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Statements
Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

 

Addressing Climate Change
The United Nations and the World at Work
by
 

Honorable Angelo T. Reyes

Secretary, Department of Energy
and
Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Climate Change
Republic of the Philippines
 
Thematic Debate of the UN General Assembly, 12 February 2008

 

Mr. President, Honorable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant day to all of you.

It is a great honor for me to speak at this High Level Thematic Debate session on Climate Change in behalf of the Philippine government and the Filipino people as concurrent Secretary of the Department of Energy and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change.

As a developing country, the Philippines accounts for a miniscule share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet as a tropical archipelago located in both the typhoon belt and the Pacific Rim’s so-called “ring of fire”, our country counts among the most highly vulnerable to the effects of global warming. It is for this reason that we welcome this initiative of the United Nations to host a thematic debate on climate change. As a member of the Group of 77 and China, this statement is also aligned with the concerns that will be presented by our distinguished colleague from Antigua and Barbuda this morning.

To start with, I wish to echo the statement made by UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim that we need “a common vision, a global consensus, a global alliance for action” for, clearly, an issue like climate change cannot be addressed by individual nations on their own nor even by an institution as broad-based as the United Nations.

If indeed scientific consensus has been reached that human activity is the main cause of global warming, then our planet would be best served by the moral suasion of the United Nations in affirming this consensus and working toward the fulfillment of national commitments to halt, if not reverse, the tragic trajectory of climate change.

Over lunch yesterday, Sir Richard Branson stressed the preeminent need for scientific action in light of the reality that mitigation and adaptation strategies would do nothing to thin the layer of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are already pushing global temperatures on a precariously upward path as we speak. This opens up another potential for UN intervention, perhaps as the custodian of an international fund to activate research by a multinational group of scientists to develop a gas or a sophisticated sequestration process that can restore the balance in our atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.

To preclude the notion that a scientific silver bullet can save humankind from the ill effects of its largely unsustainable development track, however, we cannot downplay the importance of the mitigation and adaptation strategies—and the requisite technology and financing interventions—that are outlined in the Bali Roadmap.

The UN—along with other international, development partners—is ideally positioned to facilitate the flow of mitigation and adaptation technologies and resources to vulnerable developing states in particular. As a corollary benefit, such interventions afford countries like ours the chance to minimize—if not leapfrog—carbon-driven technologies on our way to higher stages of industrialization and development.

Yesterday’s discussions drew consensus on the need for partnership, based on good faith, solidarity and scientific knowledge, at every level. We seem to agree that each of us has to reach out—in a deliberate and systematic manner—to the private sector, to civil society, to local governments, to communities, to development partners and to one another if we are to make the collective impact that we all desire.

What seems to be lacking is a sense of urgency that cuts evenly across all these levels of partnership. Between the ranks of alarmed international scientists and the legions of passionate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is a spectrum of stakeholders with varying degrees of appreciation of the climate change problem and what needs to be done about it. Of these “ambivalent” stakeholders in any state, the most critical would be the government, the private sector and vulnerable communities.

Governments are typically caught between competing priorities. In the developing world, sparse government resources tend to be focused on meeting people’s basic needs, making it necessary to align the UN’s Millennium Development Goals with the global climate change response agenda. In addition, many in the public sector still have to overcome the reluctance to engage other sectors, particularly those that might be critical of government or the work pace of bureaucracies.

In the private sector, on the other hand, many companies have yet to be convinced of the wisdom of the triple bottom line. In spite of the growing receptiveness of corporations in general to planetary concerns, a critical mass of CEOs has yet to subscribe to the view that profits can only be sustained over the long term if a company looks after delivering social and environmental benefits at the same time. But Ms. Fionna Harvey of the Financial Times raised an interesting point about shareholders exerting pressure on companies to place climate change concerns prominently on the corporate agenda. As Mr. Timothy Wirth, our debate moderator, pointed out, this underscores the emerging role of key stakeholders as political actors, bearing strong voices of advocacy.

