NEW YORK - The Climate Change Commission (CCC) has confirmed that the Philippine government will only send a handful of people to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
This comes after global climate strikes attended by millions of people and a UN Youth Climate Summit crediting the movement for the current momentum of the climate change discourse.
CCC Sec. Emmanuel de Guzman told ABS-CBN News that he won’t be able to attend the summit “due to pressing domestic concerns."
“It’s budget deliberation week for us; but we have a lean delegation for the UNCAS,” he said.
The delegation includes representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs’ permanent mission to New York, the National Economic and Development Authority and three CCC senior advisers.
Miss Earth 2017 Karen Ibasco, the CCC’s youth ambassador, already left New York after attending the UN Youth Climate Summit.
ABS-CBN also received information that while Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque will be at the UN this week, they will instead be attending the Sustainable Development Goals Summit.
In a statement, the CCC commended the UN for holding what is calls a “historic” Climate Action Summit.
“We appreciate the high-level political impetus the climate summit provides in translating into action the formal agreements under the United Nations Climate Change Convention, including its Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement,” the CCC wrote. “We, therefore, look forward to the successful outcome of the climate summit attended by heads of states, private sector chief executives, heads of multilateral agencies, civil society and the youth, among other major stakeholders.”
The UN Climate Action Summit, while it won’t involve climate negotiations, is an important event to boost new commitments that would bring the nations closer to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement.
Signatories of the 2015 agreement are required to strengthen their commitments by 2020 to curb global heating to at least two degrees Celsius.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that to do this, countries will have to cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and ban new coal-fired power plants by 2020.
In 2015, the Philippines, which had been playing an important leadership role among climate-vulnerable countries, pledged, through its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, to conditionally reduce its carbon emissions by 70 percent only if it receives support from developed nations.
ABS-CBN has yet to receive a response from the CCC on updates on the pledge.
Former Philippine climate negotiator and now Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Yeb Saño earlier expressed disappointment in the Philippines’ seeming lack of interest in the climate change events.
“The truth is, we are worried that the issue of climate change in the Philippines is taking a back seat,” he told ABS-CBN during the New York climate strike.
“We don’t even have a negotiator who participates in the negotiating table to stand up for climate justice, to stand up for the rights of Filipinos,” he pointed out.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed disapproval of the practice of sending large groups to climate conferences because of supposed excessive travel among government officials.
In line with this, Locsin said there will be no official participation in climate conferences that require air travel.
Nevertheless, the Duterte has acknowledged the negative effects of climate change, especially on poor countries.
FIGHTING FOR PH
But Saño said it is important to send negotiators who truly work and will be able to speak in behalf of the Philippines.
At the same time, he agrees that there really are a lot of officials who take advantage of official travel. “It hurts for Filipinos because this is an important issue for us but our representatives to global conferences do not fight for us,” he said.
Saño said it’s important for government to consult all stakeholders and bring the consolidated position of the Philippines to the negotiating table.
“They are not being sent to conferences to watch and listen. We are sent there to fight for the interest of the Filipinos,” he said.
“That’s why we are calling on President Duterte so he can understand that we should be where the fight against climate change is happening,” Saño said. “Because if we’re not there, we lose.”
Saño is hoping the Philippines could participate more in climate discussions and declare a climate emergency. “We haven’t heard that from our own government despite the fact that we’re experiencing all of the worse impacts of climate change.”
Saño first made headlines in 2014 when as the Philippine negotiator, he gave an impassioned plea at the Conference of Parties in Poland following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
Red Constantino, adviser to the V20 group of finance ministers, said he thinks the government is ready for the summit. “Ultimately delivery will be in Chile, in time for Chile climate negotiations,” he said.
Constantino said the government has been working on the climate commitments for months “to signal to the world that not only is the Philippines ready to take its fair share of climate action but also that it is prepared to demand that rich countries act by providing finance and by cutting their emissions earlier and by far greater amounts.
He said it should not be an issue if the CCC is not present at the summit.
“They may not be in New York but I think the government is ably represented by the Department of Foreign Affairs and NEDA,” he said, explaining that climate change is also an economic issue.
Constantino pointed out that crafting the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of the Philippines for the next climate negotiations is more important that the present New York summit.
“I think it’s very important to carry a large dose of optimism. We note that the Philippine bureaucracy is hard at work at creating a credible NDC,” he told ABS-CBN News at the sidelines of a climate event in New York. “The NDC is not a simple matter. It is complex. We want not only protection, not only survival but an economy that flourishes, that benefits the working class most of all.
Tony La Viña, Director of Energy Collaboratory and Senior Fellow of Manila Observatory, said there is still much to be improved in how the Philippines is addressing climate change.
“The Philippines made strong commitments in Paris. But our actions, especially in energy, need to be more robust,” he said. “As a climate vulnerable country, we must show the way and lead in the effort. Because if it looks like we don’t care, why will others care?”
La Viña, who used to be a climate negotiator for the Philippines said, “We are still encouraging coal projects, instead of being aggressive in renewable energy. For the latter, it’s not just solar or wind but especially developing again our geothermal sector which has become stagnant.”
The world is expecting countries to step up at the UN Climate Action Summit and give more ambitious goals to curb emissions and address climate change - from aiming for carbon neutrality to announcing their enhanced NDCs.