December 15, 2017

Bonn Climate Conference: Thinking Local, Acting Global

By: Dr. Antonio La Viña, Atty. Jose Andres Canivel and Atty. Nicole Torres

Four years ago, in 2013, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened for its annual Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw, Poland. It was a difficult and challenging time because Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda had just devastated the Philippines. The Philippine delegation was still under shock but we rose up to the occasion. Led by then Climate Change Commission Vice-Chair Lucille Sering and inspired by the eloquence and passion of our chief negotiator, Commissioner Yeb Saño, our negotiators became one of the most effective in that meeting which, among others, produced an agreement on the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage. The Warsaw agreements later paved the way for the adoption of the Paris Agreement two years later, in 2015.

This year’s COP in Bonn, Germany is chaired by Fiji, and it is the first UNFCCC meeting under the presidency of a Pacific Island nation. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has emphasized the need for a global response to the threats of climate change, with governments at every level, civil society, the private sector and ordinary citizens, meeting the challenge head on and together.

Collaboration is a major theme in Bonn. When the United States announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and renegotiate its terms, US state governors and city mayors stepped up with pledges to cut their local carbon emissions. Other countries, including large emitters like China and India, have also persevered with their own actions to implement long-term carbon reduction plans. Businesses have likewise pitched in with their own commitments to keep the world on track to limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

For vulnerable countries like the Philippines, this united front cannot come soon enough. Already, the threats that climate change poses to the ability of people and communities to access and enjoy adequate food, clean water, safe housing and a dignified life have become all too real. Filipino farmers are preparing for the hot and dry conditions of El Niño, even as fishing communities in the eastern part of the country have yet to fully recover from the floods and storm surges brought by Haiyan/Yolanda.

These actual experiences of communities and people on the ground emphasize the unpredictability of climate change phenomena and the severity of its impacts. But it is also these local experiences, knowledge and analyses that should be amplified in the international arena, and eventually chart the way forward for climate action.

A focus on forests and communities

The Paris Agreement acknowledges the link between climate change and human rights. In its Preamble, countries are called on to respect and promote human rights in the climate actions that they develop and implement. The rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, persons with disabilities and children, as well gender equality and the empowerment of women are especially emphasized. Because of this, human rights and the rights of vulnerable groups should be a consideration in all climate actions that are undertaken under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement Preamble also recognizes the value of forests as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases It further notes the importance of ensuring the integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity when undertaking climate change actions.

Conserving and enhancing forests is a critical component of climate change mitigation. The Paris Agreement encourages parties to support or implement activities under the REDD+ framework, which should provide incentives for activities in developing countries that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserve and sustainably manage forests and enhance forest carbon stocks.

It also affirms the importance of providing incentives for non-carbon benefits, acknowledging that in addition to their value as carbon sinks and reservoirs, forests also provide habitats for biodiversity, sources for community livelihoods and key ecosystem services.

The Paris Agreement also recognizes the importance of avoiding and minimizing the loss and damage that occurs because of climate change. The negative effects of climate change have slowly but inexorably become more and more evident; climate change mitigation actions can no longer prevent climate change, but are now focused on controlling the degree to which it will impact future generations.

Adaptation measures may no longer be enough to respond to extreme weather events (such as typhoons, droughts and heat waves) and slow onset events (such as sea level rise and land and forest degradation). Enhanced action and support are needed to be able to address these adverse effects, especially for developing countries which are often most at risk.

The agenda in Bonn

This year, countries will continue negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Questions related to land use, human rights and sustainable development are expected to come up in several discussions.

Some of the issues on the agenda include:

Food, Agriculture and Forestry

Agriculture is a challenging topic at the negotiations. The sector is a large emitter of greenhouse gases, but is also critical to achieving food security and economic growth. The Philippines and other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) especially depend on agricultural production for employment and income.

In Bonn, ASEAN member countries can be expected to deliberate common positions on climate change impacts on agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, and food security. These will be guided by the Vision of ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry towards 2025, a strategic plan that was developed in 2016. In line with this Vision, ASEAN negotiators are likely to emphasize equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth, lessening poverty and ensuring food security, increasing resilience to climate change and natural disasters and achieving sustainable forest management.


