The agreement adopted in Paris last December 12 was long time coming. When COP President Laurent Fabius announced its adoption, those of us from the Philippines delegation were the first to stand in ovation, cheer and embrace each other in relief and joy.
Six years after the disastrous Copenhagen climate conference, the world finally has a strong climate agreement that can serve as a foundation for effective climate action. What comes as a pleasant surprise is not that an agreement was adopted but that the agreement is ambitious, equitable, and balanced. With the consensus of 196 countries, it is also a universal one. Undoubtedly, the Paris agreement is a historic one.
To some extent, the question was never whether Paris would deliver a legally binding agreement, but rather how strong and ambitious the agreement would be. In the negotiations leading up to COP21 in Paris, this was unclear—we had begun the Bonn session in June with 84 pages, trimmed down to 80 after two weeks of talks. The August and October sessions cut this down to some 50+ pages, and we were unsure if the French COP presidency could reduce that to a palatable number. We ended up with a robust 11-page agreement that all 196 countries can be proud of, with elements that we never thought would be included, even in sessions mere months prior to the Paris COP. These elements, lobbied and championed by the Philippines, are crucial to the effectiveness and success of the agreement. Their inclusion in the agreement is not only a win for the Philippines, but a win for the entire world.
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. Such language is a strong acknowledgement 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.
Alongside the strong human rights language, the term “climate justice” found a place in the Preamble of the Paris Agreement. This is not only a pleasant surprise, but also quite revolutionary. This is the first time that the term has been included in a legally binding, multilateral document. Such a mention, even if it is qualified, strengthens the ultimate objective of the agreement and the Convention. By recognizing the inextricable link between moral obligation and historical responsibility, the Paris Agreement is given more credibility. The explicit inclusion of climate justice is certainly a good start for the next era of climate action.
The incorporation of a separate article on loss and damage (Article 8) is something that developing countries have fought for since the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) in COP19 in Poland. The article recognizes “the importance of averting and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change” and aims to “enhance understanding, action and support…on a cooperative and facilitative basis with respect to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” While loss and damage still has a long way to go until the Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020, this is certainly a good start for the next conferences.
And perhaps the most significant inclusion in the Paris Agreement is what could be the most important for climate vulnerable countries such as the Philippines. The reference to a temperature goal of below 1.5ºC in the objective of the agreement (Article 2) is essential for the survival of many peoples and states. The Philippines, as the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), was instrumental in ensuring that below 1.5ºC would have a place in the agreement. For the Philippines and the rest of the countries in the CVF, the difference between 1.5ºC and 2ºC is 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 the 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. This succeeded, as paragraphs 11-13 of the Preamble not only contains robust wording on human rights, but also gender equality, the rights of indigenous peoples, and ensuring ecosystems integrity, and climate justice.
In Article 8 on loss and damage, the Philippines led by its adaptation team was essential in getting crucial wording into the agreement, particularly on the reference to the Warsaw International Mechanism. Although some limiting language regarding liability and compensation in loss and damage can be found in the decision text, the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage in the Paris Agreement is no small matter—it lives to fight another day. And without a doubt, the adaptation team and the rest of the Philippine delegation are ready to fight for its survival.
The Paris Agreement is a good document whose impact will be felt across future 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.
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. Everyone must do their part, and efforts must increase in the coming years if actors are to effect real change. The buck does not stop in Paris.
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.
This article was written by Tony La Viña and Mima Mendoza.