Seeing the light
The announcement that President Duterte has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was an unexpected but cheering piece of good news.
It shows, first of all, that the famously bull-headed Mr. Duterte can change his mind, or at least be persuaded to do so. As a presidential candidate, the former mayor of Davao City didn’t bother to hide his disdain for such international agreements that would bind the Philippines to reducing its share of carbon emissions. Along with 194 other countries, the Philippines signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015, but Mr. Duterte said the United Nations was “hypocritical” for insisting that small countries such as ours should abide by such agreements while industrialized countries with much larger carbon footprints are let off easy.
The tone didn’t change when he became president. He said he wasn’t denying climate change: “The reason really for the so many destructions facing Mindanao is there is really a climate change. We are a few more degrees higher than the last century. The world is used to a certain temperature so this will really ruin—including mankind,” he was quoted as saying in December 2016. But he remained adamant about the agreement for its supposed unfairness toward small countries that need energy to industrialize.
What changed the President’s mind? Apparently, the consensus of his Cabinet, which voted in the agreement’s favor. Mr. Duterte’s office thereafter sent to the Senate what is called the instrument of accession, dated Feb. 28, that would formalize the Philippines’ ratification of the agreement—a move that was immediately hailed by many quarters. “As one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, ratification ensures the Philippines retains its moral high ground in demanding more party commitments in the negotiations,” said Rodne Galicha of the Climate Reality Project Philippines.
With the Senate’s concurrence, the Philippines joins 135 other countries that have ratified the historic agreement so far. It is the first legally binding international accord of its kind. Under it, the Philippines has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2030, as its share in the worldwide effort to keep “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change,” as Article 2 of the agreement says.
Developed countries, which have long been the biggest carbon emitters, are required to put up a $100-million annual fund that would help support developing nations adapt and transition into technologies that are less environmentally disruptive. The implementation of this part of the Paris Agreement remains to be seen, but, at least on paper, it answers one of Mr. Duterte’s strongest qualms against the accord—that developed countries who have had their run of polluting the environment would not extend a hand to smaller countries now bearing the brunt of climate disruptions and challenges that are largely not of their own making.
Not signing this agreement was a worse-off prospect by any measure. The Philippines being already at the frontline of the climate change era as one of the countries most susceptible to such wrenching dislocations, its inability to access international help and expertise by excluding itself from global efforts against a common existential threat would have put it in an even more vulnerable position.
That Mr. Duterte eventually saw the light on a matter that had previously kept him in high dudgeon is a welcome development. Climate change, after all, is an urgent issue that goes beyond politics, and will affect generations of Filipinos well beyond his six years in office.