The Philippines developed a National REDD+ Strategy in 2010, and was among the earliest countries in the world to do so. Readiness activities have been implemented, focusing on policy research, capacity building, stakeholder consultations and the establishment of pilot and demonstration sites. The National Strategy was recently updated, but there is still much that needs to be done at the national and local levels to move forward with REDD+ and realize its potential benefits for Philippine forest communities.

In Bonn, deliberations on institutional arrangements or the need for potential governance alternatives to coordinate support for REDD+ implementation are on the agenda. These discussions will build on a series of meetings between countries, United Nations bodies, NGOs and other stakeholders.

Loss and Damage

Loss and damage from the negative impacts of climate change are a critical concern for vulnerable countries like the Philippines. We can expect extreme weather events to become more frequent, intense and destructive. At the same time, many low-lying coastal cities are already threatened by rising sea levels that will likely displace thousands.

The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established in 2013. It enhances and coordinates approaches to address impacts of extreme weather events and slow onset events in developing countries that are vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. It is facilitated by an Executive Committee, which has crafted a work plan setting out activities for the next five years.

In Bonn, the annual report of the Executive Committee will be considered. This report will inform conclusions for the COP to discuss and adopt.


Women often face barriers that constrain the exercise and enjoyment of their rights. The norms, practices and traditions in many communities limit women’s access to educational and economic opportunities and participation in social and political affairs. Because of these existing vulnerabilities, women become even more at risk in the wake of climate disasters.

Recognizing this, elements of a gender action plan will be considered at COP23. This action plan is expected to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates as negotiations on the UNFCCC proceed.

Reporting and Transparency

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to submit individual commitments on actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the long term, while taking into account their national circumstances and capabilities. These commitments are considered the countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or their plans toward meeting the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The Philippines first submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in 2015. At the time, the country committed to undertake carbon emissions reductions of 70 percent by 2030, relative to its Business as Usual scenario for 2000-2030, conditioned on the extent of financial resources, technology development and technology transfer that would become available. However, these targets are not yet final and a review process has been initiated to make adjustments to these commitments if found necessary.

Discussions in Bonn are expected to come out with guidance on the features of the NDCs. Such guidance is needed to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding of the information that the countries submit, and to elaborate how the NDCs will be accounted for.

Thinking local, acting global

It is often said that many of the world’s problems can be addressed by “thinking globally and acting locally.” This conventional approach assumes that great and complicated problems can be addressed by understanding that the concerns of individual countries are often interlinked, and translating this understanding into tangible actions that can be executed at smaller scales in countries. This includes, for example, building institutions and developing policies and approaches at the international level, and then applying corresponding solutions in local settings.
Still, international discussions on climate change can feel very distant from the everyday realities experienced by people and communities. The UNFCCC process and all its moving parts are often slow, confusing and sometimes frustrating, in the face of worsening climate change threats that many experience on a day-today basis.

It is thus important to keep people and communities at the heart of all the negotiations – thinking locally and acting globally. Local knowledge, experiences and analyses should inform discussions at the international level. Actions to address climate change and to respond to its threats must necessarily be a collaborative effort. For a country of great diversity like the Philippines, this means highlighting the voices that are usually at the margins: Indigenous peoples, rural farmers and fisherfolk, women, the youth and the elderly and other vulnerable sectors possess a wealth of local ideas, practices and expertise, which should be considered a critical element of, and resource for international policymaking.

“Thinking locally” should drive global action on climate change, and ensure that any decisions reached will benefit real people and communities. By thinking locally and acting globally, this year’s meeting in Bonn can be about more than high-level country positions championed by delegates and negotiators who will make the trip there. Many people and communities with an interest in the results of the COP may not be in Bonn this year, but efforts can be made to ensure that their voices are heard within and outside those conference rooms.

About the Authors: Dr. Antonio La Viña is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Forest Foundation Philippines. Atty. Jose Andres Canivel is the Executive Director of the Forest Foundation Philippines. Atty. Nicole Torres is the Senior Rights and Resources Specialist at Parabukas, a consulting firm specializing in areas where law and policy intersect with environment and development.

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