What’s at stake for the Philippines at the COP26 climate summit

As the COP26 Summit nears, the Philippines has a narrow window to fulfill its promise to the Paris Agreement. Given the existing policies and targets, it is evident that the Philippines is far behind in its target and commitments.
This year’s COP26 climate conference is dubbed as the most important since 2015 and the Paris Agreement. Here’s what you need to know:

What are the Philippines’ Climate Pledges?

The Philippine Government submitted its first Intended NDC (INDC) to the UNFCCC in October 2015. This climate action commitment aimed to reduce GHG emissions by about 70% by 2030 relative to its business-as-usual (BAU) scenario from 2000 to 2030. This is under the condition that the country will receive technical, capacity, and financial assistance from developed countries through “climate justice.”

The energy, transport, forestry, industry, and waste sectors are among the major players of this commitment. The INDC should have been converted into an NDC; however, the Duterte administration decided to revisit and reconstruct the INDC, arguing that there was no basis in calculating the 70% emission reduction and that the BAU scenario was not quantified.

The Duterte administration decided to revisit and reconstruct the INDC, arguing that there was no basis in calculating the 70% emission reduction and that the BAU scenario was not quantified.

Since the countries agreed to review their targets every 5 years, a recalibrated NDC was then submitted to UNFCCC on April 15, 2021, which supports national development objectives and priorities such as sustainable industrial development, poverty eradication and provision of basic needs, securing social and climate justice, and energy security. This is the first modification of the NDC since its first submission in 2015. The following are the commitments made by the Philippines:
  • 75% of the projected cumulative GHG emission reduction from the BAU scenario (which is composed of 2.71% unconditional using nation’s resources and 72.29% conditional using means of implementation to be provided by developed countries) from 2020 to 2030;
  • cumulative economy-wide emission of 3,340.3 MtCO2e and will peak its emissions by 2030;
  • adaptation measures across but not limited to, the sectors of agriculture, forestry, coastal and marine ecosystems and biodiversity, health, and human security, to preempt, reduce and address residual loss and damage;
  • endeavor to undertake equitable adaptation strategies with mitigation co-benefits and ensure their contribution to the national pandemic recovery;
  • support local and foreign direct green investments;
Although NDC is based on national laws, domestic legal, financial, and policy frameworks (Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022), Philippine Energy Plan (2018-2040), the Philippine National Security Policy (2017-2022), the National Climate Risk Management Framework (2019) and the Sustainable Finance Policy Framework (2020)), both NDCs did not mention specific sectoral targets or programs to meet the intended GHG emissions by 2030.

Climate Action Tracker rated the Philippines as 2.0 C compatible. The rating is within the range of what is considered fair share but not in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 C temperature limit, which was a threshold that the Philippines strongly fought for in 2015 during the Paris negotiations.

The country’s approach requires other countries to make deeper reductions and comparably greater effort to limit warming to 1.5 C. Because if all the countries were to follow the Philippines’ approach, warming could be held below—but not well below—2.0 C, and hence would still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement.

What do Civil Society Groups Say?

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) raised concerns about the submitted 2020 NDC, as discussed below.
  • On the non-inclusion of land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) in the NDC. In a letter to Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez who is also the chairperson-designate of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, CSOs questioned why the forestry sector was not included in the NDC given that land and forest are significant sources of GHG emissions. Although missing in the NDC, the Philippine government recognized its major role in climate mitigation. Specifically, the National Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+ strategy) is one of the Key Result Areas for climate mitigation in the NFSCC 2010-2022.
  • Absence of mitigation targets for the agriculture sector, another major contributor to GHG emission. Rice cultivation is the largest source of GHG emission which is 62%, followed by digestive processes from animals, livestock manure, and synthetic fertilizers. One way to mitigate this agricultural GHG emission is the shift to organic farming.
  • Reliance on financial assistance from developed countries. The NDC’s conditional targets of 72.29% GHG emissions reduction will rely on the financial assistance from developed countries to pursue climate justice and 2.71% unconditional targets will rely on its mitigation and adaptation strategies. This has been questioned by environment groups since relying on major GHG emitters affects the overall commitment of the country under the Paris Agreement.

