As I write this column, the 27th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is concluding.
Issues are still being negotiated and we will soon know if COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt will produce good outcomes for the planet, for people, and for the Philippines.
Having attended the first week of COP 27, in visiting hundreds of pavilions of countries and organizations, it was interesting to see the range of responses to climate change that are being implemented all over the world.
If effort was enough, the world will get a grade of A in its response to climate change. But if outcome was the basis of an assessment, undoubtedly the grade would still be a FAIL.
Emissions are still rising, while resilience is not far enough to prevent loss and damage and the suffering that comes with it. Indeed, climate change is a wicked problem—many sided and multi headed, fast evolving.
You cannot defeat climate change with simplistic solutions.
Nor can we overcome it through purely domestic or local actions.
While individual and household actions matter, they do not make a difference unless the big actors—the wealthiest countries and the carbon majors take the lead in reducing emissions and in paying for both adaptation as well as loss and damage.
This then is the value of conferences of parties, indeed of a global climate regime anchored in the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protcol, and the Paris Agreement. We need a global consensus to address climate change effectively.
The Philippine Delegation to climate processes matters.
We expect our government to send to these meetings the best and the brightest of its leaders, diplomats, and officials.
Our government should also tap the best and the brightest, and most experienced from the Philippine diaspora, academe, and civil society to assist it.
The Philippines used to be a major player in the climate negotiations.
We distinguished ourselves in the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995 where we led the developing countries (the Group of 77 and China), in the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, in the Copenhagen conference in 2009 which unfortunately was a failure but saw advancement of the forests and climate agenda, the 2010 summit in Cancun which established the Green Climate Fund, and most recently in 2015 when the UNFCCC parties adopted the Paris Agreement.
I was in the Philippine delegation in all these meetings, as a government official, as the delegation’s chief lawyer, and spokesperson.
Unfortunately, the Duterte government relinquished that leadership role and now we have to play catch-up.
As COP 27 nears its end, colleagues from civil society issued a strong statement of concern and disappointment about the quality of our representation in the conference.
They were, among others, alarmed that the leaders of the delegation Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga and CCC Vice-Chair Robert Borje left Egypt early to attend budget hearings in Congress.
For me, however, the designated head of the delegation in the final week, Philippine Ambassador to Egypt Ezzedin Tago is not a bad choice.
Half Egyptian, Arab speaking, and a veteran diplomat in the Middle East, he is in a position to understand the actions of the Egyptian COP 27 presidency. That knowledge is invaluable.
The Manila Observatory delegation would have joined this statement but did not do so out of respect for our colleagues who are science advisers of the delegation and because of our prior relationship with Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga who was our former executive director.
The legitimate issues raised by civil society have clear solutions that can be addressed in time for the June inter-sessional meetings of the UNFCCC and in particular for the next COP which will be held in Dubai next year.
I hope Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga will prioritize her involvement in this process.
As she is the first department head that is truly an expert on climate change, she can play a leadership role especially in the area of climate finance. She can be the loudest voice for ASEAN countries who were mostly silent in COP 27.
Congress should be mindful of the importance of these negotiations.
The timing of the budget deliberations is a structural issue and happens every year, given that COPs are always held in November or December.
One solution, which many countries have done, is to identify a special envoy on climate change—a veteran diplomat (even a retired one), a senior official, or a senior climate change expert from academe or civil society—who can be the designated lead negotiator for the country (not necessarily the head of delegation which should always be a Cabinet rank person or an ambassador).
I echo the call of civil society to enlist the help of non-government colleagues who have proven expertise and solid reputations in the climate process.
One of these is Attorney Vice Yu, a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law and Georgetown University.
Vice leads developing countries in two critical negotiations in the UNFCCC—loss and damage and the global stocktake (which will decide the direction of climate action post-2030).
Like the late Bernaditas Muller, he is now the most influential and respected Filipino in the process.
If the government invites him back to the delegation, we will quickly be back on top of the process as we were for decades.
Finally, we need to develop a permanent corps of negotiators as climate change requires an inter-generational response.
I am now on my fifth cohort of mentees in the process, which include senior officials and leaders of civil society organizations.
But this should be an institutional and not a personal and individual endeavor.
The Philippines ignores the climate change negotiations at its own peril.
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