What is COP26, and should Filipinos bother with it?

Professor Ruth Lusterio-Rico, Ph.D.

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or COP26, for short, is happening this week in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom. It began on Sunday, October 31, and is expected to close on Friday, November 12.  It is said that over a hundred heads of state are attending this international meeting. Media coverage of this event is broad and updated, and interest and participation among international environmental groups and other organizations are high. Activities during a COP take place in two zones: the blue zone and the green zone. It is in the blue zone where official delegations participate along with media and non-profit observer organizations while the general public hold activities in the green zone. Hence, there are parallel meetings, discussions, workshops, and other events organized by various groups including universities, research institutions, and their networks that take place during a COP. In COP26, there are online venues available where the general public can participate.

Given these, one might ask, should ordinary Filipinos bother with this high-profile event attended by delegations and groups from different countries? And since everyone in the Philippines now seems to be feeling the “election fever”, one might also ask: Is climate change an issue that should be considered by the Filipino voter in choosing his or her candidates for the upcoming 2022 elections?

But first, how important is COP26, particularly, for developing countries that are climate vulnerable like the Philippines? The four goals of COP26 are to: (1) secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; (2) adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; (3) mobilize finance; and (4) work together to deliver. (COP26 Explained, 2021:13). In a nutshell, the overall aim of COP26 is to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within the century and this could be done by working together and making sure that the commitments made are fulfilled. It is expected that there will be a lot of discussions within COP26 among high-level officials on “ways to reduce emissions, ramp up finance and support, and strengthen the adaptation and resilience of communities to climate impacts” (Cabico, 2021). On the whole, those keeping watch of what is going on in the discussions in Glasgow are expecting that the commitments made by states, particularly the Paris Agreement in 2015, will be translated into more concrete action plans.

What about the implications of COP26 for the Philippines? According to data from the Department of Finance, on the average, the Philippines loses PHP 48.9 billion, or about .33 percent of the annual average GDP of the country because of damages brought about by typhoons, earthquakes, etc. (Philippine News Agency, 2021). Global Peace Index, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace in 2019, reported the Philippines to be the country with the highest risk of climate hazards (p. 48). It experiences extreme weather (such as the one experienced in 2013 with typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda), rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, and death of sea life, etc. Given the fact that the Philippines is among the most climate vulnerable countries, and even most at risk, COP26 is significant for the Philippines because of the possible implications of climate action agreements that will be arrived at and commitments that will be made.

The Philippines has been one of the most active and vocal among the Global South countries during COPs. The country signed the Paris agreement in 2017 and had earlier committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 70 % (then later raised to 75%) by 2030 for the sectors of agriculture, wastes, industry, transport, and energy. This commitment (referred to as Nationally Determined Contribution or NDC) is viewed by some to be quite ambitious. It had been pointed out, however, that a huge portion of this commitment is conditional and dependent on foreign assistance. Moreover, it is interesting to know how this commitment can be achieved by 2030. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace Philippines have called on the Philippine government to do more. These groups believe that the country’s climate leadership “needs to be more than lip service”. 

Indeed, COP26 is important for Filipinos because lives and livelihood are at stake. The Philippines contributes its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to the atmosphere. For example, in 2012, it had been reported that the country’s GHG emissions reached 157.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) or .33% of the global GHG emissions with the energy sector contributing 54%, followed by agriculture with more than 30% (Greenhouse Gas Emissions Factsheet: Philippines, climatelinks.org). Thus, it is important for ordinary Filipinos to know what have been done, specifically in the energy sector. How is the country doing in terms of using renewable energy? What are the government’s concrete plans? What agenda does the Philippines intend to carry beyond COP26? These are questions that can be addressed by the next Philippine administration. 

These days people often speak of the qualities that Filipino voters ought to look for in candidates, especially those vying for the presidency. If a voter considers environmental issues, specifically, climate change as a significant issue, then perhaps, he or she has to ask these questions:

  • How does the candidate view the issue of climate change?
  • What are the concrete action plans of the candidate for climate change adaptation and mitigation? Will these be prioritized? Where will funding for the proposed programs come from?
  • What are the concrete plans of the candidate to realize the commitments made by the Philippine government through international agreements, specifically in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental protection? 
  • How does the candidate intend to implement existing environmental laws, including the Climate Change Act? What policy reforms can be made with respect to improving the environmental situation and mitigating climate change? 

In general, Filipino politicians do not really have an environmental agenda and they do not run on an environmental platform. However, given the importance of environmental issues which affect everyone regardless of status, position, and age, Filipino voters ought to be concerned about concrete positions and plans of candidates with respect to environmental protection and sustainable development. 

References:

Cabico, Gaea Katreena. 2021. “What is COP26 and why does an event so far away matter to the Philippines?”, www.philstar.com, accessed 27 October 2021.

COP26 Explained. 2021. https://ukcop26.org/uk-presidency/what-is-a-cop/, accessed 31 October 2021.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Factsheet: Philippines, climatelinks.org, accessed 4 November 2021.

Institute for Economics and Peace. Global Peace Index 2019: Measuring Peace in a Complex World. Sydney, June 2019. Available from: http://visionofhumanity.org/reports accessed 2 November 2021. 

Philippine News Agency. 2021. “PH incurs $10-B losses due to climate-related hazards over 10 yrs”, pna.gov.ph, 2 November 2021.

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