COP 21 in Paris

The day after the Paris Agreement: What does it change?

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pollution656x434By Izabella Teixeira
Former Environment Minister of Brazil

[Read a version of this blog post in Portuguese here.]


In December 2015, the world decided, in Paris, on a new global agreement to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement established an innovative legal framework to ensure compulsory, transparent and progressive commitment (without setbacks) of all signatory countries of the Climate Convention to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It actually raises the issue of climate change as a strategic variable of global development in this century.

The Paris Agreement clearly states the path of the low-carbon economy and inclusive development.  The common understanding of the need to change the vision and decision-making on economy and development justified the decision. With it, producing (goods) and protecting (environment and natural resources) are actions that will be more and more at the centrality of global and national decisions on development and social inclusion.

Many wonder if the agreement is enough. This is the first step of a new political process where all societies are part of the solution. We will have to deal more and more, on a daily basis, with the uncertainties and vulnerabilities associated with climate phenomena and its economic, social, ecological and environmental impacts.

Although (political and scientific) uncertainty is still large, the climate global agenda is no longer limited (or priority) to mitigation actions. We will have to keep pace with adaptation measures to climate change, where the challenge requires new approaches to efficient allocation of natural resources and the planned use of urban and rural territories.

In this new world of low-carbon, waste and unsustainability in the use of natural resources should be banned. Efficiency, decarbonization of the economy, minimizing risks and vulnerabilities should gain a progressive role in planning and decision-making in alternatives to economic growth and development financing.

Science will certainly continue to play its role to assess the effects of climate change brought about by anthropocentrism, which results in the increased temperature of the planet.  However, it is a matter for all of us to adopt new attitudes towards the challenges the climate agenda holds. We cannot wait for the future. We must act now and bring about urgent changes in the way we live and use natural resources. It is urgent now for the present!

A new Brazilian economy

In Brazil, the challenges are closely linked to opportunities for inclusive and sustainable development in a new relationship with environmental quality and lifestyles. Our ambition is to be a country prepared for the low carbon economy with more efficient and inclusive options to address the vulnerabilities and risks associated with climate changes and follow the development path.

By 2020, when the Paris Agreement should come into force, we should promote changes in agriculture, energy, transport, industry, in our cities, and in the protection of forests to actually wend the new way of the low carbon economy.

Although Brazil is the country that, for the past ten years, has been offering major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to the fight against illegal deforestation in the Amazon, we must do more! Illegal deforestation of our forests reveals, besides to environmental crime, the waste and crude vision of development, which should be banned. It is urgent to be cleared out not only in the Amazon but in all Brazilian biomes. We will also have to restore forests, capture carbon and make forestry a source of development and environmental protection.

The world expects Brazil to be the largest producer of food in the coming years and to do so, we must ensure low-carbon agriculture paths (ABC Plan) and increase the recovery of pastures and degraded areas. There is no need to lose biodiversity to advance in food production.  The means are already known: technological gains and agricultural productivity, new infrastructure arrangements and low-carbon logistics, water security and the compliance of the New Forest Code should model our food production, our contribution to global food security and the end of wasteful production and consumption of food in Brazil.

In energy, we have the challenge of moving towards a renewable energy matrix without compromising energy security and supply, and defining the most relevant efficiency. The integration of means of transportation, the sustainable mobility options in our cities and new urban settlement processes are essential for the new models of production and lifestyles in the “low carbon era.”

Global decisions on climate change are not separated from our daily choices of consumption, land use, the way of living and having. We can choose to live better with less environmental impact, in a more inclusive and fairer way. Less vulnerable, with economic growth, knowledge, and new technologies, as well as quality of life. In fact, we must build lifestyles in which we are part of the solutions, not the problems.

From Paris to the Philippines, climate change is here. Now what?/ GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK

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Eiffel550Despite the tragic events in Paris last month, expectations remain high for a global climate agreement in the City of Lights. The focus is on country-specific pledges for reducing emissions and powering up renewable energy in order to remain below the 2-degree-Celsius warming threshold.

Such commitments can’t be confirmed and implemented too soon. And now more than ever, we need to look the reality of climate change in the face, beyond the seemingly abstract number conversation.

The man-made production of carbon emissions in excess of what the planet can absorb has not been occurring in a vacuum. Rather, it is one of the damaging effects of our fossil-fuel dependent, industrialized world—together with deforestation, topsoil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name just a few. Consequently, phasing out fossil fuels requires a holistic, innovative framework for development that includes not only renewable energy but also the responsible management of all renewable natural resources.

