COP26: Crucial, Disappointing for Philippines, Other Vulnerable Nations

Activists press their call for “climate justice” as they commemorate the tragedy wrought by the 2013 Supertyphoon “Haiyan”—the mass killer known to Filipinos as “Yolanda”—inside the venue of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. —IMELDA V. ABAÑO

COP26: Crucial, Disappointing for Philippines, Other Vulnerable Nations

It’s crunch time here as ministers from almost 200 countries take the political stage to try to strike a climate deal before the scheduled end of the crucial United Nations-backed climate change conference on Friday.

Their mission: to agree on ambitious and detailed plans to ensure that global warming is kept to the target 1.5 degrees Celsius (per the Paris Agreement); ramp up the $100-billion yearly climate finance for developing countries; and rebuild trust and solidarity among countries.

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) is billed as “the world’s last chance” to avert the worst consequences of climate change, and the delegates are determined to reach an agreement as they haggle on contentious issues behind closed doors.

At the halfway point of COP26, countries have made big pledges and announcements to phase out coal, end fossil fuel investments, reduce methane emissions, and save forests.

More than 40 countries have agreed to end coal power by 2030 for major economies and 2040 for poor countries, and more than 20 countries and financial institutions have committed to stop financing fossil fuel developments abroad and to boost transition to renewables instead.

Also, more than 100 countries have pledged to cut emissions of methane (from oil and gas production and agricultural activities) by 30 percent by 2030.

But these political promises are not enough to spare vulnerable countries, like the Philippines, from the impacts of climate change.

Scientists’ warning

At the beginning of COP26, scientists warned that the world was on track for a catastrophic average temperature rise of 2.7 C in this century.

This prediction is based on the climate action plans, known as national determined contributions, submitted by 191 countries to the UN. It is further backed by the sobering analysis presented on Nov. 9 at COP26 by the Climate Action Tracker, which finds that these national climate pledges would lead to a temperature rise of around 2.4 C in this century.

This means that the planet will experience more extreme weather—rising seas, droughts, flooding, heatwaves and fiercer typhoons—that would impact the lives of millions of people and kill off scores of animal species.

At COP26, we heard fiery and sobering speeches from world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, former US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who announced 2070 as the target date for India to reach net-zero carbon emissions).

We also listened to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Britain’s Prince Charles, and to a recorded message from Queen Elizabeth II.

But the global inaction toward the impacts of climate change is being highlighted by thousands of protesters on the streets of Glasgow and around the world, including the young climate activist Greta Thunberg who called the climate talks a “failure.” In some ways, she’s right.

Inside the COP26 venue in Glasgow. credit: Imelda Abano

Money undelivered

One issue seen as key to the success of the climate talks is money. Last week, rich countries confirmed their failure to deliver the annual $100 billion in climate finance to help poorer countries adapt.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that only $79.6 billion in climate finance had been mobilized, and that much of it was in the form of loans, not grants. It was announced that money would instead arrive in 2023—a great disappointment for poor countries.

For Naderev “Yeb” Saño, former climate negotiator for the Philippines and now the executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the first order of the day is to show the money.

Said Saño: “ Climate finance is not aid; it is not a debt we owe. Climate finance is an obligation of rich countries under the Paris Agreement, and a moral consequence of the benefits they have enjoyed, from burning of fossil fuels and early industrialization driven by their exploitation and subjugation of the Global South.”

Saño made headlines in 2013 at a climate summit in Poland, where he spoke tearfully in a plenary as his hometown was devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan).

He has since led many peoples’ pilgrimages to climate talks, but he was unable to make it to Glasgow due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to climate activists like Saño, what is crucial for progress at COP26 is trust building among countries.

Do or die

COP26 needs to demonstrate that world leaders and rich nations “will not replicate the selfishness that pervaded the vaccine distribution around the world, where the most vulnerable communities received the vaccines last,” Saño said.

For him, he said, “justice sits at the heart of this measurement, and if COP26 fails the climate justice test, then it fails all tests.”

Climate Change Commission vice chair Emmanuel De Guzman said the Philippines would join other countries in conveying not only its commitment to the Paris Agreement but also the challenges developing countries face—climate finance, green technologies and capacity building—in pursuit of their goals.

De Guzman reiterated that despite not being a major emitter, the Philippines conveyed a 75-percent emissions reduction target in its climate plans—high enough to matter and reasonable enough not to burden it socioeconomically, he said.

He pointed out that while much of the target was conditioned on factors beyond our control, it would be achievable if developed countries would deliver on their commitment.

“The time to act has long passed, the time to reckon results has come. However, the desired outcome remains far-fetched. This is why we view COP26 as a do-or-die COP,” De Guzman said.

At COP26, the Philippines has a new set of climate negotiators led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

The delegation is composed of 19 government officials, mostly from the Departments of Finance and of Foreign Affairs.

As a former lead negotiator for the Philippines, Saño thinks that climate talks can benefit from the perspective of new delegates, “but only if they are prepared, and [if they] combine with the wisdom of veteran climate negotiators and civil-society support.”

Saño said it was “glaring” that this time, “the Philippine delegation does not have civil-society representatives and technical advisors who can help in the negotiations.”

But he said he would not pass judgment on the capacity of any delegation to uphold the interests of its country and to competently navigate the complexities of climate change talks.

Press releases

In Glasgow, however, the Philippine delegation could only send press releases to the media despite many requests for interviews and updates.

Filipino climate activists and civil-society groups who traveled to Glasgow have yet to hear as well from the Philippine delegation despite many attempts for a transparent discussion of issues.

COP26 represents a significant moment for world leaders to take bold climate action. Perhaps a final push is needed in the last few hours of the negotiations to reiterate the urgency of this global issue.

This story was originally published in on November 11, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Banner image: Activists press their call for “climate justice” as they commemorate the tragedy wrought by the 2013 Supertyphoon “Haiyan”—the mass killer known to Filipinos as “Yolanda”—inside the venue of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland / Credit: Imelda Abano.

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