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Philippines’ Tony La Viña on building a global coalition to end climate change

We need to engage citizens in the battle to combat and adapt to climate change.
Tony La Viña: “Blaming each other for causing or not acting on climate change is not right and constructive but speaking truth is power is essential.”

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U.N. climate talks were launched this week with a renewed sense of urgency as officials in the Philippines took tally of the full impact of one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, which slammed into the country’s shores a few days before.

Some observers blamed climate change for the size and scale of the super typhoon — the fourth-most intense tropical cyclone on record — which left thousands of people dead and displaced.

During the opening speeches at the climate summit in Warsaw at Poland’s National Stadium, Yeb Saño, Philippines’ climate change commissioner, announced a hunger strike, stating that he would not eat until a “meaningful outcome is in sight”.

Tony La Viña, lead climate change negotiator for the Philippines since 1997, made reference to Saño’s strike during a Twitter chat hosted by the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network, which called on experts to share their views on how to build a global coalition to end climate change.

La Viña is dean of the School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University in Metro Manila in the Philippines. He is a human rights and environmental lawyer and a member of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) board of directors.

The transcript of La Viña’s contributions to The Guardian newspaper’s website chat is reproduced below:

Hi everyone. I am Tony La Viña from the Philippines. I am participating in this chat from Warsaw where I negotiate the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) and land-use issues for the Philippines. On the question of whether a cross-sectoral movement would make a difference as to how climate change is currently addressed, most definitely it would. Relying on scientists or on governments to do this by themselves has not proven effective. Indigenous peoples, local communities, local governments, others must participate as well to address a universal challenge.

It is clear that we need to engage citizens in the battle to combat and adapt to climate change. I agree that engaging citizens must be done by all the expert communities — from climate scientists to activists to the private sector and government officials.

This should not be a token act though, but actual mechanisms for participation must be developed and implemented. This is particularly true for forest and land-use issues where people and communities are at the center of the resources in question.

The climate expert community must reach out to a wider audience so that effective solutions can be found. That’s why I am very excited about the first Global Landscape Forum that will be held this weekend, November 16-17.

In that forum, a combination of what used to be forest and agriculture days in previous COPs (Conference of the Parties/U.N. climate change conferences), we are shaping the climate and development agenda for forests and agriculture. See http://www.landscapes.org/ for details.

On helping the poor mitigate and adapt to climate change, I think that’s a priority. But the better way of framing this is actually “working with the poor”.

Poor farmers, indigenous peoples, women, local communities and other vulnerable populations should be part of the planning process in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Collaboration must be based on the truth; if we deny that we will not be able to find good and practical solutions

Julie Mollins

If they are passive recipients of aid, it would not work and will be seen as an imposition. Ownership of climate programs by the countries and by the communities is key for success.

Blaming each other for causing or not acting on climate change is not right and constructive but speaking truth is power is essential. Thus we do need to say who is historically responsible and who bears more responsibility.

That’s what the Philippines and many developing countries have consistently said and should continue to say.

Collaboration must be based on the truth; if we deny that we will not be able to find good and practical solutions. The challenge is how to go beyond acknowledging the obvious and actually agreeing on these solutions. it is doable as we have seen in the area of REDD+ where we have actually made a lot of progress.

If we could the same for agriculture by adopting a work program here, that would be good. for example. Another such solution is the loss and damage mechanism, which our delegation and many island and developing country states are pushing. I hope we will make progress on this in Warsaw.

Going back to my point about making progress, I think we have been able to accomplish a lot of work on the intersection of forests and climate. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we need to develop a more comprehensive landscape approach to really nail this down.

But we are getting there and hopefully we will see this progress in the Global Landscape Forum this weekend where scientists, practitioners, and forest and agriculture practitioners and advocates will gather. For those interested in knowing more as well about how much work has been done in the forest and climate area, you might want to look at this link: http://www.forestsclimatechange.org/

The success in climate and forests and developing countries has been possible precisely because we have avoided the blame game between north and south and have taken a practical approach to putting into place incentives for climate change mitigation and adaptation in forests.

While agreement on some technical issues like verification and on an important issue like non-carbon benefits are still being worked on, there is a spirit of collaboration in the UNFCCC (U.N. Framework Convention for Climate Change) negotiations in this area.

The agreement on safeguards was also critical as those who had misgivings about the approach felt they were heard but of course implementation is important.

The fact that REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is being implemented on the ground in a number of countries is also useful as it informs the political negotiations. So lesson number one is to find ways to go beyond the blame game through an incentive-based approach. Lesson number two is to be informed of developments on the ground so that practical solutions are identified.

I need to go now to go back to the negotiations.

I just wanted to end by thanking all of you that expressed your sympathy to the Philippines for what Haiyan has done to our people. I would also like to appeal to all of you for your support this COP (UNFCCC has 195 country members – or parties – and they hold annual Conferences of the Parties) so we achieve three things: a good agreement on a loss and damage mechanism, moving forward in climate finance especially for adaptation, and progress towards a 2015 agreement.

I also would like to personally appeal for support for our lead negotiator Yeb Sano who is fasting for a just outcome of this COP. Solidarity fasts and statements of support are welcome.

It is clear to us that this disaster, which has effected the central part of the Philippines which has some of our most beautiful islands and gentlest of peoples, will happen again and will get even worse in the future unless we win this fight over climate change.

While I believe that adaptation must be our priority, I am also mindful that we cannot keep on adapting if climate change continues to be exponential. I fear that adaptation will never be able to catch us. Climate justice is important not just because of compensation but because it can also be a deterrent to behavior.

This is why a global coalition of citizens is so important to get the job done. What must be done is so enormous that it cannot be done by governments alone.

Neither adaptation or mitigation can be done by governments alone. It’s not enough to just work on reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels. How we address and use – forestry and agriculture – is critical You cannot leave all these tasks to national government agencies or to expert communities. We are all in this together as a global community and must act as one.

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