IN Lima last month, over-worked and desperate delegates to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference heaved a collective sigh — humanity had taken a huge step backward from the precipice of climate doom.
Two hard fought goals made the timely retreat possible. The first was an outline text that will be fleshed out before next December when delegates meet to finalize the 2015 Paris agreement. Given the complex options and divergent positions involved, this process will be daunting.
Deeply aware that the Paris conference will be making historic decisions, the French government is intent on making COP21 a turning point in the global effort to deter further warming of the Earth. French President Francois Hollande is already reaching out to developing nations; he has placed climate change at the top of his agenda when he reciprocates the visit of President Benigno Aquino this year. In fact, Hollande is sending Special Envoy for the Planet Nicolas Hulot to Manila to work with climate officials and promote innovative policies.
The second was a covenant on the rules governing national commitments – the “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs). These INDCs, effectively commitments of UN members, will be at the heart of the Paris accord on a new, comprehensive post-2020 climate regime.
Compromises on other key issues were necessary to achieve these goals, including concessions on adaptation plans (optional, not compulsory), financial support for poorer nations, loss and damage, capacity building, and technology transfer.
But the cornerstone of the Lima accord was profoundly emphasized: carbon mitigation based on the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.”
This mitigation strategy is a vindication of my stance from the beginning. In October 2008, soon after assuming the position of Presidential Adviser on Climate Change and Global Warming, I convened the first Carbon-Cutting Congress in the Philippines. Critics contended that the Philippines should be concentrating on adaptation since our carbon footprint was negligible, and that mitigation should be left to the highly industrialized nations.
This, of course, was a myopic view. The problem was man-made carbon pollution of the environment, and the obvious solution was to eliminate or minimize carbon emissions. No amount of adaptation would resolve this problem, and it was apparent to me that all countries, no matter how small, should make a contribution to this goal.
At Lima, the death knell for an old structure rang out. Since 1992, countries were split into two groups; the developed countries that collectively were responsible for the majority of historical greenhouse gas emissions were placed in Annex 1 of the treaty, and the developing countries were labeled as non-Annex 1. Under the Kyoto Protocol, only Annex 1 countries were required to take on binding emissions reduction commitments.
In 2011 at Durban, however, there was a consensus that post-2020 actions to be negotiated at the Paris summit this year would be “applicable to all.” This meant that the inflexible “firewall” between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries would not continue in the post-2020 agreement; different countries would take on different kinds of actions, but those would be based on their capabilities and their current national circumstances.
The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities effectively demolished that division. All nations, large and small, are producing varying amounts of greenhouse gases. So all must cut accordingly, if global warming is to be held below 2°C compared to the temperature in pre-industrial times.
To be consistent with this principle, the European Union stressed that the obligations of the parties must reflect “evolving realities, circumstances, responsibilities and capabilities in a fair and dynamic way that is ambitious enough to keep us on track to achieve the below 2 degrees C objective.”
Many developing countries, particularly those highly vulnerable to climate impacts, tend to reject this concept. But it imposes on nations like the Philippines both a moral and legal obligation to do our share.
This is the same principal that compels us to share in the upkeep of the United Nations, the same principle why every Filipino who earns an income pays taxes to support the government. We should be comfortable with this principle because it largely reflects the “bayanihan” spirit in the Filipino culture.
Now, which sectors of our economy will bear the brunt of emissions reduction targets? Is it possible to reduce or offset these targets by large-scale REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) strategies? What steps should the government and its environmental allies in the private sector take to calculate and arrive at a fair and reasonable INDC for our country?
These questions require in-depth studies, and for this purpose Malacanang should organize an ad hoc body, say the Climate Pact Committee (CPC). Its members should include all the departments whose fields contribute significantly to environmental degradation together with the policymaking departments of NEDA, DOST and the Climate Change Commission. The final product of CPC would be a bill to be enacted by Congress so that our commitments to UNFCCC will have the force of law.
The proposed law should not only stipulate emissions cut by 2030 and 2050. It should provide benchmarks and incentives for industries, schedules of renewable energy coming into stream as ageing coal and diesel plants are phased out, and proactive policies to promote new technology and green growth. It will also be essential for this law to mobilize public and private financial resources to cut emissions without undermining the country’s economic growth.
We can borrow from the example and experience of the European Union. For the short term, the EU has put in place legislation to reduce its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020; current data show it is well on track to reach this target. A confident EU is also offering to increase this cut to 30% if other major economies agree to improve their reduction efforts.
More specifically, the law should: (1) propose cost-efficient ways to make the Philippine economy more climate-friendly and less energy-consuming; (2) put forward a Philippine roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050; (3) set out a cost-effective pathway for achieving much deeper emission cuts, indicating reductions at the level of 40% by 2030 and 60% by 2040; and (4) provide reduction benchmarks for the main sectors of the economy — power generation, industry, transport, buildings and construction, as well as agriculture – for the transition to a low-carbon economy.
This early, therefore, the Philippines should start organizing to determine its INDCs. The shape and quantity of our intended contributions will give us an idea of the magnitude of investments our government must make in order to achieve a credible transition to a low-carbon society. Some economists at the UNFCCC estimate the Philippines would need to invest some two percent of its GDP annually, on average, over the next four decades.
Such investments would spur growth in a broad range of manufacturing sectors and environmental services. Ultimately, their impacts would allow Filipinos to study, live and work in low-energy, low-emission buildings with intelligent water, light and cooling systems and, at the same time, to enjoy cleaner cities with healthier environment.
In the meantime, the threat of climate catastrophe hangs over the world. Current global emissions, still unabated, put the world’s environment on a trajectory toward a 4 degree Centigrade warming.
This is why John Kerry, the US secretary of state, voiced an impassioned warning that if the Lima conference fails, the world was “on a course leading to tragedy.”
The Lima summit, to be sure, produced basic achievements. But these are sufficient enough to bring a new luster of hope for human civilization as we prepare for Paris.
Heherson T. Alvarez was part of the Philippine delegation to COP 20 in Lima, Peru. Currently chair of the Advisory Board of the Worldwatch Institute based in Washington, D.C., he served as chair of the Senate committee on environment for ten years during his tenure in the Philippine Senate and successfully negotiated with oil multinationals to introduce unleaded gasoline in the domestic market.