MANILA, Philippines — The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is sending a team of experts to Tubbataha Reef to assess the damage wrought by the grounding of the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, in January.
This was confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, director of the Unesco Dream Center in Manila and wife of Heherson Alvarez, head of the Climate Change Commission, an agency attached to the Office of the President.
Guidote-Alvarez said Unesco’s World Heritage Center was also organizing a “five-day meeting of marine experts aimed at strengthening conservation and management practices at Tubbataha Reef National Park.”
“The meeting will be held in Puerto Princesa City from May 20 to 24,” she said, quoting Dr. Hubert Gijzen, director of the Unesco Regional Science Board for Asia and the Pacific and Unesco representative to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste and Brunei.
Gijzen apparently responded to Heherzon Alvarez’s call for an “independent assessment” by Unesco of the damage caused by the Guardian after it got stuck on the reef for over two months.
Tubbataha Reef is located in the Sulu Sea 98 nautical miles southeast of Palawan.
Alvarez, a former senator, early this year said Unesco “would be in the best position to estimate the required amount for the total recovery of the damaged reef and the amount of work and time this will involve.”
Tubbataha Reef, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in December 1993, is home to hundreds of species of marine life and serves as a rest area for birds and turtles, among other animals.
The US Navy vessel, which was removed in late March, damaged more than 1,500 square meters of the reef, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), which operates the marine park, said it would be involved in the damage assessment.
The US government has announced its commitment to rehabilitate the portion of the reef that was damaged by the Guardian, but has kept its discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs confidential. It has not discussed the matter with the TMO.
The WHC in the French capital expressed serious concern over the Guardian’s grounding, calling it a “tragic incident.”
In a letter to Philippine Ambassador to France Cristina Ortega, WHC Director Kishore Rao said they were “very sorry to hear about the tragic incident.”
Shortly after the Guardian was cut up and removed from Tubbataha in pieces in late March, a Chinese fishing vessel got stranded in another portion of the reef in early April. That vessel, the Min Yong Lu, was floated after its illegal cargo of anteaters was removed. No mention of that stranding and the damage it caused was made by Unesco.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
29 April 2013
by Jerry E. Esplanada
Former Senator Heherson Alvarez thinks that the world is so close to what is known as the “tipping point” where even the food chain will be directly affected.
He mentioned a UN report that cites the Philippines as the third most vulnerable country with regard to the impact of climate change, mainly because of the country’s geographical location and nature as an archipelago.
In that 2007 study led by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Alvarez cited the following: it was concluded in the report that carbon dioxide is the culprit of warmer climates. At that time, the earth had warmed up by 1.4 degrees centigrade and it was estimated that a tipping point would occur with an additional 2 degrees. He further explained that the tipping point would lead to hotter climates, bleaching of corals, plankton (fish food) dying, fish also dying from lack of food and eventually humans not having enough fish and protein supply.
He thus reiterated the drastic need for carbon to be reduced and alternative energy such as wind, solar, and hydro to be used.
According to Alvarez, the Philippines is actually a low carbon consumer at around 1.5 to 3 tons per person while the United States uses around 12 to 14 tons per person. Unfortunately, the Philippines is the first victim of global warming since the country experiences numerous weather disasters such as typhoons.
“Let’s aim for zero carbon,” he says. He gave the example of Costa Rica that uses predominantly clean energy that they plan to reach that target in a few year’s time.
“There is a dominant minority that is profiting from the old system,” laments the former senator with regard to the Philippine scenario. He feels that many decisions are made to satisfy short-term goals.
He mentions that the Maria Cristina hydroelectric plant in Mindanao currently lacks around 500 megawatts and the immediate solution found was to use more fossil fuel energy. He believes that investing in a clean energy water turbine may be the better path. He explains that it could take a few years to pay off the investment but in the long run, the cost of running the electricity would be zero.
“Long term disaster planning should prevail over short term benefits. Profits should be drawn on long term social calculations.” Alvarez admits that there is a wide difference between the cost of electricity obtained from coal versus clean energy, with coal being the cheaper alternative. Thus, there is a need to make real sacrifices in the beginning.
