Wavering on the call for "deep and early cuts"

What is the Philippine team really bringing to Copenhagen?

Two weeks ago in this space, in an article called “Getting dramatic over climate change”, I wrote about the Philippine position that our delegation would be bringing to Copenhagen, Denmark during negotiations for carbon-emission cuts. The resulting climate change pact – if one could be arrived at – would pick up from where the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol is perceived to have failed.

The talks begin today.

According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change, the Philippines, along with other developing nations that are historically not responsible for the alarming level of greenhouse gases in the air but which stand to lose the most from the effects of the warming planet, will push for “deep and early cuts” by industrialized nations.

“Specifically, our team will press for cuts of at least 30 percent between 2013 and 2017, at least 50 percent between 2018 and 2020, and at least 95 percent by 2050, all from 1990 levels,” I said, lifting from brochures handed out by that office during a media summit that coincided with the celebration of Climate Change Consciousness Week.

Secretary Heherson Alvarez, the presidential adviser, himself said that this Philippine position was “pretty much firm.” In fact, during the short interview I had with him, Alvarez talked more about administrative challenges to the Climate Change Commission, created by the just-signed Climate Change Act, for it to help the country adapt better to the effects of global warming, specifically more frequent and more powerful storms and resulting floods, landslides and mudslides.

But now a coalition of at least 36 civil society organizations, including members of the CSO Working Group on Climate Change and Development, is worried that the Philippine position may not be so firm after all, and that global political machinations may be behind this weakened stance.

Andres “Chito” Tionko, for instance, who was part of the Philippine delegation to Bangkok, finds it disturbing that President Arroyo now says the Philippines “need not insist on deep and early cuts in carbon emissions, but should require countries to make a commitment.” This apparent distancing from the “deep and early cuts” demand, he says, has been influenced by the recent visit of United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the country. The US has a lot to lose if it binds itself to cutting its emissions, especially in a recessionary environment.

The organizations are alarmed that the US and other developed countries may have been promising financial support for developing countries' adaptation programs in exchange for these countries’ going easy on them in the mitigation side.

And here's even greater cause for alarm: Bernaditas de Castro Muller, an adviser to the Philippine team and lead negotiator for the G77 + China bloc (actually a group of 130 developing countries), has been dropped from the official list of delegates to Copenhagen. Muller, a retired Filipino diplomat based in Switzerland, is known as “dragon woman” in environmental negotiation circles; she has been relentless and uncompromising representing the interests of the bloc – representing two-thirds of the world's population.

A profile of Ms. de Castro-Muller, as well as insights into climate diplomacy, appear on the November 7 issue of The Guardian, entitled “Lifting the lid on climate change talks” by John Vidal (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/07/climate-change-talks-2009).

Crossing de Castro-Muller out of the delegation would compromise not just the Philippine position but the position of the entire bloc. Then again, that's exactly what the Annex 1 (developed) countries would love; the Filipino diplomat has been a thorn on their side during the grueling climate negotiations. Apparently,Vidal says, climate diplomacy is polite on the outside but vicious from within.

The civil society coalition now asks that the official list of delegates to Copenhagen be made so that the public would know whether those who are actually representing the Philippines are not in for the junket but are highly qualified and trained negotiators.

“The Philippine position is very progressive. It carries not just our national interests but the interests of vulnerable developing countries. But in order for our progressive positions to get through, they have to be effectively negotiated. Our negotiators and technical advisers play a strategic role in the negotiations; without them, most progressive positions become meaningless,” says Kala Constantino, advocacy coordinator of Oxfam in the Philippines.

Rowena Bolinas, coordinator of the working group, adds: “We believe the Filipino people deserve to be represented by negotiators who will not be coerced into agreeing to any worthless deal that will compromise our common future.”

(But what if another, less malleable developing country “adopts” Muller just so she could remain negotiating for the nations most imperiled by climate change, and what if she agrees?)

On the other hand, Secretary Alvarez insists there is no truth to the allegations that the Philippines is not anymore pushing for deep and early cuts. “The President is not backing off from that. But she is pushing instead for a broader policy approach called Green Philippines,” the adviser says. “The new Philippine position, thus, is not limited to the single issue of carbon cuts anymore.”

Alvarez also says that Muller’s exclusion from the list of delegates was an arbitrary decision of the Executive Secretary (Eduardo Ermita) in an effort to trim the number of delegates which had ballooned to 120. Ermita allegedly felt he had to cut the number of attendees lest the public accuse the administration of going on an excursion to Copenhagen. Alvarez adds: “It was an arbitrary move. Even some of the people I myself put in the team were also removed. How can Muller be excluded for pushing for ‘deep and early cuts’ when she is not its proponent in the first place?”


Tionko tries to correct a misconception. The world does not need yet another agreement on the climate; the Kyoto Protocol would suffice. After all, what's expiring in two years is the first commitment period, not the agreement itself. There is still a second commitment period, and the United States can join anytime, that is, assuming President Barack Obama's promises are not merely that. Another agreement – a Copenhagen Protocol, for instance – would need ratification by the Congresses of each of the nations represented in the talks. That's not swiftly done, and in the meantime, the clock is ticking.

And we thought that in this day and age, the world would be beyond the phenomenon of rich nations bullying the poor. Unfortunately it has just acquired another name: Historical carbon culprits, the developed economies, “softening up” developing ones through adaptation aid and other means of persuasion.

The Philippines, by itself, will not carry much clout as it would if it bonds with other countries that share its fate. Will President Arroyo buckle down under this pressure? Is the catch phrase “deep and early cuts” hollow, after all?

That's not really an offense against us. But it will be -- and an unforgivable one at that – against our children and our children's children.