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RP backtracks on support for Copenhagen Accord

February 19, 2010 5:23pm
After previously expressing its support for the Copenhagen Accord, the Philippine government has announced that it will conduct a series of consultations with civil society groups and government agencies before finalizing its policy on climate change.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instructed the Climate Change Commission to solicit comments from various stakeholders regarding the Copenhagen Accord – the controversial outcome of the United Nations climate summit last December – after civil society groups raised an outcry over an official letter sent by Secretary Heherson Alvarez last January 26 expressing the Philippines’ support for the agreement.

Click the picture for a larger view of the Copenhagen Accord.
Civil society and developing countries have harshly criticized the non-binding Copenhagen Accord for lacking specific carbon reduction targets and skimping on climate aid for poor countries.

The Philippines and other member countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were given until January 31 to present their position on the accord, but UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has said the date is merely a "soft deadline."

Alvarez served as acting head of the Philippine delegation to the meeting in Copenhagen. Mrs. Arroyo appointed him as Commissioner and Vice Chairman of the Climate Change Commission on Dec. 9, 2009.

In his letter, Alvarez had written: “I join the sentiment of a number of Parties to endorse the Copenhagen Accord … Although the Copenhagen Accord was not adopted and only taken note of, we believe it to be a good basis towards a political consensus anchored in the Framework Convention on Climate Change."

The letter from Alvarez was posted on the website of the UNFCCC as the Philippines’ official input on the Copenhagen Accord until it was removed last week, reportedly at the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Click the picture for a larger view of Alvarez's letter to the UNFCCC.
A coalition of around 30 groups called the Civil Society Organization Working Group on Climate and Development issued a statement calling Alvarez’ endorsement “premature and arbitrary," and urged Arroyo to immediately withdraw the Philippine position.

Yeb Saño, climate change and energy program director of WWF-Philippines, told GMANews.TV that Mrs. Arroyo called an emergency meeting of the Climate Change Commission last Feb. 5 to address the issue. Representatives from most of the nine government agencies that are part of the commission’s advisory board, as well as civil society groups, attended the meeting.

Saño, who attended the meeting on behalf of WWF-Philippines, said Mrs. Arroyo instructed the DFA to immediately rescind the letter that Alvarez had sent to the UNFCCC on Jan. 26 because it did not go through the approval process of the DFA and other members the commission.

After the meeting, Alvarez sent another letter to the UNFCCC on behalf of the Climate Change Commission that read: “The Philippines is still in the process of internal consultations with respect to the possibility of its association with the Copenhagen Accord."

Alvarez told GMAnews.TV that his Jan. 26 letter did not represent the Philippine government’s official stance on the accord.

“The communication that I sent [on January 26] was non-committal. There was nothing to withdraw because there was never a commitment. There is no Philippine position yet on the accord," said Alvarez.

“We are conducting consultations to determine whether the Philippines will adhere or associate with the accord," he added.

A staff member of the Climate Change Commission said the Philippines’ endorsement of the accord should not be considered an expression of intent to associate with or become a party to the accord.

“Pre-emptive effect"

In a letter sent to the Climate Change Commission last January 14-- more than a week before Alvarez sent his endorsement letter to the UNFCCC-- the DFA had recommended that the government take a “wait and see" stance on the accord.

DFA Undersecretary Enrique Manalo wrote to Alvarez: “The decision to associate with the Accord could bind the Philippines and would have a pre-emptive effect on future climate change negotiations that will limit our flexibility to negotiate."

Click the picture for a larger view of the DFA's reply to Alvarez's letter (Page 1).
Click the picture for a larger view of the DFA's reply to Alvarez's letter (Page 2).
Manalo noted that the accord had several weaknesses. “The drafting of the accord completely disregarded the UN principles of transparency, inclusiveness, and sovereign equality," he asserted. “On specifics and substance, the accord falls short … of our call for deep and early cuts."

Unilateral action

The Climate Change Commission has started holding consultation meetings regarding the accord with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Educators Network of the Philippines.

Civil society groups have welcomed the public consultations. However, environmental advocates have cautioned the government about the damage that can be caused when the government makes decisions without meeting with stakeholders.

“The Philippines expressed support for the Accord and then later withdrew it, saying that it will conduct consultations. It’s not clear to other countries who is making the decisions for our country. We are not going to be taken seriously by our negotiating partners," said Neth Daño of the ETC Group, an environmental NGO.

“[What happened is an example] of the damage that unilateral and un-transparent action of one government official can do on the country's image, credibility and political stance in the negotiations table," said Daño, who had been a member of the Philippine delegation to the UN climate talks since August 2008 but was removed in December.

The Philippines first expressed support for the accord when Alvarez addressed the final plenary session of the UN climate summit last December 19.

In his speech, he said: “We support the adoption of the Copenhagen Accord. We welcome the efforts made by the group of leaders who negotiated it in the spirit of exploring collective actions. However, we need to constantly and consistently stress the critical importance of transparency, broader consultation, and consensus in these international negotiations."

To date, almost 100 countries representing around 80 percent of global emissions are likely to or have engaged with the Copenhagen Accord, according to the United States Climate Action Network, the largest coalition of US-based NGOs working on climate change. - YA, GMANews.TV
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