He also believes that the feed-in-tariff is not beneficial in the long run: “Feed-in-tariff would be self defeating. It’s restrictive for the full entry of alternative fuel especially if there’s a breakthrough.”
In summary, Alvarez concludes that there is little time left before the full impact of climate change will be felt. The clean energy industry is a completely new arena that few people even understand the dynamics. And yet the clock is ticking.
Former Senator Alvarez is acknowledged as the father of the climate change movement in the Philippines. He is a commissioner of the Philippine Climate Change Commission that is headed by President Aquino. The group is tasked to formulate policies on climate change for the Philippine government.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
11 May 2013
by Ma. Esther Salcedo - Posadas
We speak with Claudia Salerno, the top negotiator for Venezuela at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha, who is known for her dramatic action at the conference three years ago in Copenhagen when she bloodied her fist while banging it on the table, demanding to be heard. She says her main concern this year is that new commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international climate agreement, will be "meaningless." "The first thing that countries need to understand when they want to succeed in this process is to understand that this is not an environmental process," Salerno says. "This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries that are doing well economically, or even doing bad, to do the necessary changes in their economics." [includes rush transcript]
Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s vice minister of foreign affairs for North America and special presidential envoy for climate change. She is head of the Venezuelan delegation at the U.N. climate change summit (COP 18) in Doha.
Heherson Alvarez, climate delegate from the Philippines and a member of the Philippines Climate Change Commission.
AMY GOODMAN: Claudia Salerno, you are the chief climate negotiator for Venezuela here. You are famous for, three years ago in Copenhagen, hitting your fists against the table to get attention, to be recognized, and bloodying your hand. Talk about what’s happening today, and take it back to three years ago in Copenhagen, why you were so distressed.
CLAUDIA SALERNO: I said that I strongly consider that the things that we are living and facing now in this process in 2012 are the consequence of what happened exactly three years ago. Three years ago, one state actually said that he was going to take the lead to transform the whole system and the whole regime of climate change, because it didn’t fit them. So, one single country—
AMY GOODMAN: That country?
CLAUDIA SALERNO: Being the United States, the only country that is not party of the Kyoto Protocol, because it didn’t fit them. They needed to destroy the whole thing to try to accommodate the regime to what would be nice for their economies, their argument being always not what countries are going to do what, but which economies. This is an economical negotiation. The first thing that countries need to understand when they want to succeed in this process is to understand that this is not an environmental process. This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries that are doing well economically, or even doing bad, to do the necessary changes in their economics.
AMY GOODMAN: What is happening now? What are the key issues that aren’t being addressed? And is there going to be an agreement at the end of today or tomorrow? Clearly, the talks are going later than was planned.
CLAUDIA SALERNO: I think in the previous two years, we already learned that presidents do always the best to try to have an agreement and a clapping situation. They were even saying last year that decisions were making by ovation and not by consensus. So we know that some kind of deal is going to be produced. The question now is, what kind of deal? The main issue for developing countries being ensuring a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol—now, having the text in our hands since this morning, our main concern is that we are going to have an unmeaningful second commitment period, an empty one.
AMY GOODMAN: Which means?
CLAUDIA SALERNO: Which means that the commitments that are there are not sufficient to keep the temperatures stopping from escalating. So we are actually heading towards an area of 4 or 6 degrees of temperature, even when in Cancun we agree a global goal and a global target for everybody to reach, at the most, 2 degrees.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance. Two degrees is what people were aiming for, which is 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and the World Bank came out with a report that said we could be leading to a 4 to 6 degree increased temperature world by the end of the century, which is 7.4 degrees—is 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The issue of markets, Claudia Salerno?
