The Copenhagen Accord and the Philippines :
Collecting on a Promissory Note on the Climate Debt of Developed Countries
By Atty. Elpidio Peria
The Philippines, in the aftermath of its endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord which was merely noted, not adopted, in the contentious closing plenary of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark last 19 December 2009 now faces the challenge of what it must do next, either to further qualify such endorsement in a manner that protects its national interest and ensures that the existing multilateral processes on climate change are strengthened or to withdraw such endorsement if it can foresee that it results in the sidelining of the UNFCCC process or the Kyoto Protocol.
One way the Philippines may approach this task of qualifying its endorsement of the Accord is by looking at it as if it were a promissory note which recognizes in no uncertain terms the climate debt of developed countries and these countries should pay up at a certain time in the future. The concept of climate debt was proposed by Bolivia supported by several developing countries in recognition of the historical responsibility of developed countries – the US, the European Union including Japan – for generating most, if not all, of the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere that is causing the warming of the earth leading to climate change, but there appears to be no operational mechanism on which to carry out the concept, until this Accord.
At the outset, there are a lot of things going against the implementation of the Accord given its non-legally binding nature. As there are very few countries that have signed on to it, the game is on to get as many countries to endorse it though most likely there will be very few developing countries that will sign up and have enough political clout to exact compliance with the obligations or commitments in the Accord. With this possible scenario, it is important that the Philippines link the enforcement of the commitments of developed country endorsers of this Accord to what is currently going on in the UNFCCC process, including that of the Kyoto Protocol, which are legally-binding instruments. Putting the implementation of the Accord within the framework and process of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol is the Philippines’ assurance that it will always have the moral high-ground to insist that the creditors, in this case, the developed countries, should always make good on their obligations first, especially on emissions targets, financing commitments and technology transfer, before the developing countries which signed on to the Accord can be made to comply with its obligations under the Accord.
Those who are saying that the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol process is dead and that the group of countries under the Accord represents the formation of country-groupings that herald a new global order are trying to pull a fast one on the people and the decision-makers - how can a voluntary agreement between a smaller group of like-minded countries make real the long-unfulfilled commitments of developed countries on emissions cuts, finance and technology transfer and sustain them for quite some time in order to make a difference ? Shouldn’t our efforts focus more on finding remedies to what ails the multilateral process of climate change negotiations and narrowing the issues on the table such that agreements can be secured within given realistic timeframes?
Like the acknowledgment of debt in a promissory note, the Philippines should spell out in its interpretative statement to the Accord that the climate debt is the historical responsibility of the Annex 1 countries to the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, the Philippines should state that the “pledge and review” process envisioned in paragraph 4 of the Accord be subjected to review by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the UNFCCC. If countries signing on to the Accord will have to reinvent the wheel and come up with their own procedures, just wrangling on what the rules will be on compliance will take up their time, and this will render the Accord a useless platform to exact real action on the problem of climate change. Paying up a debt should not be up to the whim of the debtor, but is done in such a way there is a clear process and schedule of payment that may be reviewed anytime by another body, like a court, and in this case, the SBI can act like such a court that will find ways to ensure that the debtor will pay up on the debt.
When we come to the issue of the amount that must be paid in a promissory note, there should be a clear indication of the amount of the money to be paid, in clear periods of time. The Accord fails spectacularly in this aspect – it does not specify where the money will be coming from, its paragraph 8 only speaks of “international institutions” including “wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance”, and the time frame for paying up is also not specific, which in the language of promissory note, should be a day certain, with a specification of when the debt or its installments will be paid. The Philippines can propose a specific date on which all those commitments for financing and technology will fall due.
The Accord may have added further obligations for developing countries like the conduct of national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions every two years and the acquiescence to international consultations and analysis of its mitigation actions which does not appear anywhere in the UNFCCC. These add-on obligations however should not impair the duty of the creditors, in this case the developed countries, to pay up their debt, or to make good their mitigation commitments under the Accord
In sum, if we liken the Accord to a promissory note, we should ensure that the promissory note contain provisions that will ensure that the debtor will pay up on the climate debt in a manner that is clear and enforceable, without further efforts on our part. If the Philippines cannot get its way on these qualifications and interpretations of the Accord, then it should be ready to disassociate itself with the Accord and return to the existing process under the UNFCCC where there are already near-complete proposals for long-term cooperative action and the renewal of commitments under the Kyotol Protocol that only need to be further elaborated on until the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Mexico in December 2010.
The proponents of the Accord suggest that our interest in the Accord lies in the Philippines getting money for its climate change adaptation efforts which is a national priority given that the Climate Change Act has been approved. However, the Climate Change Commission under the said Act has only P50 million for its initial appropriations and the rest is up to the annual appropriations of all relevant government agencies and local government units. The Accord will also affect the identification of the national priorities which are part of the components of the National Framework Strategy and Program on Climate Change. If the money from the Accord is not clear, and worse, if they contain conditions and are even in the form of loans, then it will not really contribute to an honest-to-goodness implementation of the Act.
Finally, given that countries signing on to the Accord have to indicate what their economy-wide emissions targets will be for 2020 (for a developed country) or their nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (if a developing country, like the Philippines), this will have a significant impact on the way our economy is organized and run. In this sense, identifying these targets would mean wide-ranging discussions with all affected sectors, including the identification of the peaking year for national emissions and the adoption of a low-emission development strategy. It is here where science-based discussions of policy will get real and politicians will provide figures not based on guesses and predilections but on hard data and clear estimates of possible impacts on all sectors and the consideration of the best, next-best and the worst scenarios for the country.
Are we even ready to provide that figure by January 31, 2010 or should our initial response to this obligation consist of requesting an extension to such a deadline?