The Conference of Parties (COP) 21, a yearly summit of countries involved in tackling climate change, is to take place in Paris beginning on Nov. 30 — fewer than 100 days. Countries are preparing for what could be the biggest decision so far both for the planet and humanity’s survival.
After 20 years of negotiations, the conference, sponsored by the United Nations, is seeking a legally binding agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial period. So far, the world has warmed by 0.8C since 1880.
Small island nations including the Philippines have proposed a 1.5C target, not surprising, given that climate change has affected these nations most although that is probably out of the question. Cristiana Figueres, climate change consultant, acknowledged in the closing briefing at the 2012 Doha conference that “the current pledges under the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol are clearly not enough to guarantee that the temperature will stay below 2 °C and there is an ever increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us.”
At 0.8C of warming, the Philippines has experienced devastation from extreme weather events including Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda which claimed more than 6,000 lives and left thousands more homeless and without livelihood in November of 2013. The Philippines faces an average of eight to nine severe weather events per year.
A successful agreement in Paris would mean commitments from countries in reducing carbon emissions and ensuring better adaptation measures, especially for countries that are already suffering from climate change impacts. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has directed attention to the conclave in the hope that this time action can be taken.
The prospects are promising, especially because many countries including the G7, the industrialized bloc including Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States, have made a bold statement about decarbonization of their economies. If these industrialized countries, which are mostly responsible for the climate change that has affected the earth to this point are committing to end the use of fossil fuel, then we are off to a good start in finally addressing climate change.
And Paris will just be a start, as it hopes to address climate change in the long term. But what would a successful agreement in Paris mean for Filipinos? We have all been through strong typhoons and intense heat. Our farmers and fishing industry have suffered from loss of crops and destruction of fish habitat due to El Nino and warmer waters. In fact, according to the Asian Development Bank, the Philippines loses US$1.6bn of gross domestic product (GDP) every year because of typhoons and earthquakes.
We have all lost something and the damage is more than economic. After Ondoy, which caused US$1.2 billion of damage and took 747 lives in 2009, and Haiyan/Yolanda, we have learned to fear every typhoon that comes our way. We fear the water that was once our source of life. The “new normal” brought about by climate change has changed the way we live.
Will Paris give us back what we have lost? The answer is no. But with a successful agreement, we stand a so that when another Yolanda comes, there will be no more 6,000 deaths. A successful agreement would help ensure that we will not have to face more damage as the global community struggles to hold warming at less than 2C.
This is why countries must be ambitious in their commitments in Paris, including the Philippine commitments as a country. We need to have targets that speak of both cutting domestic carbon emissions and building every capacity to adapt to severe weather events. That means that we need to work harder on investing in cleaner energy and less on fossil fuel and coal power plants. We need to work harder on educating Filipinos about what climate change is.
We have fewer than 100 days to agree on commitments that will ensure concrete action and that we will protect the planet from further destruction. Is the Philippines ready to commit to this? We hope so, for every Filipino looking for justice from losing their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones because of climate change.
Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Advocacy Director of the Manila-based Dakila, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. She is also a climate tracker for Adopt A Negotiator.