Category Archives: Shades of Green

Highs and lows

I was part of a three-person team from Inquirer.net who covered the climate change negotiations in Paris, in December 2015. Belatedly uploading the two columns I wrote there, plus one I wrote before, brought back strong, Seine-filled memories.

“In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol …”
“But five factors suggest that … Paris will succeed.”
“I asked him to say a little more about the central spiritual question.”

Now might be a good time for a quick summing-up.

Our team — Kristine Sabillo, Sara Pacia, and me — wrote over 50 dispatches, posted dozens of tweets, produced several video stories and infographics. Back home, we were backstopped by NewsLab lead Matikas Santos and reporter Marc Cayabyab, and by web designer Sephy Garibay and artist Mok Pusong.

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The special site Sephy created featured our Media 21 Asia project on stronger storms and the coping mechanisms of two coastal regions — as well as a Dateline Paris section that allowed us to update our special site several times a day during the Paris negotiations. (All the dispatches are here.)

“The sound we heard, then … must have been a controlled explosion …”
“In a move certain to raise the Philippines’ profile …”
“The Ice Watch does nothing but melt.”

The two-week coverage had many highs and lows; seeing actual Arctic ice melting in the heart of Paris (in front of the Pantheon, in the art installation called Ice Watch), hit me like a great shock. It was many highs and lows, all at once.

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Column: Climate and ‘the greatest spiritual crisis of our time’


Published on December 15, 2015.

PARIS—One striking difference between the climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009 and those that ended on Saturday night in this city was the new prominence given to the moral dimension. In the six years since the last attempt to forge a universal and binding agreement to arrest global warming failed, evidence of the serious consequences of climate change has mounted, putting a new emphasis on the vulnerability of the poor and the unprepared.

To the arguments from politics, economics and science have been added moral or spiritual imperatives. Pope Francis’ much-heralded encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” has been invoked many times on the road to a Paris agreement. His special envoy to the Paris negotiations, Cardinal Peter Turkson, spoke often and pointedly about meeting the needs of the climate-vulnerable with compassion and solidarity. Other spiritual leaders also made themselves heard.

Continue reading

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Column: ‘COP21: Un succès est-il possible?’

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Published on December 1, 2015.

PARIS—The question, raised again and again on French TV hours before the climate change talks in this city commence, can be understood even by those of us who cannot read or speak French. Is success possible, for the ambitious 21st Conference of Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change?

The ambition, in procedural terms, is for the 195 countries and the European Union (the “parties”) to agree on a new, legally binding treaty that will limit greenhouse gas emissions below the 2-degree Celsius threshold. In substantive terms, it is nothing less than to save the planet.

Is success possible? The last time the international community came close to reaching agreement on a new treaty applicable to both developed and developing economies, to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. But that conference ended in turmoil and uncertainty, in large part because of the contest of wills between China and the United States, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Continue reading

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Column: Paris, and violence as ‘secret soul of the sacred’

Published on November 24, 2015.

The killing spree in Paris the other week has concentrated our attention, yet again, on the fragility of the human condition. Death, we remember of a sudden, comes like a terrorist in the night.

The murders in the fabled city made a heavy and terrible impression on many people around the world—not because the citizens of Paris are better than those of Beirut or more deserving of our sympathy than the residents of Baghdad, but simply because more people are familiar with the City of Light. France has been the most visited country for years, and Paris—the center of the European world for a good part of three centuries, and an enduring global icon of culture and civilization—remains among the most visited cities in the world.

In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy captures the Russian aristocracy’s obsession with the French, and Paris, even as his sprawling country is sucked into the Napoleonic wars. In the letters Rizal wrote his family during his first European sojourn, his fascination with the world capital was obvious, like a schoolboy crush. In his second European period, he conducted himself like a seasoned lover, his affection for the great city sure and familiar and practical.

In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol—and when the news spread of the attacks the other week, many of us saw that image, personal to many, bathed in unexpected blood. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte, the Pope–and the planet

Published on November 3, 2015.

I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.

In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.

Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) Continue reading

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A teaser video

A series of climate change special reports by the Inquirer Group, coming next month.

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Les bidonvilles de Manille

Last November, the Japan-based correspondent of Le Monde, Philippe Mesmer, spent several days in the Philippines researching Ondoy/Pepeng stories. Because of something he thought I wrote, his host set up a meeting with me; I also invited him to an Inquirer Briefing on the great flood. 

