Paris Climate Agreement Implementation Stuck in the US : What It Means for the Philippines

Elpidio V. Peria
14 February 2016


The US Supreme Court in an unprecedented move last 9 February 2016 issued a stay, which we in the Philippines usually understand as a temporary restraining order or TRO, to temporarily put on hold US President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a set of environmental regulations that seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, as reported by The Atlantic.

The New York Times got the views of Chinese and Indian climate policy experts who said the court’s decision threw the US commitment to implement the Paris Agreement into question, which might possibly put also into doubt China’s and India’s resolve to implement the said Agreement.

This is significant since China and India are two developing countries that are at par with the US and EU as key emitters of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. (see this website of the US Environmental Protection Agency which has an indicative pie-chart showing the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters using 2011 data : China (28%); US (16%); EU (10%); India (6%); Russian Federation (6%); Japan (4%). For comparison, Philippines greenhouse gas emissions contribution to the global total in 2013 was at 0.31% based on a report made by the Senate Economic Planning Office)

But the more important question now is for the Philippines : will the Philippines follow-through on its own commitments to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions given this uncertainty in the major emitters’ long-term resolve to carry out its commitments under the Paris Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement may appear and is written like an international agreement, in its essence it is not a legally-binding agreement, precisely because the US wanted it that way, arguing during the negotiations in December that if the final form of the instrument will require the concurrence of the US Senate, the US may not be able to join the accord because of the expectation that the US Senate, dominated by members of the Republican Party, the only political party in a developed country that does not believe in climate change, will never ratify such legal instrument.

Following this cue from the US, the Paris Agreement does not have to be submitted to the legislative body of any Party to the Agreement, for the usual process of ratification or concurrence, a country’s act of giving its consent to be bound by the terms of the said international instrument.

Given this seeming uncertainty, why would a low greenhouse gas emitting country like the Philippines be more serious than the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, unless the Philippines wants to demonstrate its seriousness and devotion to the global issue or it may just want to look good so it may be able to secure further grants like finance or technology transfer from the various thematic bodies under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?

Part of what countries in Paris agreed to do as a result of the Paris Agreement is that it will submit its so-called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDC, a plan on how it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions which may be accompanied on how it will carry out its climate adaptation efforts.

The Philippines, last October 1, 2015, submitted its INDC or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution where it committed to cut by 70% its greenhouse gas emissions within a 15-year timeframe, until 2030, on the condition that it will get the necessary financial and technological support from international partners to carry out this plan.

Should the Philippines stick with these INDC numbers or change them?

During the COP21 Feedback Session held in Malacanang last 2 February 2016, Atty. Railla Puno, the top lawyer of the Climate Change Commission was asked this question and her reply was that it will depend on the result of the planned nationwide consultations that the Climate Change Commission, now with a full set of Commissioners, may undertake, perhaps before and even after the May 9 general election.

The Climate Change Commission has until 21 April 2017 to submit this NDC, and this date is also the deadline when a Party’s instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement may also be submitted. Given that the Paris Agreement will most likely be interpreted as a mere executive agreement with this lowering of threshold by the US, then what will most likely happen is that the new occupant of Malacanang who may be elected President in the May 9 elections will be doing this task.

It must be recalled that the Paris Agreement allows a country that has already submitted its INDC to treat the same as its NDC, unless it decides otherwise. Should the country decide after nationwide consultations that it will let that 70% INDC remain there lodged in the UNFCCC, then we only need to update it by 2020. If we do this, then we will have a longer time to figure out what kinds of changes do we need to undertake in our energy and transport systems and other greenhouse gas emitting activities so we will be aligned with what most countries will be doing. After  all, if we don’t get those  financial and  technological support to meet  our 70% commitment, then we don’t really have to do anything  in our  INDC.

All this points to the importance of the climate change issue in the coming elections, but is climate change being discussed at all by the candidates and the electorate?

If one looks at the TV, radio and other ads from the from the candidates for President and Senators that commenced last 9 February, the start of the campaign period, it appears that climate change as an issue is hardly mentioned.

It’s about time environmental groups working on climate change come out with a clear agenda and a strong campaign to put climate change on top of the Presidential candidates’ discourse and it may have to put out some form of test like the Rotary Club’s 4-way test, to gauge if the candidates understand and are serious on the issue and they will take decisive action once they win a seat in public office.

If climate change does not become a key pivotal issue in the forthcoming  election, which is the situation that  will most likely happen,  then it will be difficult for the Philippines to do serious work to follow through its commitments to the Paris Agreement, similar to what is happening in the US. Why? Because the candidates  will  not make a stand on the  issue, which they  will have to fulfill, should  the candidate  win.

It will be sad if this is what will happen to the Philippines and also this beleaguered, benighted, globally-warming, world.


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