Duterte’s change of heart on climate deal welcomed

In Photo: A resident uses a bamboo raft to bring to a dry area goats after being trapped following the flooding brought about by Supertyphoon Lawin (international code name Haima), which lashed at Vigan, Ilocos Sur province in northern Philippines on October 20. Lawin, which brought ferocious winds and rain, rekindled fears and memories from the catastrophe wrought by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) in 2013.

ENVIRONMENTAL and climate advocates consider President Duterte’s change of heart on the international Paris climate agreement a welcome development as they look forward to the country’s leadership in voicing the concerns of vulnerable nations on the impact of climate change.

President Duterte last week announced he has decided to sign the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate-change, which he previously said he would “not honor” for fear it would limit the country’s industrialization.

“After so much debate, I will sign the climate change agreement,” Duterte said in Malacañan Palace.

The Philippines’s ratification of the Paris Agreement would bind the country into cutting its greenhouse-gas emission by 70 percent, as stated in its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) submitted to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat in October last year.

The Philippines is a leader of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an international partnership of highly vulnerable nations. It serves as cooperation platform for participating governments to deal with global climate change. Countries composing the CVF, as well as several Southeast Asian countries, are among the first to be affected by climate-change impacts, and the last to recover from disaster caused by extreme weather events attributed to climate change.

Boost to vulnerable countries

“The global community will definitely welcome the ratification of the Paris climate agreement by the Philippines. Now it’s time to get down to the business of getting a fair deal and stronger climate action from negotiations in Morocco,” said Renato Redentor Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), a policy group in the Philippines promoting low-carbon development initiatives, sustainable energy solutions and fair climate policy in vulnerable countries.

The Philippines’s Climate Change Commission (CCC), the agency mandated to coordinate actions related to climate-change impacts, has warned that sea-level rise in the country is projected to be three times that of the global average if global warming continues unabated.

According to Constantino, developing countries face up to 10-percent loss in annual GDP as warming temperatures drastically reduce productivity of labor by midcentury, citing an International Labor Organization (ILO) report.

Climate action will spur economy-wide job creation as urban services, food supply, roads and highways, sea ports and coastal infrastructure are upgraded to make them more resilient to expected climate-change impacts, he said.

Investments in renewable energy and related services in modern energy infrastructure will also increase economic activities along with corresponding job prospects.

Opening doors for renewables

Chuck Baclagon of 350.org East Asia said Duterte’s decision to agree to ratify the Paris Agreement opened the potential not just for renewables and the bigger energy sector but also for the overall economy.

“With the Philippines being rated as among the most climate-vulnerable countries worldwide, our status as a country that would ratify the agreement advances the voice of those who should be heard the loudest. We are glad that President Duterte has decided we can raise that voice louder in the global climate negotiations, and has taken up the plight of those to whom climate justice is due,” he said.

Beyond the Paris Agreement, however, is the test for all governments, including the Philippines, to pursue an energy-policy direction that seeks to keep fossil fuels in the ground, he said.

“This is the best indicator of a country’s seriousness in dealing with the climate crisis,” he said.

“Fossil-fuel dependence is not synonymous and even detrimental to development,” he said.

Toward resilient and sustainable communities

For his part, Rodne R. Galicha of the Climate Reality Project is thankful that Duterte decided to remain at the climate change-negotiating table.

“With his commitment to ratify the Paris Agreement, the voices of vulnerable peoples are assured to be heard. The Philippines will continue to be the conscience of the global community in addressing the climate crisis and to demand climate justice. While we continue to engage, we shall take climate action even outside the negotiating halls toward resilient and sustainable communities,” he said.

“We are hopeful that all agencies concerned submit their respective certificates of concurrence as soon as possible with sense of urgency. Joining other countries, we will be able to voice out our demands and positions with full privilege as a party to the Paris Agreement. We are not yet informed of the timeline of ratification but we are optimistic that the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Climate Change Commission and the Senate are closely collaborating with the Office of the President,” he said.

He said concrete actions must be undertaken, especially in laying down transition strategies from the country’s dependence ton dirty coal to available clean energy in the country, such as geothermal, wind solar and hydro.

“We must remember that not ratifying the Paris Agreement is tantamount to swimming in the floodwaters of [Supertyphoon] Ondoy [international code name Ketsana], sleepwalking with Supertyphoon Yolanda [international code name Haiyan] and flying low with [Supertyphoon] Lawin [international code name Haima],” he said.

Country’s future, next generation at stake

Gerry Arances, convener of Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) and of the Green Thumb Coalition (GTC), said the Paris Agreement embodies the aspiration of the global climate-justice movement in keeping the temperature rise by end of century to 1.5˚C and not 2˚C which was the original global consensus.

