Global Politics

Rich countries need to stop being hypocrites on climate change, Philippines president says

A boy pushes his bike through a flooded road after heavy rain in Candaba, Pampanga province, Philippines on Dec. 17, 2015.

A boy pushes his bike through a flooded road after heavy rain in Candaba, Pampanga province, Philippines on Dec. 17, 2015.

Credit:
Czar Dancel/Reuters

The president of the Philippines doesn’t dispute the apocalyptic nature of global warming. After all, his homeland is among the countries predicted to suffer most from the coming heat waves and hellish storms.

But he wants to make one point abundantly clear. These horrors of climate change are the fault of big nations, such as China and India, and rich ones such as the United States.

So President Rodrigo Duterte is now issuing an ultimatum to nations that have been “destroying the climate.”

You can pay poor countries (like the Philippines) to forego cheap, dirty fossil fuels. Or, he says, our politicians will chuck your United Nations-brokered climate change treaty in the trash.

“China, America, Europe, they continued to emit their poisonous fumes in the name of prosperity,” Duterte says, according to the Philippine Star. “There really is climate change. But who caused it? Not us.”

Duterte delights in shocking statements. His ability to rile up media — with his wild takes on rape, drugs, guns and his own sexual prowess — is positively Trump-like.

But even against this backdrop of outrageous commentary, Duterte’s ongoing views on climate change are startling.

Remember that UN climate change agreement signed by nearly 200 countries? All of them agreeing at a Paris summit late last year that the rise in average global temperature, compared to the 1800s, should not exceed 2 degrees celsius?

Duterte says that treaty is “stupid.” And he claims to have said as much to an ambassador’s face. (The diplomat, whom he did not name, hails from a country Duterte described as a highly industrialized polluter.)

Duterte contends that the Philippines, without proper funding from top polluting nations, must junk the treaty and turn to dirty but cheap energy.

It’s a mistake to write this off as bombast from an impoverished island nation that churns out less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

When it comes to climate change diplomacy, the Philippines has clout. It leads a league of 40-plus countries that are highly vulnerable to global warming. The country is known for appealing to the morality of top polluters: China, Russia, the US and India.

Moreover, the Philippines “was a true prizefighter for the Paris agreement,” says Malini Mehra, chief executive of GLOBE International, an association of lawmakers in more than 80 countries focused on sustainable development.

At the negotiations — which preceded Duterte’s late-June inauguration — the Philippines showed “extraordinary and articulate leadership,” Mehra says. “This is why President Duterte’s remarks have been puzzling and come across as jarring to many.”

“They’re a throwback to a time when blame games characterized the climate debate,” she says, “and political polarization along the north-south lines was the norm.”

These days, Mehra says, the vibe between big polluters and vulnerable countries has become less divisive and more “we’re in it together.”

Still, Duterte is tapping a visceral frustration felt in less-developed nations, which sometimes chafe under more powerful countries’ demands.

The former head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, has said that poorer countries are “putting the richest to shame” by demanding 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 — a goal that would require massive funding from the West.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth International has previously accused top polluters of trying to “water down proposals [at UN talks] that were nowhere near strong enough to begin with. It is preposterous.”

And even Duterte’s scorn can’t top a Sudanese negotiator who, in 2009, compared a climate change deal to a “suicide pact ... based on values that funneled 6 million people in Europe into furnaces” — an allusion to the Holocaust.

During treaty negotiations, much of the wrangling ends up centering on how much wealthy, polluting countries should spend on climate-related projects in smaller, less affluent countries.

The current agreement: by 2020, at least $100 billion per year. So far, as of 2014, donor countries were spending $62 million each year on this cause.

Officials from South Africa to Brazil to India have all previously stated that this isn’t nearly enough.

Unlike Duterte, they use the stale language of diplomacy. They register “disappointment” over rich countries’ “lack of any clear road map” and failure to provide a “flow of technical support.”

But their message to nations like the US is similar. If you don’t pay us to stay green, you’re driving us toward more cheap, dirty energy.

As for the Philippines, its goal is to cut carbon emissions by 70 percent — but only if it receives foreign cash and guidance. And while UN circles find Duterte’s comments brash, even environmentalists in his own country seem receptive to parts of his message.

The Philippines shouldn’t scrap the latest UN treaty, says Frances Dela Cruz of the Philippines-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

But, she says, “We understand President Duterte’s sentiments ... to instead put the spotlight on the hypocrisy of industrialized nations.”

The Philippines may be able to skip the coal-belching phase and head straight to a future powered by renewable energy, she says. But not without wealthier nations offering aid with a “sense of urgency.”

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