CLAUDIA SALERNO: The issue of markets is the worst part of this whole package. What we have seen lately is this tendency of actually trying to convert and to transform what it was created in Kyoto at the beginning as a way to help developed countries to achieve their commitments. Now it became actually mechanisms to take profit of a certain kind of pollution that is profitable for developed countries. So what they consider now a business that is interesting is actually to keep a climate regime that will allow them—that’s what they are intending, the whole two weeks—that will allow them actually to make trading of whatever is called rights to pollute. So what we are seeing with a lot of concern is this capacity that they want to create of mechanisms that will allow them to buy the right to pollute to a certain level and then to exchange, among them, their rights to contaminate the land.
AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela is perhaps the largest oil producer in the world. You’re a member of OPEC.
CLAUDIA SALERNO: Yes, we are. And we are also—we have been recognized by OPEC last year as having the largest proven reserves in the world. And that creates for us a huge responsibility. But I have to say that even with those large numbers and large quantities of exportation, our country only represents 0.48 percent of the total emissions in the world, because Venezuela is also an Amazonian country, so we do have more than 50 million hectares of virgin forests that we are—and they will remain untouched for us, so we are extremely green country with a very old tradition of ecological and very respectful approach for environment.
AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment, both of yours, in 30 seconds of the role of the United States here right now, beginning with Heherson Alvarez.
HEHERSON ALVAREZ: Well, the United States, on electing a president like Obama, gave some signs that attention would be given to climate change. But that was not done. There were some big problems, so they said, about their economy, and Obama attended to priorities. But, of late, he said that he’s going to situate one of the three pillars of his forthcoming administration, situate that he’s going to provide for a safe world, referring to climate change management policy for the American generation, for American people. We’re awaiting that signal. And we’re also hopeful that there are signs from the business community to band together in the manner of a foundation, addressing problems of climate change, for we have many setbacks. The intervention methods alone that is being defined, and no matter how clearly, by the organized community of the world, led by the United Nations, is insufficient. The bureaucracy is too slow. There is too much debate. And even when the science is clear, the science is not being applied with determination.
AMY GOODMAN: And Claudia Alvarez—and Claudia Salerno?
CLAUDIA SALERNO: I will be very quick. I think that negotiators here from the U.S. delegation seem not to be aware of the Obama statement when he took power after elections. He actually mentioned climate change after Sandy hurricane, and it seems like there is a de-link between the promises made by the president and the kind of behaviors that their delegates are having here.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Heherson Alvarez, climate delegate from the Philippines and member of the Philippines Presidential Climate Change Commission, and Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s vice minister of foreign affairs for North America, special presidential envoy for climate change here in Doha.
When we come back, a Native American environmental leader, Tom Goldtooth, and we’ll be joined by an Indian activist who has been coming to these conventions for more than a decade. Stay with us.
07 December 2012
(Editor’s Note: Heherson T. Alvarez is a former senator and Cabinet secretary. He is currently a commissioner of the Climate Change Commission. He is a member of the Philippine delegation to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP 18 in Doha, Qatar.)
As the world awaited the arrival of “Baby Seven Billion,” who demographers say is likely to be born in Asia, the international community remained unable to make any significant headway on pending vital environmental issues at the recently concluded Doha Climate Change Conference in Qatar.
The proceedings were almost as arid as the Qatari environment. A progressive emirate on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is an extraordinary country, with oil and gas reserves, as well as a gross domestic product that is consistently ranked among the highest in the world.
Qatar is smaller than Cebu Island. Its native population approximates Cebu City’s 800,000. And Doha, the country’s capital, is a gleaming modern metropolis more impressive than Makati City.
Working a full-day meeting, formally known as the 18th Conference of the Parties, or COP 18, under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was a collective failure of imagination.
As I emplaned back to the Philippines, the 24-hour overtime produced the Doha Climate Gateway, which simply extends the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, when a more global emissions reduction agreement will take effect. This result fell far short of the goals defined in Durban.
Last year in Durban, South Africa, the parties agreed to work toward a new protocol or some other legally binding instrument to replace the Kyoto agreement of 1997.
The new agreement was originally expected to be concluded by 2015, but this goal now appears quite tentative.
There was, however, a small consolation for the delegates from 194 nations taking part in the Doha conference, with an estimated 16,000 participants.
