“At least the theme of just transition has now entered the mainstream.”

For the 26th time, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change convened and concluded its annual Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland. COP 26, as popularly known, was supposed to be held last year but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Now numbering 200 Parties, thousands of international and national leaders, diplomats and government officials, and representatives of stakeholder groups – from indigenous peoples, the youth, environmental organizations, development groups, women, people with disabilities, industry and business, scientific and other academic organizations, local governments, etc – came together to address the global climate crisis.

I did not go to Glasgow, the first time I missed a COP in the last 12 years and one of five I did not attend out of the 26. But the Manila Observatory, where I serve as Associate Director for Climate Policy and International Relations, sent a four-person team to participate in the meeting. We are an active member of Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025), a consortium that convenes key stakeholders to discuss, identify and guide ambitious outcomes at UN climate negotiations as we successfully did in Glasgow.

For two weeks, speeches were delivered, promises were made, and ideas on how to move forward were debated, while young protesters marched in the streets of Glasgow. At the end of the two weeks, we have an outcome – The Glasgow Climate Pact.

Let me be clear. I am disappointed with the outcome of Glasgow. It was not a total disaster, like the 2009 Copenhagen meeting when I was a negotiator for the Philippines. But the outcome, except for some good advances, is the bare minimum and not the maximum of what could have been achieved.

At the same time, we have made enough progress to leave Glasgow knowing that those of us who care about people and the planet have not been defeated. The agreement to come back next year with stronger commitments on reducing emissions is something we must hold governments accountable to.

I am also satisfied with the performance of the Philippine delegation in Glasgow. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez delivered a strong country statement, promising to be a climate leader given our vulnerability to climate change. Our negotiators – especially Director Albert Magalang and Energy Undersecretary Wimpy Fuentebella – gave strong interventions in critical moments of the negotiations.

The biggest disappointment are the decisions on climate finance, adaptation, and the creation of the loss and damage facility. Once again, these issues are punted to the future, although from the looks of it, we could get good outcomes on this in a few years. Unlike the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which took 16 COPs to finally create, I sense that we will have a loss and damage facility in a couple of years.

In this regard, we are thankful to a Filipino lawyer, Vice Yu, for leading this effort for developing countries. Like the late Bernaditas Muller, the influential Filipino negotiator who led the fight to create the GCF, Vice has been instrumental in achieving the progress on operationalizing the Santiago Network, a body that aims to build technical expertise on dealing with loss and damage. As his early mentor from his UP Law days and as a colleague in the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center and the climate change delegations of the Philippines for many years, I am grateful for his work. My hope is that the Philippine government would recognize this and invite Vice and other civil society experts to assist them in future negotiations.

Unlike many, I am not too concerned that the word “phase-out” of coal power was replaced by “phasedown” as the latter is anyway a step toward phase out. The fact that coal and fossil fuel subsidies are included and targeted for phase-out for the first time in an agreed text by 200 governments is a big victory already in itself.

The text calls for “the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures’, “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, and “providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”

One big advance in Glasgow is that the theme of just transition has now entered the mainstream of discussions. This is clear from the preamble of the Glasgow Climate Pact, which include the following clause: “Recognizes the need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, including through making financial flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, including through deployment and transfer of technology, and provision of support to developing country Parties.”

In the next column, I will point to other advances and suggest concrete actions so next year’s conference in Egypt will produce a better result.

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