It is NOT legally binding

2

Ms Rachel A. G. Reyes’ contention in her article (MT, Dec. 16) that the Paris Agreement is “legally binding” is wrong. It is not.

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One reason the negotiators had to work overtime was the discovery on the last day that a “shall” instead of a “should” had crept into the draft of the final document.

The American delegation made sure that the result of COP21 will not, nor cannot, be construed a treaty. Although President George W. Bush was the signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the bases for the negotiation at COP21, the US delegation made it very certain that the document that will come out of COP21 will not need the concurrence of the US Senate where the Republican majority were either climate skeptics or climate deniers who had threatened to feed one of President Obama’s legacies into a shredding machine.

How was the Paris Agreement approved?
Not by a show of hands or even a voice vote but by consensus. The Chairman, Mr. Laurent Fabius, surveyed the cavernous hall for any sign of dissent. Seeing none, he declared in French that the document was approved by all.

“Collective effort,” he declared, “is worth more than our individual positions.”

Are they?
In preparation for COP21, all member states were requested to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to reduce carbon emissions.

When the experts added up the INDCs (they did not have the same format nor did they follow a common method) the total fell short of the agreed target of 20ºC from pre-industrial level.

Subsequently, a coalition of vulnerable countries, including the Philippines, proposed that the target be changed to 1.5ºC. This was accepted to the consternation of climate scientists. They pointed out that today surface temperature had risen to .8ºC.

The Paris Agreement did not spell out how the new target would be attained. For a while, fanciful geoengineering methods and machines that will suck CO2 already in the atmosphere for burial in crevices on Earth were proposed and discarded.

Of the three biggest emitters of greenhouses gases—China, the US and India—only the US has taken baby steps toward reducing CO2 emissions—higher mileage for cars, capturing the of CO2 of plants using fossil fuels and selling the gas to softdrink manufacturers or experimenting with sequestration, etc are being tried.

China will mandate a national cap-and-trade scheme for factories, airlines, power plants and so on that will “peak” in 2030 when the Chinese will evaluate the result. Whether it will be market-based like the Kyoto scheme is anybody’s guess.

The approach of India is to calculate the “carbon intensity” of its industrial development. I do not understand the method. Whether it will reduce atmospheric carbon, again, is anybody’s guess.

Two things are clear. The US is serious. India and China are marking time.

There is nothing in the Paris agreement about methane or nitrous oxide. Two sources of methane are rice farming and garbage dumping. Nitrous oxide is emitted by chemicals used in daily life. But a common source are airconditioners which will become a necessity in a warming world. Shouldn’t they have been included?

The Philippines offered to reduce its CO2 emissions by 70 percent, one of the highest INDC, by 2030 provided it is given the money to do it.

Are we serious?
I’m afraid not. I learned from the two-part article of (MT, Dec.16-17) Mr. Rene Golangco, the business sector representative in the Advisory Board of the Climate Change Commission, that our INDC was prepared by an undersecretary in the Department of Environment. She signed the transmittal letter and then resigned. From reports that have appeared in the press, she did not consult the NEDA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation. If true then our INDC is virtually useless.

Before President Aquino left for Paris, he authorized the construction of 23 coal-fired power plants. Didn’t the President notice the irony?

The commitments we made in COP21 are not in sync with our development plans and goals. Perhaps the President needs to be educated in the enormity, gravity and complexity of climate change.

In my view (I owe this to James Hansen) the best way to “decarbonize” an economy is to put a price on carbon. A tax on carbon is a powerful motivation for the switch to cleaner fuel. At the same time it will produce revenue that can be invested in mitigation programs.

We cannot and should not rely exclusively on other countries to give us the money to do our bit for our “common home,” to borrow from Pope Francis.

I find China’s insistence on differentiation nauseating. China made a pile of money in the international cap-and-trade market while building one coal-fired power plant or factory every day since Kyoto. Now that she is the second biggest economy, she refuses to be considered a developed country with obligations to poorer nations.

Collective effort is fine but nothing beats “sariling sikap” to mobilize the country for a campaign that could last a millennium.

To conclude: Ms. Benarditas Muller, a Filipina whom I met in Bali and Copenhagen, now an expert of the Climate Fund, got it right. The Paris Agreement is a “statement of the status quo.”

Fortunately, COP21 is not the end. There’s a Plan B. In the Paris Agreement, the member states agreed to meet every five years for stock taking. The first meeting will be in 2020. By that time the inadequacies of the Paris Agreement will begin to show. Can we summon the will and the determination to do more to save the blue planet that sustains all of us?

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2 Comments

  1. Frank A. Tucker on

    Add to that the burning of the sugar cane and practically every barangay resident’s willingness to pollute their neighbors lungs by burning their trash (including plastics) & yard waste daily I see very little willingness on the part of the Filipino population to control air pollution in any way. Then there’s the rampant petroleum powered vehicle pollution to be considered. What a pity . . .

  2. In the meantime the Aboitiz group is consistently building/constructing coal-fired power plants all over the country! Another one is in progress, a second one for the City of Iloilo! So WTH with this cop21 or whatever they call it!