Philippines reversal on Paris climate deal a risk, experts say

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Manila (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — As the United Nations announced plans to fast-track ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, elected in June, is now backtracking on support for the deal, saying that he "will not honor" the proposed restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

Duterte said this week he will not recognize the country's commitment to the Paris pact supported by his predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, as it would limit the country's industrial growth.

The reversal drew concerns from climate experts and activists in a country that has seen worsening hurricanes and other extreme weather, and is considered one of the world's most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Climate scientist Rosa Perez appealed to the President to reconsider his position, and discuss the pact and negotiation process with Philippine government officials and climate experts.

"His statement was an indication that he is not well-informed of the importance of the climate change negotiations and the country's position in the whole process. I hope everything will turn out well for the country's good," said Perez, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a independent body of climate scientists.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, agreed with Perez, saying that the Paris Agreement could be used to protect not only the communities in the disaster-prone Philippines but also the rights of indigenous peoples.

"It is unfortunate that President Duterte rejected the Paris Agreement," she said.

The agreement has its weaknesses, she said, including less-than-ambitious emissions reductions promises from some rich countries, but the agreement's commitment to respect human rights, including indigenous rights, is important, she said.

Last December nearly 200 nations, including the Philippines, adopted the new climate agreement which aims to transform the world's fossil-fuel-driven economy within decades and slow the pace of temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.

The new deal was originally slated to take effect in 2020, but Christiana Figueres, who stepped down this month as the U.N.'s lead climate official, has said she thinks the deal could come into effect early, by 2018.

As of June, 175 countries had formally signed the agreement; 19 countries have so far have ratified it. It will come into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the world's total emissions have ratified the deal.

Lucille Sering, the former vice chair of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said the country's agreed contribution to the global climate deal is a 70 percent cut in emissions by 2030 – but conditional on sufficient international resources, technology and training being made available to make that happen.

To push ahead – or not?

Naderev Saño, Greenpeace's executive director for Southeast Asia, said it is too simplistic to view the Paris deal as something that should be honoured or not.

The deal "does not really mean much if rich countries evade real ambitious action. Overall the Paris Agreement fails the climate justice test," he said.

But an industrializing Philippines does not need to be dependent on fossil fuels, and can develop with renewable energy and sustainable forms of development, he said.

"Solving climate change does not have to be incompatible with social and economic development. Climate solutions will not constrain our development," he said.

The Philippines' aim in going ahead with the climate deal is not necessarily emissions reductions or pleasing diplomatic partners but ensuring its own development is sustainable, he said.

Francis Dela Cruz, an energy policy specialist at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said it was crucial for the Philippines to engage in the climate deal to ensure that the agreement will "benefit vulnerable countries most".

The Philippines is the current leader of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of 50 countries that suffer most from the impacts of climate change and that advocated for the needs of vulnerable communities to be met in the Paris climate agreement.

"It is important to clarify that when the Philippines signed up to the Paris Agreement, it was primarily driven by the interests of vulnerable countries to create a resilient future for our people," Dela Cruz said.