Crunch Time for Climate Change Set for Paris

Two months from now, world leaders will gather in Paris for a crucial United Nations conference on climate change, with much at stake after the failure in 2009 of a climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark so spectacular that the parley became known as Brokenhagen. There is rising hope that this time around there will be real progress.

The Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been underway for 21 years, making halting progress while greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, heating the earth and causing increasingly grim events – huge fires in California as the US west coast’s drought has deepened, super typhoons in the Philippines and other countries, rising waters threatening a long list of island nations.

There is now a growing clamor and pressure for world leaders to achieve a fair, ambitious and binding deal in Paris this December. No less than the leader of the Roman Catholic Church - Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical in June titled “Laudato Si” which urges everyone to “stop climate change destruction.”

US Republicans Try to Scuttle Deal

The possibility of a treaty has been complicated by the fact that over the past year, according to the US political website Politico, US Republican Party leaders steered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been calling foreign government leaders, actively seeking to destroy the possibility of an agreement in Paris. The agreement is being sought by President Barack Obama, the party’s political opponent. The Republican Party is also heavily funded by resource extraction interests including coal and oil, major sources of greenhouse gases.

There is enough trouble without GOP meddling. Two weeks ago, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) guided by a revised, streamlined, consolidated text, a working document integrating the outputs from the various working groups on finance, mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage. These have been integrated into the Paris document in what appeared to be one of the last remaining negotiation weeks before Paris – another to take place on October – where negotiators will find ways to achieve fairness, ambition and transparency and how these can be explicitly shown in the draft text.

Unfortunately, the early September Bonn intersession proved to be futile. The seemingly slow progress of the last week’s negotiations showed that countries are far from forging a deal soon. Developing countries and civil society organizations were quite frustrated with the snail’s pace tempo of the negotiations.

Furthermore, civil society groups and developing countries were also frustrated with the way “loss and damage” has been talked about in Bonn. Loss and damage became a pressing issue during the Conference of Parties 19th meeting in Warsaw in 2013 during which then Philippines lead negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Sano championed the issue of loss and damage, asking developed countries to clearly define humanitarian aid vis-a-vis climate compensation.

Philippine commitment, ways forward

But the Paris climate agreement - whether it comes to fruition or not - will be wasted if countries don’t submit and commit heavily their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The UN climate change organization has clearly outlined recommendations for drafting of INDCs or climate action plans as “ambitious, leading to transformation in carbon-intensive sectors and industry; transparent, so that stakeholders can track progress and ensure that countries meet their stated goals; and equitable, so that each country does its fair share to address climate change.”

The recent controversy on the Intended National Determined Contributions of the Philippines over non-inclusion of civil society organizations is quite alarming given the country’s pivotal role in the negotiation process during the past few conferences.Philippine climate change commissioner Heherson Alvarez has lamented that the country’s INDC is being drafted without proper consultation with relevant stakeholders.

In a recently published article I co-wrote with a fellow climate campaigner Adopt a Negotiator Project's Chris Wright from Australia, we thoroughly discussed how the Philippines can pave the way for reform-oriented, accountable and ambitious climate pledges. We discussed how the Philippines could follow the footsteps of Morocco, Peru and Ethiopia which submitted plans and have reaped praise at the UN last June.

Considered a middle-income economy country, the Philippines’ INDC must effectively weave inputs from various stakeholders – the private sector, civil society and the most vulnerable people in the face of a changing climate. It should bring in climate change mitigation and adaptation ensuring inclusive growth with respect to environmental laws.

Only direct, participatory and inclusive negotiations and the INDC drafting process, especially on countries like the Philippines, will enable parties to work on their differences, find points of convergence and ultimately come up with a transparent, fair, ambitious deal that will lower carbon emissions to 2 degrees Celsius and help vulnerable sectors adapt to climate change impacts by ensuring that financial mechanisms are open and available.

Crunch time in October

The last five negotiation days in October will be crucial for a fair and binding agreement in Paris. The world’s leaders failed to accomplish this in Copenhagen in 2009. We are experiencing the impacts of climate change with the most vulnerable sectors greatly affected by it. We cannot afford to fail this time. The future of the next generation is at stake.

Jed Alegado is a graduate student at Erasmus University Rotterdam-International Institute of Social Studies (EUR-ISS) in The Hague, Netherlands. He holds a masters’ degree in Public Management from the Ateneo School of Government isn the Philippines. He is also a Climate Tracker from the Adopt a Negotiator Project.