As in Durban last year, Doha ended with a commitment to extend the Kyoto Protocol with the aim of laying the ground for a new agreement to be finalized by 2015.
It is, to me, an iffy proposition.
First, the Kyoto Protocol has the support of nations that produce less than 15 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and therefore cannot have a radical impact on the threat of climate change.
Second, while the Doha conferees agreed on far-reaching actions to reduce climate-altering emissions, they neglected to specify what exactly these actions should be. They merely stated an aim to “identify and explore in 2013 options for a range of actions to close the pre-2020 ambition gap.”
As part of the Philippine contingent, I pushed for the inclusion of black soot or carbon in the UNFCCC’s category of harmful emissions. By doing so, I believe it will qualify the Philippines for future UN and private funding assistance since our cities are polluted daily by black soot generated by diesel-driven public utility vehicles.
Commissioner Yeb Sano, my colleague in the Climate Change Commission, made an impassioned plea for the convention to come to grips with the reality of climate change, citing the death and destruction of Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao.
In the end, the body responded by expressing “grave concern” over the widening gap between what countries have promised to do to reduce emissions and the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Division of nations
In effect, the acrimonious and long-standing division of nations into “industrialized perpetrators and developing-world victims” will continue to simmer.
It was this division that assigned pollution reduction targets to advanced nations but none to developing countries, including the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China.
Rejecting this division, the US refused to sign the Kyoto treaty.
In diplomatic parlance, the president of the conference, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah of Qatar, prudently described the agreement reached as “a gateway to the future” and the starting point for a new global treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol.
While UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres echoed the same sentiments, she ominously admitted that “current pledges are not sufficient to ensure that the global average temperature does not rise more than another 2 degrees.”
In fact, under current conditions the world would be unable to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from preindustrial times.
This was not reassuring to Kieren Keke, foreign minister of Nauru and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, in any way.
Fearful that small island nations like Nauru will be pummeled out of existence by unimaginable impacts of climate change, Keke labeled the Doha package “deeply deficient.”
Delegates of a few wealthy countries, including the United States, made concrete financial pledges for adaptation aid over the next few years.
But additional significant pledges do not appear to be forthcoming.
The developed nations postponed a resolution of the dispute over providing billions of dollars in aid to countries most heavily affected by climate change.
While it is true that industrial nations have pledged some $100 billion a year by 2020 for this purpose, they offered no plans on how they will achieve this.
Astute delegates pointed out that Doha did not “produce even the barest outline of what that new agreement would look like, leaving those questions for future meetings.”
Others angrily contended that while the convention dealt with the concept of loss and damage from extreme weather events, it did not create a mechanism to handle such aid.
Lack of political will
The Doha conference is a strong indication that governments around the world, despite a formal treaty and 20 years of arduous negotiations, still lack the political will to effectively address the threat of climate change.
In contrast, the most effective actions to date have been taken at national and local levels in pursuit of aggressive emissions reduction programs.
For instance, while the United States has yet to adapt a comprehensive approach to climate change, the Obama administration has put in place a significant auto emissions reduction program and a plan to regulate carbon dioxide from new power plants.
Some countries, notably EU members, Australia and South Korea, have made significant initiatives in controlling a problem that scientists say is growing worse and getting faster than predicted a few years ago.
Researchers maintain that, over all, global emissions jumped 3 percent in 2011 and were expected to jump another 2.6 percent in 2012.
Their calculations show that emissions are gradually falling in some of the most advanced countries, reflecting conscious efforts to shift to various adaptation and mitigation programs.
Unfortunately, the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than offset by the high growth in developing countries like China and India and the continued dependency on coal and fossil fuels.
The Global Carbon Project, a network of scientists that tracks emissions, asserts that emissions continue to increase so rapidly that an “international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable.”
The pessimists at Doha found a voice in Habib Maalouf of Al-Safir, a leading newspaper in the Middle East, who saw that national economic interests took priority over the fight against global warming.
