‘Climate summit good kickoff but not enough’
UNITED NATIONS – To one of the top climate change officials of the Philippines, the UN Climate Summit was able to build momentum for negotiations but world leaders’ pledges still are not enough to avert the disastrous effects of climate change.
Climate Change Commission Vice Chairperson Lucille Sering said some world leaders gave concrete funding commitments to help developing countries like the Philippines in adaptation. Yet many statements on cutting emissions were either vague or fell short of the two degrees Celsius threshold for global mean temperature.
In an interview with Rappler at the sidelines of the New York summit on Tuesday, September 23, Sering said the participation of 120 heads of state and government in the largest climate change gathering in history was a positive indicator.
“It’s very encouraging and most of the sentiments of the leaders really factored in that everybody must contribute, expect probably a few countries who remain to be of the position that we need to be able to understand individual capacities. But overall, it is a very good kickoff moving towards negotiations in Lima in the next few months and obviously in Paris in the 2015 agreement.”
Sering was referring to the formal negotiations for an international climate agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference in Paris, France next year aims to produce new greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to take effect in 2020.
Still, Sering said the pledges in the summit to cut greenhouse gas emissions were not as ambitious as what vulnerable countries like the Philippines need.
“As a Filipino, I would have wanted to hear more especially on what science requires. I want the two degrees. It should not even be in our periphery of discussion. Kung ako Pilipino, gusto ko ‘wag nang umabot sa ganoon. So kung anong paraan, we have to do it (As a Filipino, I don’t even want global temperature to reach that level. So by whatever way possible, we have to do it),” she said.
Sering added that just months before countries are expected to submit their nationally determined contributions to cut emissions in the first quarter of 2015, the targets are still unclear.
“It seems that most countries were still taking all these contributions up their sleeves and no one wants to give it out today but nonetheless, the fact that they’re all here seems to be sort of a momentum to put up something by 2015 on a nationally determined contribution.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened the summit to build momentum following a stalemate in negotiations. Ban urged delegates to announce bold commitments and initiatives in crucial sectors like areas like agriculture, cities, energy, finance, forests, industry, resilience and transport.
France leading, US deal ambiguous
Sering discussed some of the specific commitments of the delegates. She cited French President Francois Hollande’s announcement of a $1 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a $100 billion financing mechanism aimed at helping developing countries in adaptation and mitigation. The Philippines was the first co-chair of the GCF.
She also noted South Korea’s $100 million contribution to UN efforts to curb climate change, including $50 million for the GCF. The Philippines and other developing countries have been calling on developed nations to give financial and technical support, a point President Benigno Aquino III raised in his UN speech.
“France was really showing, leading by example. Since they will be hosting the 2015 [conference], it really wasn’t much of a surprise but hopefully, it will encourage richer countries to contribute to the GCF which is considered to be the biggest fund that will help address climate change globally,” she said.
She added, “South Korea has been leading the green growth initiative, linking climate change to sustainable development and they were very aggressive in trying to be the host of the GCF. South Korea remains a developing country just like China and India and yet they did not allow it to be tied down and contributed to the fund.”
As to the US, Sering said President Barack Obama did not provide specifics in his speech but his climate change policy was a “far departure” from that of the Bush administration.
“The challenge remains on the dynamics of their federal system. They’re banking on state by state on the initiative to address climate change. We don’t know however how the statement will give us the idea of what agreement they are expecting by 2015.”
Still, she said the support of Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and even actors like UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio was encouraging.
On the Philippines, Sering responded to criticism of environmental groups and climate activists that Aquino’s speech was “misleading” and that his policies are inconsistent because of the approval of coal-fired power plants.
“That’s really unfair because if you are to compare our energy mix in Southeast Asia and even most countries in Asia, we’re leading that. We’re the first to pass a Renewable Energy Act. Our energy mix on renewable is much, much higher than Indonesia and Vietnam and even other countries like Cambodia. So what we’re saying is we’re not a major emitter and yet we did this since 2008.”
Sering echoed the President in citing the Renewable Energy Act that the Philippines passed in 2008. She added that the country has “progressive policies” like the greenhouse gas inventory.
“There’s a clear intention to transition to a low emission development strategy that the President mentioned. As to when, how, we have yet to determine that but we are already putting all the policies in place. The private sector has to step in. The government can only provide so much in terms of an environment for them.”
The work ahead
With the one-day summit over, Sering said the task is now left to heads of delegation to the UNFCCC to ensure that their commitments are consistent with the national policy.
She said the summit showed that the international community was preparing ahead of next year’s agreement. “There seems to be a deliberate agenda already moving and we don’t want any one country to renege on that.”
“What the whole summit actually gave us is the people are demanding it. We saw how the energy and enthusiasm of the [People’s Climate] March really showed the whole world that there is now clamor to address this. It gives us a sense of hope.” – Rappler.com