Despite doubts, Duterte still open to Paris Agreement

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — On Friday, the much talked about Paris Agreement — the global effort to curb global warming — entered into force in at least 97 countries, all of which ratified the treaty.

More countries are also expected to ratify the deal in the coming days.

The Paris Agreement entered into force thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention (accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions) deposited their instruments of ratification or the documents that attest their approval and acceptance of the deal.

It's a landmark global deal to cut harmful carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

But the Philippines is not approving the agreement — so far.

One of the reasons for this is the fact that president Rodrigo Duterte is still unconvinced that the treaty would benefit the country.

In the past he has openly stated his belief that only big polluting countries such as the United States, China and the and those in the European Union should cut their emissions to cap global warming.

The president prefers coal as an energy source — mainly because it is cheap.  The Paris Agreement calls for phasing out coal power plants and shifting to greener energy — it's a major action to be undertaken by all signatories, Duterte, however, worries that phasing out coal may set the country back economically.

But Climate Change Commission Undersecretary Verniece Victorio said the president could still open up to the idea of ratifying the agreement. She said Mr. Duterte wants to make sure that by the time the government ratifies the deal, the National Determined Contribution - which is the pledge that each signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change submitted last year (before the COP 21 in Paris) will be reviewed.

He doesn't agree with the pledge made under the Aquino Administration to cut 70% of the country's emissions by 2030. Even if the pledge is conditional to big polluting countries paying for the Philippines to achieve that goal.

"On one hand we want to ratify as soon as possible so we can be part of the discussions in the Paris agreement under the governing body and its first meeting will be next week.  And then by being part of that CMA1 then we can be part of developing the rules for this Paris agreement.

"But on the other hand, we might want to also — you know, hold on a little bit. There are some people that will say lets just try to understand first what our contributions are; what exactly our commitments (will) be in the Paris agreement," said Victorio.

President Duterte earlier expressed his willingness to take a second look at the Paris Agreement, without necessarily rejecting it outright. "If the legal advisers say that I should sign, then I will sign," Duterte told the media on November 1, during an interview at the Duterte family mausoleum, when he visited his parents' tombs on All Saints' Day.

The upcoming first session of parties to the Paris Agreement or CMA1 — which will take place in Marrakech during the COP 22 between November 7-18 — is a meeting only open to countries that have ratified the agreement.

Other countries may attend but only as observers. And this will be the case for the Philippines.

This is in stark contrast to last year. In 2015, the Philippines was a leader among vulnerable countries fighting for the more ambitious cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius on global warming.

This helped shape the decision by the parties involved to include in the Paris Agreement a line stating that the minimal goal is to cap global warming at 2 degrees, but with the best effort to lower as much as possible to 1.5 degrees.

And this is why Commissioner Victorio says the Philippines needs to ratify the agreement to continue its fight for climate justice.

"Ok the Paris agreement can only deliver perhaps 3 to 3.5. Let's continue to push for this and see if we can reduce this further in the next years.

"We also have to prepare for the reality that we have to brace ourselves for the impacts of climate change that (are) about to happen.

"Remember 2 degrees Celsius was the threshold. Set beyond 2 degrees is unacceptable and right now we're beyond it."

Ratification Process

Victorio explains how the ratification process for the Philippines is still a long way ahead, as the government is still on the first step of the ratification process. It still has to gather Certificates of concurrence or COCs from 33 government agencies and stakeholders like the business sector. So far only a handful of agencies have submitted their COCs.

These certificates of concurrence are required as a guarantee that the agency or group understands the Paris Agreement — and agrees to do its part in implementing the country's commitment under the agreement.

These certificates are somewhat like contracts that bind the group or agency to do its part in applying the changes needed to achieve the common goal under the Paris Agreement.

Once the 33 certificates are collected, they will be passed on to the DFA which will then proceed with preparing the Instrument of Ratification. Only at this point will the documents end up on the president's desk for signing.

After the President signs, he sends the papers to the Senate for concurrence, at least two thirds of the senate must concur for the Agreement to be approved.

At this point the Philippines is officially a party to the Paris Agreement.

This means that during negotiations — or when the conference of Parties to the Paris agreement meets — they will negotiate on how to implement the rules and modalities of the deal (or even improve the deal itself)--the Philippines would have a voice. But again, only if it ratifies the treaty.

There's time to ratify

Climate Change Commissioner Verniece Victorio clarifies that the country still has time to decide what it wants to do.

And Former Philippine representative to the UN Climate Change talks Tony La Vina agrees with Victorio. But he adds that we should aim to ratify before the COP 23 which is expected to take place late next year or early 2018.

He encourages the government to feel free to review the Nationally Determined Contribution if needed.

"There's nothing wrong to reconsider the 70% commitment. We're actually allowed under the Paris Agreement to finalise our commitment in a couple of years. We should do something that's more realistic, something we're more comfortable with. Nobody is forced to do anything in the Paris agreement that it doesn't want to do — let's be clear about that," said La Vina.

Green funds

Many — like Senator Loren Legarda and former negotiator for the Philippines at the UNFCCC, Dean Tony La Viña — say the country needs to ratify the agreement in order to access the so called "green funds". It's the communal fund of 100 billion dollars that will be made available to countries vulnerable to climate change. This would allow them to achieve their nationally determined goals, and help them with adaptation to climate change.

The so-called "green funds" could be used for renewable energy projects, sustainable transportation, and waste management. They can also go to developing farms to would shift to cultivating more resilient crops, and also the planting of mangroves to mitigate the impact of storm surges, says Victorio. "It's a matter of being able to explain to them really the implications of the Paris agreement. There's still a lot of confusion".

For many Filipino delegates from civil society groups like Lidy Nakpil, who is attending the two week Marrakech talks as observer, the President needs to feel the urge to ratify even if he doesn't think the Paris deal is perfect. That's because the country needs to be at the negotiating table, weighing in and fighting for increased effort from the big polluting countries of the world.

But she also adds that the Philippines, despite being a relatively small polluter, still needs to shift towards greener energy and in general work towards cutting its emissions, too.

Nakpil points out, the world's climate crisis requires a global effort to address it, so no one excluded.