All eyes are on Marrakech, Morocco from Nov. 7-18, 2016 where the 22nd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is meeting. Simultaneous with COP 22 are two other gatherings, the 16th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the First Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. The latter entered into force last week, on Nov. 4, 2016 in what must be the most rapid effectivity of a treaty process ever. One hundred one countries accounting for 69.52 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions have now ratified the agreement, way above the 55 parties and 55 global emissions threshold that were both required for the agreement to take effect.
In Marrakech—as we were in Paris last year, in Copenhagen in 2009, and in Kyoto in 1997—the Philippines is active in the negotiations.
As the conference began, our delegation was ably led by Undersecretary Gloria Mercado of the Office of Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco. In bilateral meetings with the Heads of Delegations of China, India, and Saudi Arabia, Undersecretary Mercado explored ways to cooperate in climate change actions—including through the sharing of expertise, technology, and funding. Following President Duterte’s guidance, we agreed to champion together climate justice and common but differentiated responsibility as principles. Subject to further deliberations at home, one issue for the Philippines to consider is rejoining the Like Minded Developing Countries, an informal negotiating bloc of developing countries that we had co-founded but withdrew from in 2014.
When Undersecretary Mercado left, Commissioner Vernice Victorio of the Climate Change Commission took over with Energy Undersecretary Jess Posadas providing additional senior leadership to the delegation. They were joined by Assistant Secretary Evelyn Cruzada, also of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, who arrived Friday to head the delegation.
In the second week, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez and CCC Vice Chairman Manny de Guzman are expected to join the high-level segment of the conference. Given her stature and her passion, I expect Secretary Lopez to stand out among the ministers that are now gathering in this Moroccan city. She will be a powerful megaphone for President Duterte’s perspective and our country’s interest.
At the technical level, diplomat Val Roque and CCC lawyers Railla Puno and Alex Gamboa have been terrific in backstopping and coordinating the delegation as it attends to many simultaneous meetings, sometimes 40-50 in a single day. On mitigation, Albert Magalang from the DENR is again doing sterling work. In the agriculture, adaptation and loss and damage negotiations, the Philippines has a strong contingent of negotiators led by Director Alice Ilaga of the Department of Agriculture. Another DA official Perla Baltazar and an official from the Department of Health Lyndon Lee Suy are with that team as well. From the Department of Science and Technology, Edna Juanillo and Rosalina de Guzman are providing technical support to the delegation.
On finance issues, the Philippines voice is strong with the combined effort of veteran climate negotiator Bernaditas Muller and National Economic and Development Authority official Kathleen Ann Capiroso. Another official from Neda, Director Mercedita Sombilla will be reinforcing our climate finance team in the coming week. Two more diplomats from the Department of Foreign Affairs next week, Elaine Hernandez and Angela Ponce, are also coming.
The Philippine delegation in Marrakech would be not as effective without its civil society and academic advisers, including from my institutions Ateneo School of Government and Manila Observatory. Among us, international lawyer Vice Yu, from the Geneva-based think tank South Centre, deserves special mention. His advice has been invaluable as the delegation refines its message and positions consistent with the President’s views.
One poignant moment in Marrakech was the commemoration last Wednesday of the third anniversary of the Yolanda/Haiyan disaster. Thanks to Aksyon Klima, the Climate Reality Project (Philippine branch), the Filipino community in Marrakech, and faith-based groups active in the COP, we gathered at the Church of Holy Martyrs for an ecumenical and candlelight service. That was a somber reminder of the seriousness of the business of these negotiations.
After initially expressing reservations about the Paris Agreement, the President announced, on the eve of the Marrakech conference, that the Philippines will now ratify it. My understanding is that almost all government agencies have now concurred in its ratification and soon the President will send the agreement to the Senate for its formal concurrence. In Marrakech, this was welcome news and it enabled us in the delegation to hold our heads higher and be more credible. More importantly, joining the Paris Agreement is the right decision for the country.
On the first day of COP 22, in a side event featuring Philippine actions on climate change, the Ateneo School of Government released a set of policy briefs (jointly produced with SSG Advisors) entitled “Getting our Act Together.” In the first of those briefs entitled Climate Proofing Our Development, we emphasized the need for the Philippines to climate-proof its economic development through the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions and the minimization of loss and damage arising out of climate change impacts.
Mitigation actions include shifting to renewable energy, sustainable transport systems, improved waste management, more efficient agricultural practices, and good management and enhancement of our forests. Adaptation actions include improving coastal flood defenses, climate-proofing infrastructure, strengthening resilience of socioeconomic and ecological systems. Minimization of loss and damage includes providing insurance for catastrophic events as well as slow-onset impacts like drought and sea-level rise.
All of these domestic actions must be done. Through the Paris Agreement, we can secure support for them. More importantly, the Paris Agreement holds a promise that we can avert the worse scenarios of catastrophic climate change.
It became clear in Marrakech that we are not yet there. Obviously, the biggest elephant in the room is Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections last Tuesday. We must not misunderstand or exaggerate the impact of this development. It can derail progress but it can also become an opportunity for pushing the climate justice agenda.
Among others, China is now positioned to be the undisputed global leader on climate change. That could be positive for us now that we have improved relations with our neighbor.
With the election of Trump, immediate ratification of the Paris Agreement is even more critical. Now more than ever, we must hold developed countries historically responsible and accountable for climate change and must act in solidarity with other countries. Even if the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris Agreement, that takes effect only after three years. The 2020 presidential elections will be looming at that time and the global politics could change again for the better. In the meantime, we must advance the Paris Agreement by completing its rulebook, a task launched here in Marrakech. Ironically, non-participation by the US could make it easier to adopt such a rulebook.
Last Friday in Marrakech, delivering the keynote address at the Climate Law and Governance Day before an audience of lawyers and governance experts, I reflected on how challenging it has been for the international community to address climate change. I recalled how I was also in Marrakech 15 years ago for another successful make-or-break conference on climate change. Then, as it is now, what we needed were patience, wisdom, fortitude, courage and hope; with these, we will win this fight against climate change.
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