Maalouf put it succinctly: “A world subject to the dictates of a market economy based on competition can never hope to resolve a global issue that requires cooperation. This is why, year after year, we see demonstrated the impossibility of reaching binding agreements.”
But a new optimism sparkled, too, at the summit.
“What this meeting reinforced is that while this is an important forum, it is not the only one in which progress can and must be made,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, the director of the international climate programs at the Environmental Defense Fund.
As Haverkamp spoke, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was setting an exemplary alternative. Clinton, who did not go to Doha, started a project called the “Climate and Clean Air Coalition” to deal with black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants that have an inordinately powerful impact on the climate but dissipate far more quickly than carbon dioxide.
There is no doubt that the struggle against climate change will take the collective will of the international community. But I wager that that factor will not exist until there is a concert of conscience among nations and among world leaders.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
31 December 2012
by Heherson T. Alvarez
MANILA, Philippines—The government plans to modify the engines of some 500,000 diesel-fuelled jeepneys plying the streets of Metro Manila in an ambitious effort to reduce the country’s emissions of soot or “black carbon.”
The Climate Change Commission said on Wednesday it was planning to introduce a P26-billion program to be sourced from international private sector for the modification of the engines of the jeepneys over a five-year period.
“Diesel-driven jeepneys, buses and trucks are responsible for 70 percent of black soot emissions in our urban centers,” Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez said in a statement emanating from Doha, Qatar, where he leads the Philippine delegation in ongoing climate change talks. The talks are actually the 18th conference of parties in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The plan is to retrofit the jeepneys using Australian technology that will reduce soot emissions by as much as 80 percent, he elaborated in a telephone interview.
Alvarez, a former senator and environment secretary, cited a study by the Asian Development Bank estimating that some 500,000 public utility vehicles, mostly jeepneys, produce 22,000 metric tons of soot emissions per year.
Air pollution costs the Philippine economy $1.5 billion annually, in large part due to diesel vehicles, according to the Philippine Environment Monitor.
“The country spends over $400 million in direct costs annually – some 0.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product – on health expenses caused by pollution,” Alvarez said.
Another study by the World Bank estimates that some 5,000 annual premature deaths, or 12 percent of all deaths in Metro Manila, the highest of any city in the Philippines, are due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from exposure to the city’s pollution, Alvarez said.
Soot emitted by jeepneys is composed of “extremely fine airborne particles believed to be among the largest man-made contributors to global warming because they absorb solar radiation and heat the atmosphere,” Alvarez said.
But soot has not been recognized as a greenhouse gas, he noted.
The Philippines, along with a number of allied countries, is making a push to include black carbon on the list of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming at the Doha meetings, Alvarez said.
“By doing so, governments can attack black carbon and immediately address climate change by as much as 50 percent,” he said.
A recent scientific study found that black carbon “is now emerging as the second most important, but previously overlooked, factor in global warming,” Alvarez said.
He said studies showed that reducing soot emissions from diesel engines could slow the melting of glaciers in the Arctic more effectively and more economically than any other quick fix.
“If governments radically cut levels of black carbon and methane through technologies that are now available, then we could cut the rate of global warming by 50 percent,” he said.
Alvarez said this would increase the chance of keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, thereby slowing the advance of climate change by several decades.
In a related development, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje sought public support in bringing down air pollution levels in Metro Manila to acceptable standards.
Metro Manila’s air, he said, has actually become less polluted, registering declines in both the amount of total suspended particulates (TSP) and the level of particulate matter 10 microns in diameter or smaller (PM10) in the urban center.
As of the third quarter, the TSP level in the National Capital Region was recorded at 106ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter), or 16ug/Ncm short of the acceptable level of 90ug/Ncm set by the World Health Organization.
Paje noted that when the Aquino administration came in June 2010, the TSP level in Metro Manila was at 166ug/Ncm. The current PM10 level of 77ug/Ncm in Metro Manila is also approaching the annual guideline threshold of 60ug/Ncm, he said.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
01 December 2012
by DJ Yap