What the Philippines’ First Nationally Determined Contribution Means for the Country’s Future Climate Actions

Being a country among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, how far along are we into mitigating its effects?

In 2018, the United Nations reported that we only had 12 years to prevent “irreversible damage from climate change.” This came three years after the Paris Agreement, where around 197 countries collectively signed in to cut carbon emissions and reduce global warming to below 2℃.

Under the agreement, countries with the highest rates of emissions committed themselves to cutting their climate pollution and helping developing nations with their mitigation efforts. Each country and territory that participated would then support each other in this goal through financial, technological, and capacity building means.

How then does a nation put this commitment into measurable goals? This is where the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) come in.

Why an NDC Matters

In a nutshell, the NDC is a document that contains how the country will cut down their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to rising temperatures. NDCs are then submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat and are updated every five years.

Prior to an NDC, countries submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs), which outline their commitment to reducing their carbon emissions. These targets can be based either on emission rates of previous years or per unit of GDP. Another measurement is based on a business-as-usual (BAU) estimate, or the projected carbon emissions if the country does not do anything to curb their emissions.

If a country formally joins the Paris Agreement, the INDCs then become NDCs. This means that countries are mandated to report their progress over the next five years, including their GHG inventories and progress toward their emissions targets. After five years, nations revisit and reassess their NDCs to pinpoint their targets for the succeeding period.

That said, when a country determines its NDCs, it takes into consideration the other issues that plague it and how these factor into the implementation of the NDCs. Typically, it should take into account the state of its high-emitting industries like agriculture, waste, industry, transport, and energy, as well as industries that help mitigate them, such as forestry.

Where the Philippines Is in All This

While our country provides some of the lowest contributions to GHG emissions globally, it has seen an alarming rise throughout the years. Even more troubling is the fact that we are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in part due to our geographic location. This makes its inclusion in the Paris Agreement all the more important.

As a signatory, the Philippines is also required to submit its NDCs. However, it was unable to make the December 2020 deadline, presumably due to the criticisms faced by the initial draft. These include the lowering of emission reduction targets from 70 percent in the INDCs to 30 percent, the exclusion of the forestry sector, and the lack of mitigation targets for the agricultural sector.

These criticisms are justified, considering the weight the NDCs have on the country’s future climate change strategies. This is considering how the Philippines’ initiatives to environmental issues often suffer from poor implementation and the lack of a long-term vision. In 2019, it was reported by the Commission on Audit (COA) that the National Greening Program failed to reach 80 percent of its reforestation targets. The implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1999 had been hounded by the failures of other government agencies, such as the Land Transportation Office (LTO). And other local initiatives — such as clean-up drives and tree planting activities — have often been criticized for being band-aid solutions to a larger, systemic problem.

In light of these, the Philippine Climate Change Commission (CCC) hosted a second round of consultations early in 2021 with groups from target sectors, including youth groups and the agriculture, waste, industry, transport, forestry, and energy (AWIT-FE) sectors.

Still, the presented draft has a long way to go. During the second round of consultations, various representatives from environmental groups noted that vague wording continued to persist and that there was a lack of transparency when it came to the projected figures.

Addressing the Gaps

At the heart of this problem lies the lack of the inclusion of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) — organizations often composed of or that work closely with people on the field — in the actual NDC development process. In response, these CSOs held a caucus on the last day of consultations on February 12 to draft a position paper outlining their recommendations. This paper would then be submitted to the country’s Climate Change Commission in consideration for the revised draft. Some of the notable comments include:

  • clearer and active communications between Civil Society Organizations and involved government agencies during the NDC development and implementation processes;
  • zeroing on policies and measures that must be undertaken in order to achieve the 75 percent greenhouse gas reduction per high-emitting AWIT-FE sector
  • and ensuring that the measures presented will benefit the Filipino public, not just select sectors — that the calculations and measures provided in the NDCs would also integrate cross-cutting issues, including “poverty alleviation, gender, health, education, biodiversity loss, green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and youth development.”

This hopefully marks a step toward a more sustainable, unified approach to the Philippines’ climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts until 2025. But while the next updated draft might be due in five years, there’s one thing the NDC process can teach us — the importance of keeping alert and making one’s voice heard when it comes to environmental policy.

This article was written by our contributor, Pam Musni.

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