The Philippines has yet to establish a clear and focused net-zero goals and prioritize formulating policies and plans to achieve decarbonization efforts.

For instance, 51% of the country’s power comes from coal and the Philippine Department of Energy (DOE) proposed policies on highly efficient coal technologies which offset its commitment to low carbonization as coal, oil, and gas are major emitters of GHG. The proposed technology also counteracts the mitigation benefits of renewable energy resources under RA 9513 or “An Act Promoting the Development, Utilization, and Commercialization of Renewable Energy Resources and for other purposes.”

Green transportation is also a key instrument to carbon emission cuts. Transport remains the most energy-intensive sector, accounting for more than one-third (35.7%) of total energy consumption according to the Philippine Energy Plan 2018–2040 as seen in figure 1, and accounting for 26% of the annual CO2 emission of the sector, followed by household, industry, and buildings as seen in figure 2.

Fig. 1. Percent energy consumption by sector (2018)
Fig. 2. Percent share of energy-related CO2 emissions
In the government effort to materialize the Philippines’ commitments to NDC, the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program of the Department of Transport (DOTr) proceeded to replace old jeepneys with units powered by electrically-powered engines with solar panels for roofs in 2020. However, this project received heavy criticisms from public transport groups and the masses as it was tagged as anti-poor and worsening the situation brought about by the pandemic.

COVID-19 and its effects on actualization of NDC

The impact of the pandemic should also be considered in drafting the NDC. The government imposition of lockdown during the pandemic resulted in the decline of economic activity and a cumulative emission of 2,721 MtCO2e, lower than the BAU of 3,340.3 MtCO2e as assumed by the Philippine Government. The amount of GHG emissions would have been lower if the pandemic was taken into account.

To facilitate academic rescue, the country will provide P1.3 trillion subsidies and cash-aid programs for displaced workers and zero-interest loans for banks through Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE) stimulus package. Another policy projection is the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CARE) aims to reduce income tax and promote investments in renewable energy and green jobs.

How can we do better?

Among the actions to consider to strengthen our commitment are strong policy tracking and actions to achieve the 1.5 degrees temperature target; developed policy to nature-based solutions such as blue carbon projects to support decarbonization; and clear policies on coal and coal power plants to mitigate major GHG emitters.
Background
 

What is COP?

The ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) is an annual summit that brings 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1995 in Berlin Germany. Different countries have hosted this event and this year, its 26th COP or COP26 will happen in Glasgow, United Kingdom from October 31 to November 12.  The four goals of COP 26 are as follows:
  • To secure global net-zero by mid-century and to keep 1.5 degrees temperature target within reach—countries are motivated to proffer 2030 emission reduction targets that will contribute to the net-zero emissions by the middle of the century;
  • To adapt and protect communities and natural habitats—climate change-affected countries are encouraged to develop and execute adaptation strategies;
  • To mobilize finance—developed countries must finance at least $100B annually by 2020 and release it to the private and public sector required to secure global net-zero; and
  • To work together to deliver—the Paris Rulebook must be finalized and collaboration among the different sectors to deliver climate goals must be accelerated.

What is the Paris Agreement?

A legally binding treaty on climate change was signed in Paris on December 12, 2015, and took effect on November 4, 2016. It is a 5-year cycle of climate actions submitted by countries to UNFCCC to determine their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The major goal of this treaty is to keep the world at “1.5 degrees alive.” This fraction is crucial for the safety of the people, communities, and ecosystems as higher numbers means higher risk of the effects of climate change. This agreement also set out goals on adaptation and finance to support people around the world in technical, financial, and capability building. The Philippines became an official party of the Paris Agreement on April 22, 2017, during COP21.

Find an interviewee: Atty. Tony La Viña, Associate Director for Climate Policy and International Relations, Manila Observatory

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Researcher at Climate Tracker

A research specialist and editor in a national government agency in the Philippines. Considers herself a polymer clay artist. Loves watching true-crime documentaries and drinking green tea with honey. Also speaks Filipino.