“At just 0.8˚C warming globally, we have experienced the wrath of Supertyphoon Yolanda and many other supertyphoons. The 1.5˚C would already mean more devastating typhoons, longer and much stronger El Niño, more hunger, loss, suffering and deaths. This is what is mainly at stake in the whole negotiation process. What more with 2˚[C]?”

Arances said being one among the top vulnerable countries of world, the country’s future and the next generation’s future is at stake.

“That is why the policy and stand of the current government needs to be firm and clear,” he said.

Paris Agreement loopholes

But let us be clear, as well, that, indeed, as the President has raised, the Paris Agreement has many loopholes. One, while it aspires for a 1.5˚C and well-below 2˚C global warming by end of the century, the agreement has put the world practically to a more than 3˚C through the pledges of all countries as embodied in the agreement. These pledges are major parts of the agreement through the INDC submissions.

“We cannot start to fathom three times or four times what we have already experienced with the changing climate,” Arances said.

Under the agreement’s implementing rules, the developed countries have gotten away with the nonliability and compensatory clause for loss and damages brought about by climate change. They have moved also the time of the pledge for the $100-billion climate finance from developed countries from 2020 to 2025 as stated in the agreement.

On the right track

Arances said Duterte is on the right track when he lambasted the developed countries with their low ambition on the needed reduction of emissions targets in their INDCs, among many other responsibilities.

“Put together, the developed countries’ pledge is far below what should have been their fair share and historical responsibility for humanity to achieve that 1.5˚C of global-warming goal by end of the century,” he said.

According to Arances, it is imperative that the Philippine delegation in the current climate conference in Marrakech, Morroco, raises the voices of the vulnerable people of our country and of the world, and that higher ambition from all countries, especially the developed countries, is needed.

“After all, the emissions causing global warming right now is due to the excessive burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil, by developed countries to fuel their industrialization. Let us be clear on this, as the President has been ill-advised that coal and fossil fuel are the only energy capable of fueling the country’s industrialization and development needs,” he said.

Shifting away from coal

He explained that most of the global community is shifting away from coal and fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewable energy.

In 2015 developing countries, led by China and India, were the biggest investor on renewable-energy outstripping even the developed countries in their energy transformation processes.

In terms of investments, renewable energy far out-weighed coal and fossil fuels for global energy needs.

According to government data, the Philippines has one of the vast potential of untapped renewable energy in the country—250 gigawatt (GW). “We are only using 5 GW out of the total 18-GW capacity,” he said.

Arances said it is not true that renewable energy cannot fuel the country’s needed development growth. Those that have been in darkness for decades, having no access to electricity can best be provided access to power through renewable energy—mainly through solar, wind and microhydro.

He said industrialization could be fueled by renewable energy, citing the experiences of China, California and other countries, which are starting to fuel their development and industrial needs through renewables. “It is first and foremost the coal industry’s interest, the big oligarchs’ interest that have long gripped our electricity sector at play here,” he said.

For health and economy

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Asia said it rejoices together with the entire climate justice and environmental movement on Duterte’s recent statement to finally ratify the climate agreement.

“We thank all the members of his Cabinet and civil-society groups who have persuaded him to reconsider his previous stand on the climate issue,” HCWH Asia Director Ramon San Pascual said in a statement. According to San Pascual, developing countries, like the Philippines, must stop its establishing more coal-fired power plants and shrug off the reality of climate change.

“Our people are the ones most affected and we simply cannot leave it all up to richer countries to cut their carbon emissions,” he said.

Investing in renewables will have greater benefits to both the economy and health. “Studies have shown that, contrary to what coal companies say, renewable energy is cheaper, more sustainable and socially positive,” he said.

“Renewable energy will create more sustainable, quality jobs and provide expanded and cleaner energy access for the poor,” he added.

Last week in Taipei, the World Medical Association (WMA) called on health organizations worldwide to divest from fossil fuel-based companies and to invest in companies that uphold environmental principles consistent with United Nations policy.

WMA said the most vulnerable—children, elderly, people with heart or lung disease and the poor—are most at risk from climate change and the least able to adapt to the new conditions.

Fossil-fuel air pollution reduces quality of life for millions of people worldwide, causing a substantial burden of disease and health-care costs. “The President [Duterte] must listen to the voice of the health sector, on both the dangers of climate change and the health benefits of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Just as health professionals divested from tobacco companies because it was in opposition to its healing mission, it is now calling us to divest from fossil fuels because they threaten the health of millions,” San Pascual said.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4 with 102 countries ratifying the treaty so far.