Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Questions raised on credibility of Philippine climate commission

Shaken by the devastation wrought by tropical
storms Ketsana and Parma in 2009, the Philippines has begun drafting a
blueprint for mitigating the impact of climate change, but campaigners
are already questioning the credibility of the process.

The national action plan on climate change, to be drawn up by the
country's Climate Change Commission by April 2011, will set out the
responsibilities of all government agencies to develop and implement
policies addressing the effects of global warming.

The Philippines sees action on climate change as vital given its
vulnerability to changing weather patterns - 3 million people are
affected annually by an average of 20 typhoons. In September last
year, tropical storm Ketsana hit the country, followed one week later
by Parma. Together they killed more than 1,000 people and displaced
more than half a million.

But a network of non-government organizations that campaign on climate
change has raised doubts about the Climate Change Commission's
capacity to strengthen the Philippines' efforts to campaign for global
carbon reduction and stronger climate change responses.

The network, Aksyon Klima, says actions taken by one commissioner have
exposed the need for firm measures that ensure the commission acts in
a transparent and consultative way and is accountable to its
stakeholders and the public.

"The Commission should institutionalize a consultative mechanism for
accountability and transparency," said Rowena Bolinas, a spokesperson
for Aksyon Klima.

The doubts centre on some of the actions of vice chairman Heherson
Alvarez, an appointee of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In January 2010, Alvarez sent a letter to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) endorsing the controversial
Copenhagen accord. But the letter did not reflect the position of the
Philippines and took the government and civil society by surprise.

Climate change activists around the world have attacked the
non-binding Copenhagen agreement for having only voluntary carbon
reduction targets and vague mechanisms for providing adaptation funds
to developing countries.

As the lead coordinator for the G77 plus China group of developing
nations during the December 2009 Copenhagen negotiations, the
Philippines has demanded bigger carbon cuts by industrialized nations
and clearer guidelines for the allocation of adaptation funds.

Climate Change commissioner Lucille Sering told AlertNet that Arroyo
requested the withdrawal of the letter in February, fearing it would
compromise the country's stance in international negotiations.


Alvarez, however, defends sending the letter, saying he only endorsed
the accord insofar as it called for "deep and early cuts" by developed
countries, the major greenhouse gas emitters.

"It was not a complete and total adherence to the accord, nor was it
out of bounds," he wrote in a letter to AlertNet, in response to
questions. "We were not adhering to the accord. We were preparing to
adhere to the accord. Whether we adhere to it or not is an entirely
different matter."

Alvarez promised to hold consultations with representatives of both
the public and private sectors after the withdrawal of the letter to
the UNFCCC. However, Bolinas said that more than half a year has
passed and nothing has been done.

"Sec. Alvarez himself said the Commission would conduct consultations
right after the Philippines' government rescinded his letter to the
UNFCCC, but this has never happened," she said.

Aksyon Klima also believes there has been a lack of transparency in
the way the commission and the action plan were set up.

During the formulation of the National Framework Strategy on Climate
Change (NFSCC), and the commission's implementing rules and
regulations, Alvarez also acted unilaterally, Bolinas charged. The
commission's rules and regulations set out its powers and
responsibilities, while the NFSCC outlines the country's mid- and
long-term goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The body's two other commissioners, Lucille Sering and Naderev Sano,
were not mandated to take part in the consultations and discussions on
the documents, she added.

"The basic principle of collegiality is currently not in practice
among the three commissioners. Sec. Alvarez continues to act
unilaterally on many important issues and does not consult with the
other two commissioners," Bolinas charged.

In response, Alvarez said Sering and Sano were "invited" to meetings
and consultations with experts on the drafting of the commission's
rules and regulations and the NFSCC.

"The commissioners were duly informed and invited, but not to perform
a function as commissioners. However, we always welcome their
participation and input," Alvarez said.


As the commission embarks on the development of the climate change
action plan, Sering said she has learned that she and Sano have been
dropped from the technical working group.

"He formed his own technical working group composed of his preferred
consultants," Sering said of Alvarez.

In the wake of this, Aksyon Klima has called for an immediate revision
of the rules and regulations, saying they were "hastily done" and that
they need to specify the role of the public in the commission's
decision-making process.

The Commission did include various representatives from academia,
civil society, and the private sector in the crafting of the NFSCC,
but Bolinas said improvements were still needed to increase
transparency and to prevent "random and selective participation".

The Philippines has wanted to produce a climate action plan ever since
it launched its Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change in 1991.

"The Philippines has been identified as one of the most vulnerable
countries to the dire effects of climate change and the different
sectors situated in different locations around the archipelago have
varying and unique challenges to face, which must all be taken into
account," Bolinas said.


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