Two Filipinos played a part in a United Nations climate change summit that aims to help vulnerable countries get aid for staggering losses due to climate change.
Lawyer Vicente Paolo Yu III, as lead negotiator for the G77 and China group; and Philippine negotiator Felix William "Wimpy" Fuentebella helped shape a platform called the Santiago Network that is envisioned to help address loss and damage experienced by developing countries due to typhoons, droughts, sea-level rise, and other climate risks.
The document on the Santiago Network was finalized on Tuesday morning, November 9, after intense discussions that ended around 10:30 pm the night before.
Yu was the “driver” and key “consensus builder” in securing specific functions for the Santiago Network, according to one negotiator in the G77 group.
As a G77 and China lead negotiator, Yu represented the voices of 134 developing countries, including the Philippines, in the loss and damage discussions. The G77 and China bloc is the biggest negotiationg bloc in UN climate summits.
In climate negotiations, countries are represented by negotiators from their governments. These negotiators band together with negotiators from countries with similar interests and situations in order to have more influence in the talks.
“For developing countries, we felt it was really important that we come out of COP26 with a clear set of functions; we have a common understanding of what we want the network to do,” Yu told Rappler on Wednesday, November 10.
He described the progress made on the Santiago Network as one of the “few bright lights” at COP26.
In the first week of COP, developed countries and trading blocs like the United States and the European Union, respectively, were resistant, preferring that the functions and institutional architecture for the network be discussed in the 2022 summit.
But according to two negotiators involved in the talks, the richer nations ended up becoming more “flexible” on Tuesday morning, leading to the breakthrough.
On Tuesday morning, as it became clear that the developed countries were giving way to their demands, the G77 and China chat group was flooded with thumbs up emoticons and ecstatic messages of “We did it!”
In a summit where it can take days to decide on a single word in an agreement, the development raised spirits.
As G77 and China lead negotiatior, Yu spoke for the large bloc in talks with other countries and blocs who often took on opposing positions on various aspects of loss and damage.
Yu was responsible for making sure that the preferred text of the developing countries would end up in the final decision.
This required leading huddles with all G77 and China negotiators from various countries and strategizing how best to push for their interests and get concessions from the other blocs.
Philippine delegation's contribution
Fuentebella, whose other hat is energy undersecretary, is the Philippines' negotiator on loss and damage. He and many other negotiators from developing countries worked with Yu to hash out their position on the Santiago Network.
Yu told Rappler that interventions made by Fuentebella made it to the final document about the Santiago Network.
One of Fuentebella's most important interventions was about the nature of loss and damage assistance for developing countries.
“He has been able to articulate the need that, when you talk about loss and damage, assistance has to be demand-driven, meaning it has to come from us,” explained Yu.
“We have to be the one to tell the donors, 'This is what we need.' It shouldn’t be the donors saying, 'This is what you need,'” he added.
Fuentebella’s suggestion to add the term “demand-driven” is in the final text seen by Rappler. Yu credits the Filipino energy official.
Item "e" of Paragraph 9 of the document, which lists down the Santiago Network functions, states: Catalyze demand-driven TA (technical assistance) including relevant OBNES (organizations, bodies, networks, and experts) for the implementation of relevant approaches to AMALD (averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage) in developing countries…"
Fuentebella's intervention would have been cleared by Philippine delegation head Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III who likely got updates from all negotiators on their participation in the talks.
Another small win for developing countries was ensuring that assistance from the Santiago Network would not have to be accessed through aid organizations of rich countries acting as "middlemen." Instead, developing countries should be able to deal directly with the Network.
Functions of Santiago Network
Some of the key functions of the Santiago Network arrived at by parties are, in laymanized terms:
- Facilitate and catalyze technical assistance from various sources for developing countries
- Facilitate the development and access to knowledge and information on lessening and addressing loss and damage, including risk management
- Actively connect needy countries with sources that are best-suited to their needs and ensure the technical assistance is based on their needs
The Wednesday draft of the COP26 cover decision, the document that summarizes what was agreed upon in the summit, already mentions the Santiago Network progress.
It says the parties “welcome” the “further operationalization of the Santiago network…including the agreement on its functions and process for further developing its institutional arrangements.”
More work for COP27
Still, Yu knows much more needs to be done.
There’s no telling when vulnerable countries like the Philippines can receive actual assistance from the Santiago Network.
One bigger goal of the G77 countries is to secure a distinct finance stream for loss and damage, aside from the finance streams for adaptation and mitigation.
Developed countries are opposing this, with some saying adaptation funds can cover loss and damage.
But loss and damage refer to the types of huge setbacks from climate hazards – massive crop destruction from drought, major infrastructure damage from storms, displacement of entire towns due to sea level rise – that adaptation funds are simply too small to cover.
At COP26, countries were unable to pin down an exact amount of the funding needed to cover loss and damage sustained by vulnerable nations.
“We don’t have time to negotiatate those numbers here. What we at G77 and China want to put there is to say that that discussion is important and that discussion needs to be part of the overall discussion on climate finance,” said Yu.
The poor, vulnerable nations putting their heads together over negotiating tables are backed by activists on the streets who see the loss and damage issue as one of climate justice.
Rodne Galicha of activist group Aksyon Klima points to the Philippines’ most powerful cyclone in recent memory, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) as an example of how climate risks have intensified to the point that no amount of preparation can prevent massive losses.
The devastation wrought by Haiyan in 2013 was instrumental in the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damages, of which the Santiago Network is a part.
“Global leaders have yet to fully commit to the necessary actions to fight the climate crisis,” said Galicha.
“We want climate justice, and we want it now.”
This story was originally published at Rappler 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: Lawyer Vicente Yu (left) and Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella discuss matters with one another during a meeting of the G77 and China negotiating group at COP26. Credit: Vicente Yu