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MANILA - All eyes will be on Paris later this year. In less than four months, leaders from 196 countries are expected to sign a global deal to tackle climate change. Increasingly, one key aspect in achieving the critical agreements is the leadership role of Asian countries.

While a fair climate deal that is satisfactory to both wealthy and poor nations is crucial, Asia - a region with over 4.4 billion people and has been seen to bear much of the  climate change impacts - has a lot at stake at the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December.

Leaders of Asian nations are thus being urged to lead the way in empowering all countries to act and project a unified geo-political voice in addressing climate change and weather-induced disasters. Asia, experts said, could spur political momentum at the climate summit - hopefully influencing the largest emitters to pledge ambitious climate actions.

“The countries in Asia, particularly China, India and Indonesia, are critical to not only achieving a successful outcome in Paris climate change negotiations, but more importantly in making sure that global temperatures stay well below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Salleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate and Development at the Independent University of Bangladesh.

Huq told InterAksyon.com that the remaining weeks would be crucial as most countries are expected to voluntarily submit their national climate action plans or the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of the climate summit in December. INDCs represent governments’ steps in addressing climate change in their own countries—whether on adaptation to climate impacts, building climate resilience or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So far, 52 countries - mostly from leading economies like the United States, European Union member states, Russia, Canada, among others - have formally submitted their INDCs to the United Nations.

Several Asian countries have also published their national climate action plans, among them China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

China, one of the world’s biggest emitters, announced its aim to cut, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 60-65 percent from the 2005 levels. The country also aims to increase to about 20 percent by 2030 its share of non-fossil fuels as part of its primary energy consumption.

Singapore has pledged to reduce by 2030 its emissions by 36 percent from 2005 levels. South Korea, on the other hand, has committed to reduce emissions by 37 percent during the same period.

Japan, which faces significant energy challenges in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, set out an emissions reduction target of 26 percent from 2013 levels by 2030.

The deadline for submission of INDCs to the UNFCCC is on October 1.

In a policy brief, Gary Theseira of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Malaysia, said INDCs can be taken as opportunities for countries to push for the means to implement substantive actions within their own territory to reduce climate impacts and carbon emissions and move towards climate resilience.

Past decade's onslaught

In the past decade alone, countries in Southeast Asia have been hit by some of the most devastating climate-related disasters on record. Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the central part of the Philippines in November 2013, left more than 6,000 dead and damaged millions of dollars worth in agriculture. Cyclone Nargis killed more than 80,000 in Myanmar in 2008. The 2011 floods in Thailand left more than a billion dollars in agricultural damage.

“These impacts show that there is no time to be wasted for climate action in the region. Concrete steps are needed in reducing vulnerability to climate impacts and contribution to climate change,” Theseira said, citing the Weathering Extremes policy brief published by the ASEAN for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding Global Climate Deal (A-FAB).

Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have a large potential for renewable energy. Theseira said their governments would do well to create or reinforce policies that promote the use and growth of renewable energy while re-evaluating dependency on fossil fuels at the same time.

Zelda Soriano, political advisor of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said ASEAN leaders must also ensure a low-carbon development path and climate-resilient economy by promoting renewable energy.

 “We are urging our ASEAN governments to strengthen their unity through common positions and concrete programs and projects that will meet a long-term objective" of reducing carbon emission and boosting "resilience of countries to climate change,” Soriano said. “We cannot continue with a business-as-usual scenario if we want to ensure our safety and that of future generations.”

 Is the Philippines primed to deliver its climate action plan?

Before the deadline of submission of climate action plans to the UN by October 1, the Philippines is expected to reveal its plan on how to further reduce emissions, the bulk of which come from the energy and transport sectors, according to Climate Change Commission Vice-Chairperson Mary Ann Lucille Sering.

Sering said the next few weeks are crucial as the final series of workshops, orientations and consultations are being conducted with various sectors, including business stakeholders mostly in energy and transport. She said balancing carbon cuts with development pathways is crucial in crafting the country’s INDC.  

Although Manila intends to submit its INDC by August, the civil society organizations had asked for an extension to give them more time to review the content of the plan, Sering told the InterAksyon.com.

She said the final national climate plan would then be submitted to President Benigno Aquino III for further comments and “to seek his guidance”.

Sering, however, said “the initial numbers show that the emissions of the country are increasing but it also showed that initiatives both from private actions and public policies are also helping in the reduction of emissions.”

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, who has been for many years part of the Philippine delegation to the climate negotiations, told InterAksyon.com that the Philippine government “must be transparent and it should widen consultations to involve all sectors of government, including the civil society groups in crafting the country’s climate plan.”

Serrano asked aloud: “Is the consultation wide enough? Or the Commission is just trying to meet the deadline to submit INDC?”

He added: “For a country that has no obligation to reduce emissions, we do not have any commitment to do so. It is a unilateral move but we need to see first what other countries have to commit.”

Little transparency, debate: Alvarez

Climate Change Commissioner Heherson Alvarez, on the other hand, revealed that the Philippines' climate action plan is still being formulated to date.

“It is unfortunate that this is being done with little transparency and without public debate. The official attitude seems to be that, since the Philippines is not a significant emitter, the crucial pledges should be made by the industrial nations. This attitude is so wrong,” Alvarez said in a statement.

Alvarez said that firstly, the Philippines “has bound itself to submit contributions that are fair and ambitious in the light of our national circumstances.” Since private industry will bear the brunt of cutting emissions, there is a need for total transparency in order to build responsibility, trust, and accountability with all stakeholders, he said.

Alvarez added that the country has also agreed that the collective INDCs shall be the basis for global action toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. And as the nation most vulnerable to climate impacts, the Philippines should be an exemplar in demonstrating that emissions reduction is compatible with sustainable development and poverty reduction.

“Equally important, by seriously defining our INDCs, the Philippines will also be in a position for priority assistance with regard to finance, technology, and capacity-building from international funding agencies. Thus, to submit commitments that are run-of-the-mill will subvert our larger interests and likely embarrass the next administration,” asserted Alvarez.

Former Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Saño, who now leads the People’s Pilgrimage, said that during the Paris climate talks, governments must closely monitor the promised reduction of carbon emissions through the INDCs and the commitment of funds from rich countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“Success in Paris means no less than the whole world coming to a new climate agreement that prevents further dangerous climate change, that challenges the status quo of unbridled consumerism, and that ensures the upliftment of the lives of billions of people confronting the twin crisis of development and climate disruption,” Sano said. “It is about an agreement that recognizes the dignity of the human condition. It is about a more just, democratic, and sustainable world. It is a big goal, but one I believe that humanity is capable of achieving.”

Saño told InterAksyon.com: "As such, the Philippines must maintain its strong moral standing as one of the countries most impacted by climate change . . . It must galvanize global public opinion towards the right side of this issue. And it must also be a leader for strong domestic climate action that protects its communities, builds resilience, and fosters inclusive and sustainable development.”

Saño had drawn a huge outpouring of sympathy for the Philippines in 2013, when Yolanda (Haiyan) struck as he was attending an international climate conference, and made a tearful appeal on behalf of the Philippines. He comes from the most-impacted areas of Yolanda in Eastern Visayas.

Whatever happens in Paris climate talks in December, the global solidarity movement on climate change will persist and continue to inspire actions at the grassroots, Saño concluded in his latest interview.

by Imelda V. Abano, InterAksyon.com
August 13, 2015