A member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), the Philippines has been leading the charge down that path since learning about the Ecological Footprint methodology a couple of years ago. “Indeed, the time is right for ecological accounting,” declared President Benigno Aquino III in support of the 2012 Philippines Ecological Footprint study.

Mindanao-Flood-250The archipelago is on the frontline of climate change, as then Philippines Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Saño told the world in his impassioned speech on the first day of the COP19 Climate Change Summit in Poland (click here, then scroll to 7:14-7:33), There, Pacific typhoons wreck infrastructure, land and lives with increasing frequency and destructive power.

At the same time, economic development and population growth in the Philippines have caused its Ecological Footprint to triple in the past 50 years. The country now demands twice the amount of renewable natural resources that its ecosystem can sustainably provide. The growing pressure on forests and agricultural land, compounded by unchecked land use, has led to the land’s and its inhabitants’ weakening resilience in the face of natural disasters.

In this context, we’re encouraged to see that the Philippines government has made climate change and environmental risks a political agenda priority. The Philippines has submitted one of the most ambitious pledges to the COP 21 climate talks in Paris, envisioning a 70% cut in its carbon emissions by 2030 if it receives the financial and technical support the country needs to fulfill its commitment.

President Aquino, who spoke in Paris this week and launched the manila-Paris Declaration of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), is the very first leader in his country’s history to create an environmental and climate change cluster in his cabinet. The 2009 Climate Change Act mandated the mainstreaming of climate change into the government policy formulations, the creation of the Climate Change Commission and the development of the National Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Climate Change (NSFPCC). It also tasked the Local Government Units (LGUs) to draft their respective climate change action plans in sync with the national framework.

Simultaneously, the Philippines has been taking significant steps towards improved resource management. On May 2011, President Aquino launched the National Greening Program (NGP), which aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in around 1.5 million hectares of public lands by 2017. The following year, he supported the Ecological Footprint of the Philippines Report: A Measure for Resilience. A second Ecological Footprint study was published in 2013, with a special focus on the Laguna Lake Region, the country’s largest lake ecosystem, which includes Metro Manila—the most densely populated area on Earth and most vulnerable region in the country.

MindanaoCoverThe next study, which Global Footprint Network just launched in partnership with Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency, ADF), will zero in on the country’s “food basket,” Mindanao—an island in the country’s south whose forest biocapacity constitutes nearly 40% of the Philippines’ total forest biocapacity and faces increasing risks.

Meanwhile, the public climate change and environmental debate has been growing strong in the street. Devastated by regular, violent and deadly typhoons, more and more Filipinos are demanding that the government take action to help adapt in the short-term as well as prevent worse-case scenarios in the long term. Filipinos staged their own climate march, last Sunday, ahead of the Paris Climate Summit. A major public demand over the past couple of years has been hinging on the vote of “green bills” – the National Land Use Act (NLUA) and Forest Resources Bill. The NLUA has been described as the keystone to responsible natural resource management in the Philippines, and is now pending in the Senate after being approved in the House of Representatives.

Despite clearly defined goals and intent, the road ahead is certainly a bumpy, challenging one, with immediate financial considerations playing a leading role. For now, climate and environmental advocates in the Philippines are trying to wrap their head around the recent announcement that the country will authorize 23 new coal pants on the grounds of reliable, affordable power. “It’s a crime against humanity,” Senator Loren Legarda, who chairs the country’s Senate Finance Committee and has pushed through new legislation on climate change and energy, told the BBC. “Coal is never an option, coal is not cheap. It pollutes the already vulnerable environment— it kills our air, it kills our biodiversity. Why are we approving coal? It does not make sense. We are victims of climate change and we want to exacerbate it? It does not make sense.”

Senator Legarda was recognized this week in Paris as a Global Champion for Resilience by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction. Soon he’ll be back home with President Aquino, who defended new generation coal power as the most affordable option available to help bring many people out of poverty. By the end of the climate talks we may find out whether the Philippines leader was bluffing with a view to forcing the hand of wealthy countries into funding climate solutions in the archipelago, or whether coal power truly won. Either way, we’re committed to helping the Philippines stay the course of natural resource accounting and responsible management in the long run. Strong ecosystems make for better resilience. And we choose to believe that sustainability practice breeds more sustainability practice.