Promises made, promises broken

Published November 26, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Johannes Chua


Johannes Chua

It started with promises and ended just like that — with more promises. A few weeks ago, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP26 opened in Glasgow brimming with hope and optimism; it was even dubbed as mankind’s “last chance” to implement real change to reverse the course of destructive climate change.

As the Environment and Sustainability editor of this paper, I was hooked with the proceedings of COP26, and even downloaded an online report which detailed all the activities and the commitments of countries attending the convention.

I have to admit that following the COP26 event was not an easy task because aside from multiple talks and side events all happening at the same time, the topics discussed were not for the “faint of heart”—or to put it simply, the general tone was bleak and this is the best way I could summarize the mood: “We are headed for destruction.” Yes, this is the impending reality we are facing unless we do something right now to reverse the course. And the best way is to make sure that the world limits global warming to 1.5 degrees (2 degrees is the maximum threshold) in the coming years.

As I checked various news websites, blogs, and Twitter posts, the general sentiment is one of doom. “We are headed to the apocalypse!” one blog blared on its landing page. “It’s the end of the world,” a Tweet reads. There were some ironic jabs, with one saying, “Jeff Bezos would rather spend billions on space than find a solution to end climate change. Perhaps he sees no hope?”

On our country’s side, we were represented by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who delivered a statement at the event last Nov. 9, 2021. To his credit, Dominguez emphasized the Philippines’ efforts in addressing the climate crisis and demanded greater accountability from Western countries that contributed and continue to contribute the most greenhouse gas emissions. As we all know, our country is at the highest risk for climate-related disasters because of our location.

The short speech of Dominguez at COP26 was thick with realities, which I felt the global audience already knew but was afraid to confront, especially when he said at the beginning that the Philippines was “determined to be a world leader in this fight against climate change.”

“We account only for three-tenths of one percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, we bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change. Our country is sinking at a rate four times faster than the global average. Annually, we are confronted with increasingly severe typhoons, floods, and droughts. Millions of lives are at stake. Clearly, climate change is very real to the Philippines,” Dominguez said.

The Philippines, he stressed, is committed to “reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent in 2030… and moving ahead with urgency to fulfill an ambitious target.” “We shifted from theorizing about climate change to executing practical climate adaptation and mitigation projects on the ground.” The reactions to Dominguez’s statement were not enthusiastic; it was tepid at best. Bold words are welcome, but these may not be adequate to compel industrialized countries—which are emitting greenhouse gases at alarming levels—to follow or, at the barest minimum, to even lift a finger.

After the COP26 event, I received multiple media statements from different government agencies and eco-civic organizations. Naturally, government agencies lauded the “brave stance” of the Philippines on the world stage by “talking on behalf of all other countries drastically affected by climate change.” On the other side, there were those who said the Philippines merely “scratched the surface” when it came to intimidating the coal-dependent/driven countries. When the COP26 closed and issued a statement, the general reaction from the environment community was dismay and disappointment.

Nazrin Castro, branch manager of the Climate Reality Project Philippines, shared with me their reaction and I would like to post some parts here: “The Glasgow climate pact passed during COP26 reflects the lack of political will of world leaders to end the climate crisis. We reiterate that the commitments brought by countries, organizations, and institutions to the table are not enough to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Announcements made during the conference, including new pledges to cut emissions this decade, are still estimated to result in a 2.4 degrees world.

We also express disappointment on the failure of Parties to agree to ‘phase out’ coal, develop a joint plan that will ensure the yearly delivery of the committed $100 billion of climate finance to developing countries, and set up specific facilities for reparation for the communities enduring the impacts of developed world’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Castro added, however, that there is progress made on several fronts, including the inclusion of “fossil fuels” in the final COP26 text—the first appearance of the world despite it being the main cause of human-induced climate change. But generally, COP26 according to Climate Reality Philippines, was “an incremental step forward” rather than the “monumental leap” needed to ensure a livable planet for all.

The COP26 outcome showed that climate change deniers are still out there and some countries would rather focus on their economic growth than help address the climate challenges faced by smaller countries such as ours. Yes, there were promises made but the fight versus climate change can’t be confronted with words alone. Promises are (sometimes) made to be broken. And a broken world needs no promises.

Johannes L. Chua is the Environment & Sustainability editor.