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UN Climate Summit Today:political will from leaders tops expectations

by: Imelda Abano for Interaksyon

MANILA – All roads lead to the United Nations headquarters in New York today as more than 120 leaders, including Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, are expected to attend the one-day climate summit and put their political weight behind reaching an ambitious global climate deal in 2015.

It could be one of the most important climate change meetings at the UN for years since the failed 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen. No groundbreaking outcomes are expected at the summit but it will be a critical stepping stone to reach a global deal.

The main show at the climate summit that kicks off at 8:30 am (8:30 pm Manila time) will be the four-minute time limit speeches by each world leader led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, along with representatives from the finance and business sector and civil society. The secretary general has asked these leaders to bring “bold announcements and actions” to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.

The summit will give government leaders an opportunity to demonstrate political will, which is a precondition to achieving critical agreements in Paris in 2015, said Athena Ballesteros, Sustainable Finance Program Director World Resources Institute.

“Countries need to commit to an ambitious and robust Paris 2015 agreement with a long term mitigation goal, and significant commitment to scale up climate financing.,” Ballesteros told InterAksyon.com.

“For the Philippines we need to rethink the way we produce and consume energy and explore clean energy options as it is better for the climate and for the economy. We need to promote new ways of financing climate action that also builds resilience such as risk financing.”

Ballesteros said that as governments gear up for the international climate change negotiations in 2015 in Paris, there is a need to make sure that governments especially those historically responsible for the rise in greenhouse gas emission are able to commit to deeper emission reductions over time as well as agree to peaking emissions by 2025 if we were to stop dangerous climate change.

“This takes political will if we do not heed the call of science to reduce emissions earlier than later then the impacts will be catastrophic for countries especially those that are most vulnerable and least able to cope,” Ballesteros explained.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said there is a need to elevate climate change on the global agenda and push for more progress in policies.

“My main concerns are that governments will still continue with business as usual. They should pledge higher commitments, and if they do not comply with their commitments for them to get sanctions,” Corpuz told InterAksyon.com.

Corpuz, who heads the Cordillera-based indigenous peoples’ organization Tebtebba added that, “looking at the way things are moving, I am afraid that what we will get will just be voluntary commitments and since most developing country governments use the reason that they need to grow their economies to feed their populations, the richer countries can also justify in many ways why they still need to grow their economies. The ways to limit the damage to the environment because of economic growth become the least priority.”

Human rights, too

Corpuz added that respect for human rights must be embedded in the new climate agreement which will come out of the next round of climate talks by end-2014 in Lima, Peru, and agreed upon in Paris in 2015.

“A human rights-based approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation should be enshrined in the new protocol. This means that rights of those who suffer the most from the adverse impacts of climate change, such as indigenous peoples, women, poor people, should not be sacrificed in a new global protocol of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change,” Corpuz stressed.

Climate advocacy groups under the Aksyon Klima, on the other hand, expect President Aquino to “not take Filipino resilience for granted, because the new normal will have us dealing not only with stronger and more frequent typhoons, but also sea level rise and other climate-induced impacts.”

The group said Mr. Aquino must also announce at the UN summit that “the government will do its fair share of climate action by investing more in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and renewable energy.”

Push for more financing

Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering earlier said within President Aquino’s four-minute limit speech, he is expected to outline the significant steps Manila has taken in recent years in tackling climate-change mitigation and adaptation, as well as highlight climate-induced disasters in the country, and on the scaling-up of climate financing, technology transfer and greenhouse emissions cuts.

“For us, climate change is no longer just a threat environmentally but also economically. Extreme weather events have caused losses in our economy in the past three years. Every money spent on rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure and agriculture, is money taken away from our basic services such as education and health. It is now beginning to threaten our millennium development goals,” Sering told InterAksyon.com.

Climate finance, Sering said, is one of the linchpins of the international climate talks. Like other poorer countries, the Philippines continued to experience weather-related events such as floods, fiercer typhoons, rising seas, water shortages and droughts, and urgently needs resources to address the adverse impacts of these.

In the view of developing countries, the climate talks will succeed if rich nations make good on their promise to boost climate financing to US$30 billion in ‘fast-start finance’ from 2010-2012, and US$100 billion by 2020 under the Green Climate Fund. The developing countries asked the ones holding the purse strings to detail its disbursement mechanism.

President Aquino’s presence and statement at the UN climate summit must reflect the people’s demands and aspirations, Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

“The resiliency of Filipinos is indeed strong, but it has limits. We can only take so much climate impacts. We need to address the source of the climate crisis. He must utilize this venue to make it clear to developed countries that they are accountable for the climate calamities that we are experiencing and demand from these countries to commit to a drastic and ambitious cut in their emissions,” Arances said.

After historic climate march, what now?

Last Sunday, more than 300,000 people from various organizations marched in a festive mood in the streets of New York City and in major cities around the world demanding action ahead of the UN climate summit.

It was the largest climate change mobilization in history, but what do we expect now after the historic march? Both Corpuz and Ballesteros joined the climate march in New York City.

“The people’s climate march is meant to send a message to the world and to policy makers to do much more to save our world from collapsing due to climate change, “ Corpuz said.

“The ones who should do much more are the governments and corporations of countries which have contributed the most in creating the problem of climate change. These are the rich, industrialized countries, and the rich people in countries both in the north and the south.”

For Ballesteros, the climate march was inspirational for thousands of people in New York and elsewhere communicating the sense of urgency to take serious climate action.

“The march carried messages of climate justice for those in the front lines; of the scientific imperative of climate change and that there is no time to waste; of clean energy solutions that exist from businesses and industries and of the need to stop drilling and exploiting fossil fuel reserves. All sectors of society came together to support the people’s climate march,” Ballesteros said. 

Maria Athena Ronquillo Ballesteros leads the International Financial Flows and the Environment project, working to improve the environmental and social decision-making and performance of public financial Institutions. She is a technical and policy advisor to the Philippine negotiating team at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations since 1997 and assisted Philippine agencies on climate and energy issues at the ASEAN, APEC and the World Summit on Sustainable Development. She is also iCSC’s Board Chairperson.

Editor’s Note: This article is re-posted from www.interaksyon.com.