I’m starting to like this President, even as I will continue to shout to high heavens that – to revise a popular meme in the US these days – “poor lives matter,” and even “drug suspects’ lives matter.”
I thought I belonged to a tiny group of realists when I vociferously questioned the country’s pledge under the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015 to reduce our pollution levels by 70 percent by 2030.
Especially given the presence of the noisy “greenies” in the country, then President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd was praised lavishly here for leading the world in promising a bold cut in our carbon footprint.
The praise then was something like the praise Aquino is now getting for filing and winning the arbitration case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China over its intrusions in the South China Sea. Indeed, the similarity is that in both cases, many Filipinos were patting Aquino and themselves on the back for being the heroes in leading the world toward some noble cause — even if that would deeply hurt us, especially our economy. Indeed, we seem to have a predilection for braggadocio.
It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, that President Rodrigo Duterte was reported to have said he was not honoring the Philippine pledge made in Paris last year, and that the pledge was “stupid.” Duterte was quoted: “We have not reached the age of industrialization. But you are trying to stymie [our growth] with an agreement that says you can only go up to here,” he added. “That’s stupid. I will not honor that.”
That’s exactly what I was arguing for in 2015. To explain this important issue and give you, dear readers, a flavor of those times when everyone was cheering the Philippine pledge and to emphasize that Duterte took a bold, contradictory stance against mob mentality, let me recall my column published six months ago as follows:
December 14, 2015: Something must be wrong with the state of the Philippine press. The three biggest broadsheets all had banner headlines on the United Nations-led climate change agreement signed by nearly 200 countries in Paris the other day. The Philippine Star, gushed: “Climate deal unveiled, a historic turning point.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote: “Paris talks in last stretch.” The Manila Bulletin’s: “Landmark climate deal up for approval.”
Surprisingly, the, ahem, best newspaper in the country, this newspaper, didn’t have any news report on the “landmark, historic deal.” Its banner was on Fil-Am boxer Nonito Donaire’s victory over a Mexican challenger.
My beef with the three papers that did report the climate change deal is this: Why am I reading all these dispatches from Paris by foreign news agencies, which would be the same stories I’d be reading if I were an American or an Australian living in New York or Sydney? A newspaper in one country by definition talks of what interests the citizens of that country.
The agreement’s significance was that the participating countries – especially the big two polluters China and the US – agreed to curb the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to even limit it to 1.5 degrees.
As important as that agreed-upon target is that every nation had pledged or will pledge exactly by how much they would reduce pollution in their countries. These will even be recorded, and made publicly available, in an official UN registry.
So naturally, as a Filipino, the information I wanted was: What did this government pledge for climate change?
I read twice, thrice the articles on it by the three broadsheets, and searched their newspapers: There is no report at all what the hell did the Philippines under Aquino pledge to contribute to reducing global warming.
A Facebook friend, dean of the Ateneo School of Government Antonio La Viña, had several-on-the-ground posts on the conference, including selfies with delegates from all over the world on his FB wall. It was high drama, his posts implied. He and his fellow “negotiators” were burning the midnight oil on the draft agreement, negotiating with other countries to accept it. Wow! Did the Philippines, which accounts for a miniscule 0.3 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, just save the world?
The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s columnist John Nery, who was in Paris, devoted an entire article on La Viña’s excitement that the term “climate justice” was in the text of the draft agreement. (Yes, it was mentioned once in the 7,344-word agreement and in a by-the-way-tone: “noting the importance for some of the concept of climate justice.”)
But darn, there was no report from them what the Philippine pledge was. I couldn’t even find what this government pledged in behalf of all of us on the website of the Commission on Climate Change.
It took a lot of googling and several calls to my sources to find out what the Philippine pledge was. The Philippines and many other countries, including the US and China, submitted their promises in October and November in preparation for the Paris convention. The Philippines submitted its pledge on Oct. 1.
Finally, I read the Philippine pledge: It smacks of this government’s and its NGO allies’ kind of empty braggadocio. And worse.
This government pledged to reduce its pollution levels by 70 percent by 2030. (Technically, all emissions from all sectors, including the result of changes, land use, land use change and forestry, and including those from industrial, energy and agricultural emissions.)
That is really the kind of promise Aquino gave to the MILF in 2011 in his obsession to win the Nobel Prize.
In comparison, Thailand pledged to lower its emissions only by 20 percent, and Indonesia by 29 percent. The three biggest polluters that make up half of carbon emissions in the world – China, the United States and India – pledged reductions of 24 percent, 15.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.
Are we pretending to be a developed country? The crux of the controversy here – everyone wishes for a clean planet – is that non-industrial countries, and China and Russia include themselves in this category, allege that the industrial countries led by the US polluted the planet many decades ago, and that pollution is the price we now have to pay for those countries’ economic growth. Why should the developing countries, especially China and India, be handicapped now in their industrialization? I myself am wondering why the US pledged only a 15.5 percent reduction in its emissions, when it is the world’s richest nation that can afford to reduce its pollution drastically, as Europe in the past decades has done. Germany, for instance, accounts for only 2.2 percent of CO2 emissions, while Italy and France account for a mere 0.9 percent each.
We contribute only 0.3 percent of the global CO2 emissions, yet we pledged to reduce that by 70 percent. (Our problem of pollution is really limited to that in Metro Manila.)
The government must have a reason for that 70 percent pledge. That hollow-sounding promise has been graded “adequate” by environmental groups, such as the Climate Action Tracker. Expect Aquino to boast about that.
I don’t think there is any other country that pledged a reduction by anything more than 30 percent. What would that make us look like? High-school braggarts?