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2009 Crucial Year for Climate Change Action in Philippines - 23 Feb 2009  

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LAST year the world saw significant progress in its goal of developing secure, affordable and clean energy, and tackling the threat of global warming. World leaders believe that 2009 will be a crucial year when it comes to negotiating a meaningful, binding climate-change deal in Copenhagen this December, which is meant to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on global emission levels.

Climate change has risen to its highest ever position on the global political agenda, and pressure is building for governments to set the parameters for negotiating a post-2012 climate-change agreement. The post-2012 framework will set global incentives for transition to a low-carbon economy for the next 20 years.

Just like any other nation, the Philippines, one of the 181 countries that signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, considers this an enormous challenge, given the complicated politics of shifting institutional and societal structures and the need for rapid action.

Serious about the problem of climate change in the Philippines, President Arroyo recently took on the role of climate-change czar. She also issued last year Administrative Order 171 creating a Presidential Task Force on Climate Change (PTFCC). An archipelagic nation of 7,000 islands, Philippines is highly vulnerable to many of the effects of climate change such as high tides and rising sea levels, floods, and changes in rainfall patterns.

Earlier, Arroyo also appointed former agrarian reform and environment secretary Heherson Alvarez as Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change. Alvarez led the Philippine delegation in the climate-change meeting in Poznan, Poland, last December 2008.

In this exclusive interview by the BusinessMirror correspondent Imelda V. Abaño with Alvarez, he explains how to win over the skeptics and he anticipates a sense of urgency to address climate-change issues.

Why do we need a new deal in Copenhagen? Is it significant to the Philippines?

Science tells us that we must stabilize global emissions within the next 10 to 15 years or we will reach a tipping point, and then any remedy will become very, very expensive. The Philippines, being a low-lying small country, will suffer most if we do not act now. We have the technologies and we have the knowledge. But we must hurry. In a global world, global challenges require global responses.

What is your assessment of the UN climate talks in Poznan? Has it given us a reason for optimism? Is the road to Copenhagen a tough one?

Poznan has not established a coherent affirmative course of action. However, the negotiating positions of key participants were made known. Everyone would like to find a solution but many still insist on their kind of self-serving views.

The negotiations will continue in Bonn sometime in April and the position of most countries will be clearer. This will decide whether the world has a clear road in Copenhagen toward a human and intelligent solution to slow down global warming and spare humanity from that ultimate disaster.

It was easier to settle the nuclear impasse where fewer people and leaders participated to deflect the course of history from a nuclear armageddon. With global warming, a new culture, a new mindset has emerged. And for that, determined leadership of individuals and institutions must stand out to create a carbon neutral civilization.

What are realistic expectations for Copenhagen in 2009?

Two thousand nine is a crucial year for climate-change action. There is some question of what exactly will—or can be—adopted in Copenhagen, but there is a strong feeling that the deal reached next year will contain all the essential elements of a comprehensive agreement that might leave some technical elements for agreement afterward. A more realistic outcome may be an agreement on the basic architecture of the post-2012 climate framework—for instance, binding economy-wide targets for developed countries, policy commitments for the major emerging economies, and support mechanisms for technology, finance and adaptation in developing countries.

Do you think governments have realized that it is time to act now?

Yes, we are emerging from an era of benign indifference. In 1995 I convened the first global warming conference in Manila. At that point, an American president scorned the persistent voices of concern in the world to organize against global warming and climate change.

He said that global warming was a “hoax.” That conference in 1995, and the Manila Declaration signed by all 36 participating countries in the Asia-Pacific region, affirmed the threat of global warming and drew attention to the extreme vulnerabilities of our archipelagic and small islands nations to the early destruction with global warming—massive storms of accelerating velocity of more than 200 kph, floodings, the rising oceans and the melting of glaciers, inundating coastal communities.

That was 14 years ago but no commensurate sense of danger or self-defence has ever emerged in our political culture. That sense of danger may have come about with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth only two years back.

What made you accept the post of a Presidential Adviser on Global Warming and Climate Change?

It is a critical appointment. Global warming is the most devastating disaster to our archipelagic and small islands geography. We are one of the most vulnerable areas in the world. We must be an actively keen participant in our self defence, working with nations of the world.

Is your climate-change advocacy more fun than politics?

I have initiated direction of environmental change and reform and I have always found it to be most fulfilling. Now it has emerged as a crucial survival issue. It is beyond the common excitement and struggle of politics. Politics addresses problems to create a free and stable society. But global warming is survival itself.

The programs that may be instituted for global warming will modernize the nation and rouse it out of poverty.

What message will you be carrying on your climate mission?

We have no time to lose. The data are now clearly presented and have very high confidence levels. We cannot wait for another five or 10 years. We must be active now. Global warming, if understood, managed and tamed, would mean the great millennium for mankind. We shall have found that bond that unites us toward a common purpose. When we learn to save ourselves and our communities from its grave danger, we shall have grown in wisdom of working to solve social and political problems in great unity, and all of mankind will easily work together.

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Source: Business Mirror