Draft new commitments to Paris Agreement: Still not ambitious enough

Rene E. Ofreneo - Laborem Exercens

The Climate Change Commission (CCC) conducted last January another consultation with civil society organizations (CSOs) on the new or updated proposals of the Philippines to the Paris Agreement of 2015. Under the said Agreement, UN Member States are supposed to submit last December their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The overarching goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5-degree Celsius (maximum of 2.0-degree Celsius) from the pre-industrial era in order to prevent a catastrophic global inferno called global warming.

In its December consultation with the CSOs, the CCC presented an NDC draft that outlines a Philippine mitigation target (reduction of GHG emission) of 70 percent from what the UN climatologists call as the “business as usual” conduct of the economic and social life of a country. In the January consultation, the CCC increased the target to 75 percent.

The participating CSOs were not impressed with the increased mitigation target. First, they asked why the CCC missed the December 2020 deadline, which was explicitly provided in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Secondly and more importantly, they felt that the draft NDC was not ambitious enough nor equitable and just. Additionally, the NDC draft, like the original initial NDC submitted in 2015, was vague on how certain targets or contributions can be met. Relevant sectors were also not included.

Among the CSOs’ criticisms are the following:

  • The forestry sector, a critical element in any mitigation and adaptation program, was missing.
  • The agriculture sector, which contributes to GHG emission through certain cropping system such as GMO-based production, has no mitigation targets.
  • The must-do “unconditional target” of the CCC was a measly 2.33 percent.

The “conditional” targets—over 72 percent—are obviously tied to the assistance that the Philippines can get from the global climate change fund that the developed countries, in the name of “climate justice,” are supposed to support. Should such fund be limited or even not available, should the Philippines stop doing mitigation?

It should not stop in its efforts to reduce GHG emissions. But it should not also stop demanding securing such climate mitigation assistance as a matter of principle. After all, the Philippines, one of the lowest GHG emitters, is one of the top 5 countries that are most vulnerable to the climate change phenomenon, which is a direct offshoot of the industrialization efforts and nature-eroding consumption culture in the developed countries. This is simply a question of justice, as the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice puts it.

Moreover, the drafting and submission of an updated NDC are a good opportunity for the Philippines to develop an integrated and holistic approach to the reduction of the country’s vulnerability to climate change risks, with or without the Paris Agreement. Such risks cannot be addressed through the usual bureaucratic or rhetorical calls for more environmental protection and green recovery.

On the mitigation side, the country can generate more jobs by going green. In the energy sector, studies show that the renewables—geothermal, hydro, wind and solar—are job intensive and are now cheaper compared to the GHG emitters—coal, oil and gas. Why the hesitation of the Department of Energy in issuing a call for a green energy shift? Why should the Department limit itself to making a timid announcement of a vague “moratorium” for new coal plants, without mentioning the need to phase out coal plants, both the existing ones and those in the development process?

As to reforestation, this is a mitigation as well as adaptation instrument. The effort to shift to green transport is good, except that the Department of Transportation has to address the missing “just transition” measures to support those dislocated by a green transformation, such as what has happened to the jeepney drivers and operators.

As to the blueprint for adaptation, this should accompany the drafting of the NDC. The Philippine readiness to climate change risks is abysmally low. While the level of CC awareness is high among Filipinos, the level of preparedness for possible disasters remains generally weak, as what we recently witnessed with the arrival of Typhoon Ulysses last year. We have a DRRM law that cascades down to the lowest level of government the task of developing a disaster risk reduction and management. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Interior and Local Government should undertake a review of the DRRM program and initiate a possible overhaul of the nationwide DRRM system.

The truth is that the entire archipelago is vulnerable to climate change risks. And yet, the irony is that the country has been hailed for having the most comprehensive set of environmental laws in Asia. The challenge is for government policy makers to walk the talk in addressing the twin challenge of mitigation and adaptation.

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