COP26 results and our common response

As I come from the environment and development sector, I have always followed the results of the annual conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC, established in 1994, was founded to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and protect the planet from their extreme climate impacts. Special attention was paid to the 21st COP in Paris, which spawned a groundbreaking agreement that set an ambitious target to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Public awareness of climate change and its effects has increased over the past decade as the world has been hardest hit by extreme climate events such as super typhoon “Yolanda” and typhoons “Ondoy” and “Sendong” in the country, as well as forest fires in the US, Australia and even Siberia.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recently concluded COP26 in Glasgow was touted as the “world’s last best chance” for climate action. The latest science shows we are on a dangerous path that could exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius target if drastic measures are not taken to curb CO2 emissions. The main outcome from Glasgow is a call to nations “to accelerate the phase-out of unabated coal power and the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. Given that almost half of CO2 emissions come from coal-fired power plants, this is a positive commitment. On the issue of climate finance to support vulnerable countries, however, the target of $ 100 billion annually from developed countries and major greenhouse polluters has not been met.

The results of COP26 were received with both optimism and disappointment. US President’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, saw the deal as a “good deal,” while activist Greta Thunberg bluntly described it as a “failure.” From my point of view, COP26 maintained its ambition but lacked urgency.

Given this lack of urgency, what do we do now? This situation is not getting any better; in fact, it’s getting worse and worse. We cannot simply rest our fate on the results and commitments of countries in annual meetings and conventions. Together we – the almost 8 billion inhabitants of this planet – can close the gap by helping to protect and preserve what is left of our “natural capital”.

In the Philippines, forest and mangrove resources are only a fraction of what they were five decades ago. Our marine resources and corals have been harmed by coastal development and destructive fishing. Our extensive fishing grounds are overfished or underutilized. Don’t be surprised that the “galung gong” you buy in the market is now being imported, or wonder why we don’t have tap water on long summers.

Our over-consumption is characterized by great waste. Food production, for example, is ironically seen as the greatest threat to nature, as it is responsible for about 70 percent of biodiversity loss, 24 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of 69 percent of our freshwater resources. And yet we waste 33 percent of the food we produce.

Plastic pollution in the oceans is another major problem. The Philippines is the third largest polluter in the world after China and Indonesia. Plastics are considered the “new coal”. The US plastics industry alone causes at least 232 million tons of CO2e gas emissions per year, which corresponds to 116 average-size coal-fired power plants. We believe recycling is the solution, but recycling also emits greenhouse gases and air pollution.

A better way than recycling is to reduce consumption. As normal citizens, we should be aware of our ways and waste. Every move counts; The less we use, the better for the planet. Let’s cut it down and get back to basics. Let’s change the ending!

Jose Angelito “Joel” Manalo Palma is a sustainability consultant at Far Eastern University and was President / CEO of WWF-Philippines from January 2015 to December 2020.

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