[OPINION] Presence and present: The Philippines in climate talks
Imagine a middle-class student who chooses to attend his classes through Skype instead of being physically present. He is neither physically nor financially handicapped.
He simply had a few bad days at school, was inconvenienced by traffic, and thinks the educational system is just pointless. However, he still wants to take the exams and get as much credit for his performance as everybody else.
This is basically the Philippines when it comes to the climate change negotiations these days. Following the statements of President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, the country has opted to stop flying its negotiators to future conference venues allegedly to cut expenditures and greenhouse gas emissions. (READ: Duterte slams climate change conferences for accomplishing 'nothing')
The frustrations of Duterte towards the global decision-making process are understandable. It took 21 Conferences of Parties for the world to come up with the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While last year’s conference came up with the guidelines for its implementation that begins next year, some aspects remain unfinished.
And the big polluters, especially the United States, continue to slow down climate action to protect the interests of fossil fuel companies.
'What is our excuse?'
However, using the misconduct of a few previous delegates and the slow progress of the negotiations as excuses to not actively participate is disrespectful to the rest of the world fighting to solve the climate crisis.
While the Duterte administration cares more about cost-cutting and protecting its reputation, other countries are increasing their efforts to collaborate to find and enact solutions immediately.
For instance, the Pacific island-nations are using their resources to physically attend the talks and negotiate because they understand these still provide the best chance for the survival of their people.
If these countries, who are literally losing their entire lands to sea level rise and have fewer resources than the Philippines, remain committed to the UN negotiating process in good faith, what is our excuse?
Internationally, the Philippines has played an important role in the global climate arena, having been a vocal champion for the most vulnerable countries.
For instance, as the head of the Climate Vulnerable Forum in 2015, our delegation led the push to set the target for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which was eventually included as a main goal of the Paris Agreement.
Such accomplishments were made despite the Philippine government’s history of not providing enough resources for the country’s negotiators, especially in recent years. In fact, famous Filipina climate negotiator Bernarditas Muller, who was the lead negotiator for the biggest bloc in the global talks for years, was once not allowed to represent the Philippines in such conferences. (READ: [OPINION] What's at stake for the Philippines at COP24)
Filipinos are the victims
Ultimately, the biggest loser of the Philippines’s decision is the Filipino people. While the intention of this move is arguably to make a stand for more urgent action that will help the country address climate change, this brazen move will have the opposite effect.
The rest of the world will simply continue to attend the conferences and work through a complex web of differences and challenges to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
It is important to note that the Philippines’ plans for its Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, which contains its strategies and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change, is heavily dependent on financial and technological aid from industrialized countries and international agencies.
Why should these entities provide support to a country whose government is clearly unwilling to exert all efforts to stand with them in the face of this crisis?
More importantly, this tactic is disrespectful not only to the hard work of Filipino negotiators over the years, but also to the victims of typhoons, droughts, sea level rise, and other manifestations of climate change for the past decade alone.
How can their concerns that affect their very survival be properly addressed when their top government officials would rather communicate through teleconferences?
'Speak up for the welfare of your citizens'
While Duterte and Locsin play the role of entitled and ignorant students in the diplomacy classroom, actual students worldwide are joining forces to skip their classes, and call out their governments to ramp up climate action.
Perhaps our government officials can learn something from these young advocates; instead of effectively isolating yourself from everybody else regarding an issue that can only be solved through a strong unified effort, you should make a true strong stand where you bring your grievances yourself into the heart of the negotiations and speak up for the welfare of your citizens.
I challenge Locsin to stop hiding behind a desktop or mobile screen and his awful tweets, and start giving the Philippines the kind of climate diplomacy it truly deserves. After all, the Internet connection in our country may not be good enough for a serious talk about climate change anyway. – Rappler.com
John Leo Algo is the Program Manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative and the Science Policy Advisor of Living Laudato Si Philippines. He recently earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.