Last week, he sent me copies of the two stories Le Monde published. They are in French, and because my scanty knowledge of Romance languages can only take me so far (in other words, all nuance escapes me), I have had to “read” them in Google translations.

But in case a French reader happens to drop by (in the wooly world of the Internet, one never knows), I thought it might be an interesting exercise to re-publish (with Philippe’s permission) at least one of the stories here. (With links to the online translations.)

Dans les bidonvilles de Manille, où six millions de pauvres survivent Continue reading

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Column: ‘Why is China acting this way?’

Published on December 22, 2009.

COPENHAGEN—THE QUESTION IS THIRD ON a list of eight, proposed in a fit of charity by the Washington Post last Friday, on the last day of the contentious UN Climate Conference. I think it captures nicely the easy, often unremarked assumption of the governments of the developed world, and reflected in coverage of much of the Western press, that China was the stumbling block to the ultimate success of the climate talks.

It wasn’t. China was certainly a crucial player, one of only two countries in my view with an effective veto on the entire process, but to suggest that the United States or the European Union served the world’s needs, while the Chinese acted merely to protect their national interest, is to grossly misrepresent reality. Continue reading

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Column: ‘On the new and never previously seen star’

Published on December 15, 2009.

COPENHAGEN—IT SEEMS LIKE A NO-BRAINER. If the prevailing scientific consensus points to human responsibility for much of global warming, then mankind must do something to stop it. That is the hope that animates summits like the 15th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, now on its second and crucial week in this sunlight-starved, metal-gray city.

But humanity is divided, or organized, into nation-states, and it is a truism that nations negotiate with their national interests in mind. This is the reality that makes the negotiations in the Bella Center, the sprawling conference venue, both necessary and intricately difficult.

The United States is a nation-state, only more so. Continue reading

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RP punching above its weight?

I thought this letter to the editor, from Antonio Hill of Oxfam, deserves all the boost it can get. Met Hill, the group’s senior campaigner on climate change issues, at the newsroom two weeks ago, and then again at the ADB head office, before his keynote at the closing plenary session of the Clean Energy Forum. (He was sitting at the back of the hall, typing away at his laptop, working on his speech.)

The letter, a response to an earlier news story in the Inquirer (which, unfortunately, I cannot find online), reveals something about both the Philippines’ negotiating tack, and Oxfam’s language of assertive diplomacy.

Oxfam clarifies RP’s role in climate talks

I write in response to the article  “RP urged to join alliance to reduce carbon emissions” (Inquirer, 6/16/09)  to clarify Oxfam’s position, and to provide background information that is essential for understanding the performance and positions of the Philippine government delegation to the intergovernmental climate change negotiations, going on under the auspices of the United Nations.

First, I wish to emphasize Oxfam’s general view that the Philippine government played a positive and progressive role in the negotiations. What is not clear from the article—and what citizens need to know—is that the Philippines was the first country to put forward a concrete proposal (early this year) for the mid-term emissions cuts necessary from each individual industrialized country. This proposal reflected an even higher level of ambition than the proposal from South Africa, Brazil, China, India and other developing countries in the most recent negotiation session. Having such a bold proposal on the table early in the negotiating process has helped embolden the position of other developing countries, and also has filled a critical gap by setting out for industrialized countries such as the European Union, Japan and the United States the level of ambition that they need to be aiming for.

Second, Filipinos need to know that their delegation has consistently played a central role in the alliance of developing countries known as the G77 & China—another point that doesn’t come through clearly in the article. Like all countries negotiating for a stronger international climate regime, the Philippines forges its strategies, tactics and alliances on specific issues based on its specific national circumstances and interests. No doubt, the choice not to join the specific bloc of countries pushing for a 40-percent cut from industrialized countries by 2020 at the recent round of talks in Bonn reflects carefully considered judgment. More importantly, it is not necessarily incompatible with wider alliance-building efforts with these or other developing countries that work under the G77 & China bloc in the run-up to Copenhagen.

The negotiations are far from over, and much remains to be done. Securing a fair and safe agreement in Copenhagen is critical to reduce risks and increase support for poor people, who are already suffering most the climate impacts despite being least responsible for them. The Philippines is playing a critical role and should continue to do so.

—ANTONIO HILL,
senior policy adviser on climate change,
Oxfam International

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