CURRENT SOCIETAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
24 April 2016
UN General Assembly in New York, during the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement (from http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop21/signing-ceremony/, photo taken, 22 April 2016)
The Philippines signed last 22 April 2016, along with 175 countries, in the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the Paris Agreement, a global pact that will harmonize international action to deal with climate change that will largely take effect in 2021. To the curious, the next pertinent question now is, so what will the Philippines do next, after signing on to this international treaty?
In legal terms, the signing of an international treaty does not yet signify that the treaty becomes effective in the country doing the signing. As can be seen in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, signing, among other acts of a state, is one of the acts by which a country gives its consent to be bound by the treaty. Article 18 of the same Convention also mentions that a state is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty after it has signed the treaty.
In the situation of the Philippines, as laid out in Executive Order 459, series of 1997 signed by President Fidel V. Ramos, once a treaty is signed, it enters into force in the country once the domestic requirements are complied with and this means transmittal by the Department of Foreign Affairs of said treaty to the Senate where it will vote for it via the concurrence of two-thirds of its members, as provided for by the 1987 Constitution. This is the process of ratification of the treaty as provided for in our legal system.
Question : with the forthcoming elections, can the Senate still act and signify its concurrence to the Paris Agreement?
Theoretically, YES, the Senate can, since it is only in recess, and this third regular session of the 16th Congress will resume its session on 23 May 2016, until it will have its sine die adjournment until June 10, 2016, where it will bow out of existence. A new Congress composed of those elected in the May 9 2016 elections will come into office in the third Monday of July 2016.
But the more pertinent question is : should this current 16th Congress ratify this treaty now?
In all fairness to the incoming legislators who are the people’s representatives based on the institutional design of our system of government, it is important that this decision to ratify the Paris Agreement be left to the next batch of Senators who will comprise the 17th Congress coming from the May 9, 2016 elections.
The reason for this is that the country’s decision whether to ratify the Paris Agreement is a momentous one, it will determine the trajectory of Philippine development in the years to come, and it will bring with it numerous obligations on the part of the country in terms of its efforts to do climate mitigation, like when it embarks on its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in identified sectors of the economy and implement them nationwide and this comes along with a series of international reporting obligations which are costly to undertake it’s not clear if we will be paying for all of it and all these commitments for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will be tightened up, or made more stringent, or in the words of the negotiators, “ratcheted up”, in a stocktaking exercise that will be undertaken every 5 years.
For all these reasons, the people will need to know what choices are on the table as we strive to rearrange our economy in order that we will not further contribute to the concentration of greenhouse gases in a world that is already full of it and has already gone beyond the supposed limit.
In spite of these obligations under the Paris Agreement, the treaty has certain provisions where we can get the necessary support in terms of money, technical assistance, knowhow, technology transfer and capacity-building, and this is where we can be enabled to do our climate change adaptation, technology transfer and capacity-building.
There will be public hearings for this ratification process and it may be best that it is done at all regions all over the country so people are made aware what their country is supposed to do on dealing with climate change through the Paris Agreement.
The people, through their elected Senators, should also be able to raise questions, like , will the Philippines maintain its October 2015 Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) of 70% GHG emissions cut until 2030? How much money will be required for the country to achieve that target? Suppose a lot of money comes in, who will have a say on how that money will be spend? What lessons from this current drought are we taking in order that the new concept of loss and damage will be put into actual implementation? And many more.
The deadline for all those countries which signed the Paris Agreement to submit its instrument of ratification is April 21, 2017, so we have roughly one year to do this mulling over and decision.
Will the Philippines matter? Given that the Philippines has some 0.25% of GHG emissions based on UNFCCC data in 2014, it is still important for the country to signify its support to the Paris Agreement, if only to hasten along its entry into force worldwide.