‘More than the sum of our individual parts’

Australia’s ambassador for the environment rallies PHL to help solve the global dilemma of climate change

THIS August Australia’s Ambassador for the Environment Patrick Suckling visited the Philippines and had stops in Asean countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

While here, Suckling conducted high-level talks with leaders from the government, businesses and communities. He discoursed on environmental challenges the country is facing—particularly those related to climate change—and the efforts the aforementioned sectors are doing to address such.

Formerly his country’s representative for trade and foreign relations, Suckling’s current work runs the gamut of “promoting and protecting Australia’s interests internationally on environmental issues.”

His brief stay notwithstanding, the BusinessMirror was able to engage the Australian diplomat regarding his country’s stand on pressing global environmental matters.

For starters, Suckling strongly believes that many issues are beyond the capacity of one country to tackle alone, the most glaring of which is climate change. He points to the landmark Paris Agreement as paramount in addressing the phenomenon “because, collectively, the world has agreed to act, and take action, to address the threat of climate change on the welfare of our respective people.”

“No country alone can meet this challenge,” the ambassador emphasized.

Through diplomacy, the Australian envoy also looks after environmental issues on behalf of his country internationally. “This is a position that the Australian government has had since 1989, in recognition of importance of environmental issues, addressing climate change and working with different countries around the world to be more than the sum of our individual parts in finding solutions to environmental challenges.”

In your short stop in the Philippines, please describe your itinerary and what you plan to achieve while being here.

I’m delighted to be in the Philippines. (It) has been a strong actor on climate change in international negotiations, and was a very important, influential player in the historic Paris Agreement in 2015.

I’ve had a range of meetings with government officials, including Senator Loren B. Legarda, as well as senior business representatives and community members.

I also visited the world-class International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is doing extraordinary things to improve agriculture productivity, not only in the Philippines but also around the world—including responding to climate change. They are, for example, developing different rice breeds that can withstand flood or drought conditions.

What I plan to achieve during my visit is to reaffirm the importance Australia attaches to continued strong cooperation with the Philippines on meeting the challenges of climate change. This is not only in terms of implementing the Paris Agreement together and making sure that we conclude guidance to make [such] work by the end of this year, but also where we can cooperate: country-to-country, bilaterally, to help one another meet the challenges of climate.

For example, Australia has been working with the Philippine government for quite a while to help communities here respond to floods and disasters and build their resilience. We help make sure that communities are stronger, safer and can bounce back faster when disasters or typhoons hit, as it so often happens.

The Philippines is the third-most vulnerable country to climate change on some measures. There’s a very urgent need for action in [this country], and I’m very pleased to have had discussions with [your] government about the many things that they are doing, on many fronts, to make sure as much action is being taken to address the challenges.

What are the most pressing environmental issues in the Philippines and Asean? How can Australia help address these?

I think the most pressing environmental issue that faces us all is the threat of climate change. It impacts different sectors in different ways.

The emphasis is really about Australia working with the Philippines on a global solution to the issue of climate change. It is about making sure that we have a workable, effective Paris Agreement,. and we have a strong partnership.

It’s working regionally, including with our respective efforts in Asean, to make sure that there is a strong regional response to the impacts of climate change. It’s about working bilaterally, in ways that we define, for example, to address the threat to agricultural systems from floods and droughts, communities from coastal erosion, cities from stronger rainfall and flooding, and so forth.

There’s a range of things we can do together to build responsive communities to climate change. There are also enormous opportunities in terms of implementing the Paris Agreement and the transition to low emissions and more climate-resilient global economy.

The transition means change, new technologies and new investments. There are enormous business opportunities in moving to a new economy and transitioning to a low-emissions economy.

(Our countries) can partner in many of these areas. In renewable energy for example, how can we work together to make sure that (both) have the best technology and systems in place (and) make sure that renewable energy makes a meaningful contribution to emissions reductions? I was very happy to hear that Philippine companies are investing in renewable energy in Australia to be part of the solutions in our country.

What does Australia push for when it comes to protecting the environment?

Australia has a long-standing reputation for action and commitment to protect the environment. We have some of the highest environment-protection standards in the world. We have some of the most beautiful world heritage sites in the world, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Tasmanian rainforests.

We (also) work through international agreements, and regionally, through groups like the East Asia Summit and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. As a country, we take action to protect the environment. One of the things we are very focused on at the moment is ensuring we meet our targets under the Paris Agreement.

This effectively means halving emissions per person in Australia by 2030, or a two-thirds reduction of emission intensity of the economy. This is one of the most ambitious targets of G-20 member-countries. We are very actively pursuing these targets through a range of measures.

For example, by 2020, nearly 25 percent of our energy will be from renewables. We are also looking at clean technology in fossil fuel, for example, and carbon-caption storage. (Same goes) at new financial instruments such as our clean energy finance corporation to help mobilize funding for cleaner technologies.

Australia (and) many other countries are putting measures in place, including in our agriculture sector, to bring down emissions to make sure we have a cleaner and healthier environment. We have much in  common with the Philippines and other countries in the world.

What are your impressions of the Philippines? Are they close to what you saw or experienced in your stay?

I am very impressed by the Philippines and how much is going on here in relation to the environment. There are many policies and plans to address the challenges of climate change and to take advantage of the opportunities in transitioning to a low-emission and more climate-resilient global economy.

I am pleased with the research organizations that I have seen here, including the IRRI. I am also impressed by the commitment, not only from the Philippine government under the leadership of the President, but also from community groups (as well as) civil-society organizations, and the work they have done to protect and promote the environment.

Overall, I am extremely impressed to see these efforts, and the cooperation that exists between Australia and the Philippines.

What is that one important deed that a Filipino could do to pitch-in as a share to improve the state of our environment?

As we say in the Paris Agreement, everybody and every country has to play their part. That mentality means that every person has a part to play.

We have to be conscious of how we use things and treat the environment. And also, be conscious of measures and steps we can take to protect and look after the environment.

At the end of the day, we all have individual responsibilities that amounts, when added up, to a collective responsibility as signified in the Paris Agreement—one of the most significant pacts on the environment ever agreed upon.

We all have to take part, and take actions in meaningful ways to protect and promote the environment. So, in that sense, local things that communities can do, that people can do, in terms of preservation, protection and promoting the environment is an important part of the endeavor.

Briefly describe the advancement of your diplomatic vocation.

I have been in the foreign and trade service for nearly 25 years now. I started as a graduate who applied to the department like many other people. Happily, I was successful and since then, I have had a very rich and varied career in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I have been posted as High Commissioner to India twice, (as well as in) the United States as a counselor. I have also worked for the Foreign Minister and two prime ministers on foreign, trade and development policy, and on challenges faced by the globe, our region and Australia. It has been a rewarding and diverse career that I would recommend to anybody.

 

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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