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Welcoming Al Gore to Manila

As part of the work being done to support implementation of the historic commitments made at the climate change conference in Paris last December, 2015, The Climate Reality Project is hosting a climate leadership training event in Manila, next Monday through Wednesday, March 14 to 16. The Climate Reality Project, founded by former United States Vice President Al Gore, works to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.   

The training event, led by Mr. Gore himself, will provide new Climate Reality Leaders with the knowledge and tools to build public awareness of the climate crisis and inspire action to solve it.   Speakers will include experts like myself, Ateneo de Manila University President Fr.  Jose T. Villarin, and Biodiversity Management Bureau Theresa Mundita Lim, government leaders such as Senator Loren Legarda, Climate Change Commission vice chair Emmanuel de Guzman, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, and young voices like my friends Mima Mendoza and Bea Tulagan. Aside from Mr. Gore, other international experts will be sharing their insights, including professor Don Henry from Australia, Ken Berlin and Mario Molina of the Climate Reality Project, and Preety Bhandari of the Asian Development Bank. Maria Ressa of Rappler will also be a speaker as communication skills for effective climate advocacy is emphasized in this training where topics such as resiliency and adaptation in the Philippines, the important role of conservation in combatting climate change, and the revolutionary potential of clean energy are included.

So far, The Climate Reality Leadership Corps has trained thousands of Climate Reality Leaders from 135 countries to become effective agents of change within their communities and their nations, most recently hosting trainings in Miami, Toronto, Cedar Rapids, and New Delhi. More than 300 Filipinos will be participating in the training. I am grateful to Rodne Galicha, the Philippine organizer, for allowing several of my colleagues at the Ateneo School of Government to participate in the training.

The timing of the training is great as the Philippines and the world prepares to implement the Paris Agreement, a good document whose consequences will last generations. While this legally binding agreement in itself is not enough to solve the climate crisis, it as strong, ambitious, and as equitable as it can be for an agreement that required consensus by 196 countries—a positive beginning to a long and hard journey towards climate justice.

As I mentioned in my last column, the Preamble of the Paris Agreement is unprecedented for its kind. Never has a legally binding document outside of human rights treaties had strong preambular language emphasizing the importance of human rights. As Mima and I pointed out in an article we wrote for Nivela: “Such language is a strong acknowledgment of the incontrovertible link between climate change and human rights. This was a huge win for the Philippines, as it had begun championing human rights in the climate change negotiations beginning COP20 in Lima.”

Mima and I also observed how the term “climate justice” is now part of the climate regime; the first time this important concept found its way into a legally binding, multilateral document. For us, this explicit inclusion of climate justice is a big step forward.

For the Philippines and other vulnerable countries, the most significant achievement in Paris is the reference to a temperature goal of below 1.5ºC in the objective of the agreement (Article 2). As the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we were instrumental in ensuring that below 1.5ºC would have a place in the agreement. For us, the difference between 1.5ºC and 2ºC is serious and existential—it means the disappearance of islands, of entire countries, and the loss of millions of lives. 1.5ºC is a matter of survival, and its inclusion in the new climate agreement is the fine line between life and death for the most climate vulnerable countries.

These elements, among the many that make up the Paris Agreement, is what makes this legally binding document historic and revolutionary. While no one is under the illusion that what states achieved in COP21 will solve the climate crisis, its outcome is certainly a strong and unified signal to the world that all countries are ready to move forward with their climate commitments, and in the future increase ambition to achieve the goals and the objectives of both the Paris Agreement and the Convention.

The Philippines was crucial in creating the strongest possible outcome for Paris. As previously mentioned, the country began championing human rights in the new climate agreement since COP20 in Lima, Peru, and at that time the Philippines was the sole voice advocating this issue. In Paris however, the Philippines was joined by countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, among many others, in lobbying for the inclusion of human rights language in the final document. The final push prior to the adoption of the agreement was a letter submitted to COP president Laurent Fabius that sought out strong human rights language in the outcome, peoples, and ensuring ecosystems integrity, and climate justice.

For the Philippines, this is an important agreement, as climate change is more than just an environmental, social, political, and economic issue for our country—it is an issue of survival. It is an issue of the very existence of the Filipino people. And while the world has finally agreed to act together on climate change, the actual work to reach the goals that have been set in the Paris Agreement has only just begun. For the Philippines specifically, we must accelerate our efforts to adapt effectively to climate change while transitioning rapidly to a low-emissions economy. 

In Paris, the Philippines submitted an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution—to reduce our business as usual emissions by 70 percent in 2030. That’s equivalent, in my view, to a 10-percent reduction of current levels. It’s a challenging target to achieve and that is why we made it conditional on assistance. But it is doable if we put our minds to the tasks ahead, in particular capping the role of coal in our energy mix while increasing the share of renewables from geothermal to solar, wind, and other sources.

The show of force, commitment, cooperation, and solidarity to adopt this agreement in Paris is impressive and inspiring, but this document’s worth on paper cannot be measured by its words alone. Only the genuine effort, ambition, and successful climate action that the agreement inspires can the world truly say that the Paris Agreement has fulfilled what it set out to do. But until then, there is much work to be done.

The Climate Reality Project and Mr. Gore with his colleagues will help us to get this done. We welcome them to Manila with gratitude.

Facebook: Dean Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs

Topics: Dean Tony La Viña , Al Gore , Climate Reality Project , climate change
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