Communities, like governments are beset by competing priorities. Climate change, while a very serious global concern, still has to be translated into concrete issues that would make it relevant to specific stakeholders—such as vulnerable island communities and marginal farmers—and stir them to act with a sense of purpose and urgency.

This is where NGOs, as ubiquitous links to grassroots stakeholders, fit perfectly into the picture. In addition, as Mr. Martin Khor of the Third World Network underscored, they inject the dynamics of activism that push governments—national and local—to sort out their priorities and that keep corporations transparent and consistent to the principles which these firms espouse.

I believe that one of the most potent formulas for success on any development agenda is to combine the authority and structure of government, the resources and enterprise of the private sector and the passion and persistence of civil society. This triumvirate, working in harmony, constitutes a formidable platform for sustainable local action. For this reason, our climate change response framework in the Philippines explicitly brings in social mobilization as a vital dimension that complements the mandatory interventions in mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing. This is anchored on the premise that we need to secure the buy-in of key stakeholders to make sure that programs can be broadly co-owned and sustained.

Our experience in mobilizing these key partners has been very encouraging. Just last week, we concluded a very successful, multi-sector Philippine Energy Summit, which was convened by the Department of Energy at the behest of our President, Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to assess how the recent spike in the international price of crude oil would impact on our economy and on vulnerable sectors in particular and to recommend the appropriate short-, medium- and long-term responses. The summit challenged the stakeholders to judge whether this situation spelled crisis or opportunity on the Philippine horizon. The overwhelming view that surfaced was that the seeming point of crisis had taken us to the threshold of a new era of unprecedented opportunity to fast-track plans to develop renewable and climate-friendly energy sources as a way of insulating our country from the effects of future oil price shocks.

Through the Summit, we have secured commitments from key legislators that our Renewable Energy Bill will be passed within the first quarter of this year. This comes on the heels of the passage last year of the Biofuels Act, which constitutes a potent platform for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. The results of the Summit have bolstered our confidence that we can achieve our long-term goal of energy independence and energy security through the aggressive development and utilization of the Philippines’ vast renewable energy resources.

Already, one out of every five light bulbs in our country is powered by geothermal energy, and we are aiming to become the number one geothermal producer in the world within the next 10 years. With the help of other key stakeholders, we also expect to make significant strides in developing our hydro, wind, solar and biomass energy resources as well. In the area of energy demand management, our

President has mandated the phase-out of all incandescent bulbs in the Philippines and their replacement with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) by the end of 2009, making the Philippines the second Asia-Pacific country after Australia to embark on such a groundbreaking initiative. Clearly, none of this would be possible without sustained social mobilization and the support of development partners like the UN, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Yesterday, the United Nations, along with its member agencies, recognized the need to integrate disparate efforts to help states mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. This is a timely call for purposeful convergence that should encompass other international development partners extending technical and financial assistance in this field as well. It would be a great tragedy if we fail to arrive at a coherent response to a problem spawned by wasteful human practices simply because we squandered the abundant resources available to meet the global challenge. It seems incumbent upon the United Nations to seize that role of aligning priorities and programs within a holistic framework, while being mindful of institutional boundaries and mandates, to guarantee efficiency and strategic impact in the allocation of resources.

I propose that the UN convene a high-level meeting of all international development agencies for precisely this purpose. In this manner, the contours of the Bali Roadmap can be more clearly defined in terms of street signs, demarcating lines of responsibility and commitment across program areas and across regions and states, while surfacing interventional gaps. It is even conceivable that an information technology giant like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft would willingly provide the engine by which to map out the whole range of available technology and financing options in real time, side by side with the evolving demand picture at the global, regional and national levels. If such a virtual market for climate-oriented interventions can be pulled off, that would be a partnership made in planetary heaven.

Thank you very much.




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