Philippines and France, climate change allies

Thankfully, last week, the country had some good news as we saw President Aquino rise up to the occasion on the important issue of climate change. This was during the visit of French President Francois Hollande that went very well and will have positive national and international consequences.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Climate Change Commission should be congratulated, too, especially Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Climate Change Commission Vice- Chair, Secretary Lucille Sering. They were eloquent and firm in their speeches last Thursday during a forum at the National Museum hosted by Hollande, about why climate change was important for us.

In the same forum, expertly moderated by Marco Lambertini, the Director General of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF International), one of the most effective and innovative global environmental organizations, Albay Governor Joey Salceda argued persuasively that strategic investments in climate change adaptation were critical if this challenge was to be overcome. My wife is from Albay and I can definitely attest to the practical visionary that is Governor Joey.

In the same forum, Senator Loren Legarda, veteran champion of the environment and our most prominent advocate of addressing climate change and disasters, articulated what was at stake in this first ever-state visit of a French President to our country. She pointed out the consequences of climate change: “extremely harsh weather events, flooding, declining fish catch, water scarcity, declining agricultural harvests, exacerbating health issues, extinction of animal and plant species, displacement of people, and even the demise of low-lying areas, among others.”

Senator Legarda also cited how the Philippines is at the top of the list of the Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 – which lists those countries most severely affected by weather-related disasters like storms, floods, and heat waves. She was also clear about what needs to be done globally, imploring the world’s largest economies to deliver their concrete commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. According to her: “This is not the time for restraint or for wagging the finger of indictment.  This is the moment for collective action.”

French actress Melanie Laurent, an environmental activist who joined the Hollande party, echoed this: “The environmental crisis is not a problem for tomorrow but for today. . . We have done so many outstanding things: we’ve traveled to the moon, we’ve put an end to world wars, we’ve eradicated diseases. The same strength can save us. More than anytime before, we should do it together.”

The words of these magnificent women were not lost on both the Presidents of France and the Philippines.

In the Thursday forum, President Hollande forcefully communicated his personal and France’s commitment to address climate change effectively and to make the Paris conference a success with the adoption of a good international agreement on climate change. He pointed out how the world is now facing a decisive choice: “Either we close our eyes and close our future or generate such awareness that we will enable humanity to win.” On the Philippines, Hollande said.”Why did we come to the Philippines? Because we are friends, because it is a country France always supported. It is the country that can best embody climate destruction in the world.”

President Hollande, as reported by Rappler (I was there and listened to the French version of his speech), spoke also of the French principles of equality and justice: “For decades and decades, we have used the resources of the planet to generate wealth and guarantee our prosperity while leaving behind so many poor people. Because of how we destroyed the planet, our first duty is to be fair vis-a-vis countries that precisely did not do anything irreversible for the planet.”

Later in the meeting of the two heads of state, President Aquino, pointed out that the world can no longer “be paralyzed by debates over the obligations of individual countries; all of us must do everything we can, in the quickest and most impactful way possible.”

In their joint statement entitled the Manila Call for Climate Action, read by Senator Legarda and Marion Cotillard – the Oscar Award-winning French actress who was also in Hollande’s delegation -- Presidents Aquino and Hollande made a strong appeal: “Less than a year ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) which will take place in Paris in December 2015, the outcome of which will affect the lives of billions of people, we call upon the international community to conclude a universal, equitable and ambitious climate deal, in line with the specific recommendations set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to preserve our planet as a livable place for future generations. From Manila today, we hope to make history together in Paris in December and not simply watch history unfold.”

Presidents Aquino and Hollande pointed out the kind of accord that must be achieved in Paris: “We need an agreement negotiated and accepted by everyone and for everyone, an agreement that takes all differences in situations into account, and aims at bridging varying perspectives to hasten collective action. We need an agreement that reduces emissions, creates economic opportunities and equips us to manage the associated risks that are already locked in the foreseeable future.”

In the Manila Call for Action, the link between the Philippines and climate change is emphasized: “As we meet in the Philippines, where people have endured an unprecedented series of extreme weather events in the last few years, we are reminded that while the developing countries have contributed least to climate change, they are the ones that suffer the most from climate change impacts. While we face similar threats and shared vulnerabilities, we have also varying strengths and capacities to address these challenges. However, we believe that our vulnerabilities and exposure to climate-induced hazards can be reduced. In the face of these, the people of the Philippines have shown extraordinary resilience.”

Finally, the joint statement of France and the Philippines, which I think the Philippine delegation should now consider its instructions for the year long climate change negotiations, called for climate solidarity and justice, and climate cooperation in the form of financial and technical solidarity.

It is fitting that President Hollande ended his historic trip to the Philippines in Guiaun, Samar, ground zero of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. In that town, visited for the first time by a foreign head of state, Hollande complimented our countrymen: “I want to come here all the way from France to your place, Guiaun, to show to the entire world… how brave you are, how strong you are and how resilient you are.” There too, Hollande promised: “The world will act for you ... we want success in Paris.’

For me, a good climate agreement is one with ambitious mitigation and adaptation goals backed up by adequate means of implementation, recognizes the link between climate change and human rights, and establishes climate justice and accountability mechanisms. With the Philippines and France working together, how can we fail?


Facebook page: Dean Tony La Vina Twitter: tonylav

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