Atty. Ysan Castillo, ADR Institute Environment Fellow and Secretary General of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST), ADRi’s CSO Partner.
World leaders hail the climate deal reached in Paris, with the general sentiment about the agreement being a landmark pact for the environment and the benefit of future generations. Indeed, the call for decisive action to limit global warming was heeded during the two-week long negotiations, where the stark contrast between the economies of developed and developing countries was inevitably magnified. Evidently, the carbon emissions of states are inextricably linked to how industrialized their economies are, considering that fossil fuel burning has powered industrial development and early modernization.
Consequently, up until the last minute, negotiators from the different nations were haggling to agree on a target, and the concomitant plans of action to reach such target, without stagnating economic growth.
Significantly, the team representing the Philippines must be lauded for leading the way in insisting that the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C), instead of the recognized 2 °C, become the reference point in mitigating the effects of Climate Change. As the Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), the Philippines was at the battlefront in asserting a more ambitious target using the obvious, and very unfortunate rationale that the poor states are the hardest hit by extreme weather, yet the least responsible for unfolding the new normal. So successful was the advocacy that new collaborations were formed, like the reported “High-Ambition Coalition” that included the European Union and the United States, which supported the developing island-states in pushing for a cap of 1.5 °C.
Much of the discussions with respect to the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 centered on, or the supposed new climate pact encapsulated into, what the target limit was for the global temperature. Thus, what was agreed upon in the Paris Agreement is worth quoting, to wit:
Although the Philippine negotiators, along with the other highly vulnerable countries, may have wanted a stronger language, it is not difficult to imagine how the task of setting 1.5 °C as the ultimate goal in limiting temperature increase, or even just making reference to it, seemed almost impossible. It was, in a sense, asking the “big boys”, like the US, China or India, to stop feeding their gigantic industries.
Another important provision in the Agreement is the one regarding climate finance, where developed countries shall pool funds for the mitigation and adaptation efforts, among other climate-related initiatives, of developing countries. Initially, USD 100 billion annually was the agreed minimum fund for this purpose. It bears stressing that while the Philippines badly needs international sources of funds as conceded in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), there must be parallel efforts from the government to ensure the efficient disbursement of these funds. A bog down in the delivery of funds, similar to the rehabilitation of Yolanda-stricken areas, cannot happen.
Overall, the achievement in Paris merits world praise because nations were able to stand united and hurdle the first step of coming up with a responsive solution to a global problem. As this is just the first step, we must sober up after the celebration and with determined vigilance, act on the commitments of COP 21. Let us not forget that the Paris Agreement will not take effect until the year 2020, and unless at least 55 Parties to the Convention, which accounts for an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, signify their approval next year in the signing ceremonies.
The real challenge is how to ensure that the State Parties perform their obligations under this international agreement. Unlike Municipal Laws, enforcement of International Laws pose problems since no one single entity possesses sufficient police powers to exact compliance. As a result, observance of the terms of treaties and covenants is perennially conditioned on the acquiescence of erring states or on pressure from international peers. We need not go far to cite an example, but just look at the West Philippine Sea issue within the context of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Thus, as Pope Francis aptly observed, what the world needs now is concerted action from everyone so that the monumental Paris Agreement may be put into action.
We really have no other option, this may be our LAST CHANCE TO SAVE THE WORLD.