In a wide ranging and insightful interview, Yeb Saño — the Philippines lead who rose to fame when, saddened by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan and frustrated by the slow pace of international action, he fasted through two weeks of U.N. climate change treaty talks, has just publicly endorsed Greenhouse Development Rights.
The interview, on ClimateWire, is wide ranging and very interesting. Here’s the relevant passage:
CW: According to the latest IPCC report, about half of cumulative emissions between 1750 and 2010 occurred in the last 40 years. Much of that was from China. Doesn’t that beg the question — how much longer will emerging economies be able to use the historic responsibility argument to avoid taking legal obligations, as well?
Saño: Yes, as time goes by, everyone’s historic responsibility will increase. Yes, some emerging economies have been growing faster than we’ve expected. The problem with the optic there is, these countries have done even more than Annex I countries. We’ve seen the China story change drastically in the last decade, and then shift again. Recently, they’ve made some really significant pronouncements where the use of coal is concerned. So it becomes a lot more difficult to keep on pointing the finger at emerging economies when they are also emerging as doing a lot more.
We feel that every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere has a corresponding responsibility from where it is emitted from. How do we distribute that? That is the challenge. The Philippines’ point of view is that every country can participate in this regime. I think the key is not to distribute responsibility according to merely the level of emissions per country, but there has to be a certain consideration of the level of welfare of the citizens of each country.
It’s a critical balancing act. Countries like Saudi Arabia and even China will always have the right to invoke the climate convention. [But] speaking from the point of survival, I think we have reached a point where Annex I countries alone can’t solve climate change. That is a fact. We have gone way past that point where rich countries can solve climate change alone. The solution will have to lie in global solidarity, and each country that can contribute must contribute.
CW: And yet Saudi Arabia, with which the Philippines aligns itself in the U.N. talks, has maintained that the contribution of non-Annex I countries in any new agreement should be only to adapt to climate change, while Annex I countries should continue to be the ones to take legal responsibility for cutting emissions. So which is it?
Saño: We cannot force countries which are not Annex I countries to take on obligations of the same nature as Annex I countries. However, I think countries must set aside narrow national interests and be able to contribute in an ambitious way, not just towards a post-2020 regime but an immediate regime. My country cannot afford to wait six more years for the whole world to take action, and six years of no legally binding emissions cuts for me is a catastrophe.
This is a global endeavor, and if we are to subscribe to narrow national interests, we can go our separate ways and forget about solving climate change.
What the Philippines, I think, would like to advocate for is a Greenhouse Development Rights approach. I know that’s not going to resonate well with many countries, both in the north and in the south, but it’s really about rights. It’s about the life of a single Filipino having the same value as one American or one European. We all deserve equitable access to the planet. That should be the primary parameter, rather than economic competitiveness.