Climate Deal 2015

A Climate Deal in Paris: A Perspective from the Philippines

Last December, after two weeks of negotiations, nearly 200 parties to the 2014 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima adopted a core framework. Like previous COPs, the Lima conference proved to be another exercise of endurance, patience, and perseverance. From New York to Lima, Geneva to Paris, it will still be a long and hard road to a successful conclusion.

Last December, after two weeks of negotiations, nearly 200 parties to the 2014 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima adopted a core framework for the creation of an agreement at the end of 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris. The Lima decision was made 31 hours after the conference was scheduled to end.

At the opening of the Lima joint high-level segment, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the audience and strongly asked for all countries to have the political will to be part of the solution. “Now is not a time for tinkering, but a time for transformation,” he said, and called for leaders to deliver on their promise of a balanced, well-structured, and coherent draft text to be negotiated at COP21. In the Paris agreement, certain key elements should be present, especially an understanding on the scope and status of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and a solidified climate finance regime. “Combating climate change is an essential foundation of sustainable development and cannot be separated from development goals.”

Vice Chair of the Philippine Climate Change Commission Lucille Sering delivered a concise and powerful statement for the Philippines, asserting that, if the process should falter, it would not only symbolize the failure of diplomacy but also show a complete disregard for human rights. “Our typhoons have already spoken on our behalf,” she said, explaining that it was now time for world leaders to provide a clear, substantive, morally grounded text to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Peru’s COP20 Presidency was resolute in the face of the diversity of views. Conference President Peruvian Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal was instrumental in making the Lima decision happen. After last-minute consultations and tight compromises, the COP plenary adopted the final five-page text known as the “Lima Call for Climate Action”. It was accepted just past 1 a.m. on Sunday, 14 December 2014. Parties expressed their satisfaction at the outcome, confident that they were returning home with something that could move them forward into Paris negotiations the following year. The value of the Lima outcome is that, as the negotiations accelerate in the coming months, countries will be guided properly on what to do next. In particular, we know what must be included in every country’s INDCs.

The Lima Call to Climate Action – the outcome of two weeks of negotiations that went overtime – is not as ambitious as it should be, and has been rightly criticized by both the climate justice movement and many environmental organizations. In my view though, the Lima outcome has enough substance to bring us to Paris, where we can still increase ambition and find ideas to move forward on the issues that deadlock countries.

The biggest of these deadlocked issues is the application of the Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle, which has been interpreted as building a firewall between countries who were considered developed in 1992 (the year the UNFCCC was adopted), and countries who were considered developing at that time. The problem is that many countries that were poor and underdeveloped in 1992 have grown immensely, and some have even overtaken other developed countries judging by economic indicators.

The Philippines, as matter of law provided in the Climate Change Act, adheres to CBDR and related principles like equity and historical responsibility. However, this is not an excuse for inaction by the Philippines or any other country. It is foolish and suicidal to contribute to one’s own destruction or to give other countries – developed or developing – free passes from the global cooperation needed to solve the problem.

Our emphasis in Lima has been on reframing climate justice as a human rights issue rather than a North-South debate. CBDR and human rights are not in conflict, but I personally maintain that the latter is more important. The truth is that many governments do not believe in a link between human rights and climate change, an irony of immense proportions given that climate change is the greatest threat to human rights.

Concepts like CBDR, historical responsibility, and equity are good, and are supported by the Philippines, but they are abstract concepts that refer only to states and not to peoples, communities, families, and individuals. The UNFCCC climate convention is state-centered and excludes real people, often those that matter the most – indigenous peoples, local cultures, women, workers, farmers, youth, and the poor. These stakeholders do not have a voice in this process; at most, they are given a token few minutes to deliver statements to government representatives who do not listen.

That is why the Philippines pushed the envelope on inclusion of human rights text in the Lima decision. Its inclusion in the Paris agreement will open the doors of the climate change convention to the people who really matter on this issue. It will also be highly symbolic, as it was in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in 1948 where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted.

A silent and perhaps key mover during the final days of the Lima negotiations was Pope Francis himself. Also a head of state, the religious leader sent a strong message to the COP20 President, urging nations to come together to find a global solution to the climate change problem. With strong words, the Pope underlined the “clear, definitive and urgent ethical imperative to act,” and said that the fight against global warming will only achieve success through “collective response that will be able to overcome mistrust and promote a culture of solidarity, encounter, and dialogue.” He is also scheduled to produce a climate change encyclical to inspire the Paris negotiations. Pope Francis’ Philippine visit in January, especially his trip to Tacloban, the ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan, highlighted this commitment to address climate change. On his way to the Philippinesfrom Sri Lanka, Pope Francis talked about Paris and how he hoped the leaders of the world would have more courage than they had in Lima. Clearly, the Pope’s formidable involvement in the climate change movement will increase the possibility of having a better outcome for the COP21 negotiations this December.

The UNFCCC parties are gathering this week in Geneva , at the first of several negotiation sessions scheduled this year to finalize the Paris agreement. Geneva will again test the resolve of parties to work on what could be the negotiating text for Paris.

Like previous COPs, the Lima conference proved to be another exercise of endurance, patience, and perseverance. From New York to Lima, Geneva to Paris, it will still be a long and hard road to a successful conclusion. However, if what happened in Lima along with recent events and declarations from influential people like Pope Francis are any indication, there is hope yet that parties will come together to deliver on their promise of a good climate agreement. And the world will be better for it.

Mima Mendoza is the co-author of this article and a Research Associate at the Climate Change and Environment Cluster at the Ateneo School of Government at Manila University.

Tony La Viña is a professor, thinker, and lawyer from the Philippines. He is currently Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and a Nivela partner. Read more here.

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