Philippine delegation in COP21: Sleepless in Paris
LE BOURGET, France – Fired up, but tired.
That’s how Tony La Viña, a veteran of international climate talks, described the 158-member Philippine delegation here at the UN climate change conference in Paris.
“Fired up, of course, but challenged because it’s so fast-paced…People are tired. It’s gruelling,” he told reporters on Monday, December 7, the start of the summit’s last and most critical week.
At the small office of the Philippine delegation in the summit’s venue, I bump into several negotiators and government officials. Many are living off 3 or 4 hours of sleep. (READ: Standing up for PH in Paris: Meet 6 key negotiators)
Some had to work all through the night yesterday despite it being a Sunday because Filipino senior officials had to participate in ministerial consultations – meetings in which ministers from countries discuss their positions and thoughts on various parts of the world’s draft climate change agreement.
“Many were allowed to take a break yesterday but the more senior ones, we had to stay because Secretary Manny [De Guzman] had to be in the ministerial consultations so we had to work yesterday afternoon until evening to get to where we are,” said La Viña.
The work of the members of the delegation vary.
The 66 negotiators are assigned to various parts of the 21-page draft agreement representing issues like climate finance or adaptation.
Their job is to raise suggestions, dissents, concessions as each line of the draft is presented. What they say carries the weight of the Philippine position.
The changes negotiators make can be as seemingly minor as a shift from “should” (just a guideline) to “shall” (a commitment) or as major as replacing an entire paragraph with a new one.
In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, La Viña and Purple Romero wrote: "Last week here in Paris, our negotiators fought to keep the clear reference to human rights in the draft agreement – an important pivot that we started as early as COP20 in Lima, Peru. As the negotiations proceeded, some countries raised questions on what human rights are and on what they should cover. There were those who pushed for gender equality, rights of the workforce and rights of people under occupation."
They added: "The Philippines, aside from introducing the provision on human rights, also called for the inclusion of rights of indigenous peoples. We can now see human rights both in the preamble and Article 2.2 or Purpose of the latest draft released on December 5. This is a good indicator that human rights will be part of the new climate deal and we will work hard to make sure that it will be in the operative part of the agreement."
Negotiator Reggie Ramos, who at home works for the Department of Transportation and Communications, said negotiators employ certain strategies to make sure the interests of the Philippines are protected in the agreement.
For instance, she takes care not to “saturate” the chairperson who facilitates the meetings. Country negotiators who speak for tediously long periods and have something to say about each and every line quickly lose the attention of the group.
She prefers to stay silent on lines where the Philippines’ position has already been communicated and reserve the “star power” for her most crucial inputs.
Another strategy is to not go so fast on hardline statements because it leaves less room to compromise on other issues that emerge later on, she said.
Fatigue and sleep deprivation usually stem from meetings, many of which are all-nighters.
Negotiators have to be alert and on-point the entire time, ready to adjust their position on a moderately important line of the draft in order to arrive at a consensus in priority issues.
Other members of the delegation come from civil society groups, here to speak at certain side-events all about their sector or advocacy.
There are also scientists and experts who provide technical advice for ministers and negotiators.
And yet others are here to help organize Philippine-led events such as an event by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, currently chaired by the Philippines, where President Benigno Aquino III gave a speech.
If 3 or 4 hours of sleep have been the norm for the past few days, things will get even busier in this crucial week.
La Viña expects some negotiators won’t get to sleep at all for several days straight as countries try to finalize a deal by Friday, December 11.
“The French [presidency of the conference] promises to be done on Friday which means starting Wednesday night, a number of us, the key people will be not sleeping 48 hours to 60 hours. Because the pace just will be non-stop, the last 48 hours will be non-stop,” he explained.
The delegation has so far been able to deliver its statements or “interventions” in meetings on such priority topics as climate finance, technology transfer (to provide developing countries with the right technology to shift to renewable energy, for example), and on differentiation (the differences between country commitments based on their national circumstances).
The Philippines was even praised for its “strong” statement urging countries to aim for a more ambitious goal for the climate agreement – keep warming below 1.5°C instead of just below 2°C.
The Philippines “wants an explicit reference to 1.5°C target" in the agreement, said La Viña.
Efforts of the delegation to increase awareness for this call appears to be paying off.
“I would say there is a 50% chance of it being adopted in the final agreement. Last Tuesday, it had a 30% chance. A year ago, it had no chance at all,” he added.
What does the 0.5°C difference mean for the Philippines?
“Between 1.5°C and 2°C, you have a few hundred million people who you will have to sacrifice. We are only at 0.8°C now, thousands have died already,” said La Viña.
But the 1.5°C target is being opposed by powerful countries like the US, China, India, and Saudi Arabia – countries that may have economic interests that the more ambitious target could compromise. – Rappler.com