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Our country’s goals on climate change

The Philippines had a key role in the Paris conference that ended with the adoption of the Climate Change agreement in December, 2015. The country led a Climate Vulnerable Forum campaign to limit the rise in global temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, not just 2 degrees as was ultimately decided in the conference. As the Philippines had been hit by the strongest typhoon ever to hit land – Yolanda in November, 2013 – its suffering was seen as a warning to the rest of the world.

Shortly after his election, President Duterte voiced his reservations about the Paris agreement. He was particularly concerned by the commitment made by the Philippines to reduce its carbon footprint by 70 percent by 2030, as spelled out in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the total goal of holding down global temperatures. He saw it as an imposition by industrialized countries which are principally to blame for the atmospheric pollution causing world temperatures to rise.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources last week said it will seek to have the President reconsider his negative views on the Paris pact. For one thing, new DENR Secretary Regina Paz Lopez said, the Philippines stands to access some P10 billion annually from a $100-billion fund the leading industrial nations of the world agreed to set up as part of the Paris pact. The fund would be used to assist developing countries with their needs related to pollution, temperature rise, and climate change.

Sen. Loren Legarda, who has long made clean environment her great advocacy, recalled that the Philippines helped in rallying other nations to support the agreement. If it now fails to meet the goals it set for itself in its Nationally Determined Contribution which it submitted to the conference along with all other nations, she said, it might lose its moral ascendancy as a leader of the international program.

It must be pointed out that each country set its own targets in its Nationally Determined Contribution. They are not binding in international law. There is no mechanism to compel a country to meet a target in its own NDC by a specific date. It is only a “name and encourage” system, in the words of Janos Pasztor, the UN secretary general on climate change.

As of September, 2016, 190 states, including all of the European Union, have signed the agreement, and 61 of the states have ratified it, notably China and the United States, the countries with the most greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Every five years, starting in 2023, an evaluation of the various countries’ implementation of their own projected plans will be undertaken and the outcome will be used in analyzing what has been achieved and what more has to be done.

There is nothing compulsory in the Paris agreement. The goals were all set by individual nations for themselves and are all subject to changes and adjustments in the coming years. We hope this will help Secretary Lopez when she and other advocates of clean environment meet with President Duterte on the Paris conference and the historic agreement it reached on climate change.