It’s the Best We Got – The Paris Agreement Over Past Climate Change Treaties

The recent Paris Agreement, now entered into force, marks a significant step forward in cooperation to mitigate climate change and its effects. The Paris Agreement is finally a substantive treaty that delineates overarching targets and goals by which developed and developing countries can rally around. The US and China ratifying this agreement even signifies the pressing need for multilateralism to tackle the threat that global warming poses to all of humanity. Markedly significant to this agreement, is the aim to keep the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to actively pursue action to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While some say that Paris Agreement is not enough to solve global climate change, it’s the best that the world right now has to offer.

Compared to past negotiations for climate change, the Paris Agreement is decisively an improvement. In Rio 1992, The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized that there was a global concern for greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions. The overall mission of the UNFCCC was to halt GHG emissions levels, yet it failed to enumerate actions to be taken. Alongside the UNFCCC, developed and developing states also disagreed upon how their roles would play out in the pursuit of mitigating climate change, especially since most emissions have come from industrial countries and imposing emissions regulations which would be unfair to the development of developing countries.

These discussions would go onto to influence the creation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, where the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” model (CBDR) was a mechanism by which to operationalize the UNFCCC. This somewhat resolved the debates regarding the roles of developed and developing countries, but the CBDR within the protocol mandated emissions reductions to developed countries only. Bigger developing countries like China and Brazil were excluded from such commitments, to the chagrin of developed nations. Overall, however, the Kyoto Protocol, was largely ineffective because targets could not be met by countries who did sign on, and the US signed, but never ratified the protocol.

In 2009, the Copenhagen Conference reinforced the need to tackle climate change. This conference, however, finally saw developed states and developing states agreeing to towards setting limits on emissions. The Conference failed to produce a lasting treaty however, because targets and goals could not be agreed upon by all the states present at the summit. The current 1.5 degrees Celsius aim of the Paris Agreement was initiated at the Copenhagen Conference, but it was seen as a contentious definition as it was pulled from all resolution drafts, to the dismay of African and underdeveloped countries.

Coming back to present day, the fact that a global climate change treaty has finally been accepted by the international community is a tremendous feat for the Paris Agreement. The agreement is the result of overcoming and learning from the inadequacies of past negotiations and treaties. It is also the result of the surmounting pressure of states to create meaningful steps towards climate change, especially when each year is markedly becoming hotter and hotter. In respects to the role of developed and developing countries, the Paris Agreement makes no distinctions between the two, but encourages states to maximize the most they can to achieve the agreement’s aims as capable. Instead of mandating reductions to certain countries like through the CBRD, the Paris Agreement has implemented a framework to carry out it’s temperature aims: the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs allows for states to voluntarily pledge their plans to implement the 1.5 degree aim, with a review process in place for states to strengthen these contributions.

Critics have noted, however, that these elements of the Paris Agreement leaves its effectiveness uncertain. Especially for the INDCs, since they have come under fire for depending too much on “the good will of world leaders.” Scientists have even contended that the temperature aims of the Paris Agreement are minimal at best, and will not prevent the world from warming nonetheless. Further, critics have brought up that the Paris Agreement lacks in specific numbers in regards to emissions reductions and financial investments. Yet above all these things, the Paris Agreement serves as a significant step in normalizing and creating a foundational step for climate policy in the international arena. People may have a bone to pick with technicalities of the Paris Agreement, but this has, so far been our best foot forward. Especially in a world with various interests, this is the best multilateral solution the world has yet to offer and it is better than having nothing at all.

“Para sa Atin” – “For Our Own”: Philippine Self Interest at ASEAN and the UN

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been on the radar of the international community by being a trailblazer of controversy. Having only been in office since June 30, Duterte has been recognized around the world for his verbal tirades against the US and his alarming crackdown on crime and drugs. Duterte’s entrance into mainstream Philippine politics, however, has been welcomed by Filipinos who see his administration as a break in the elitist Manileñan grip of power. Perceived as brash, outspoken, and nationalistic, Duterte comes off to the rest of the world as a leader who does not understand the consequences of his actions. Yet, Duterte’s track record as a public servant working for the interests of the Philippine people is significant. Duterte was a former prosecutor, served as a local mayor, and is now in the highest office. “Embarking on this crusade for a better and brighter tomorrow” for Filipinos, Duterte seems to be on the quest for a strong Philippines in South East Asia. How has he been doing this? In his first several months in office, Duterte has been exploiting the presence of regional and international organizations for Philippine self-interest.

Attempting to resolve the best possible outcome for the Filipino people in the South China Sea dispute, Duterte has been playing “a skillful realist…[knowing] how to appropriately balance between China and the United States.” Duterte needed to deal with various facts coming into play. First, China rejected the ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that gave the Philippines exclusive rights over its designated territory in the South China Sea. Second, the US has been increasingly involving itself in the South China Sea to protect its own national interests. Third, with Duterte coming from Mindanao (the Southern most part of the Philippines), his orientation towards the US has not been forthcoming. Alongside other Mindanaoans, Duterte detests the historical intervention of the US in this particular region of the Philippines which has led to atrocities like the Jolo Massacre.

Needing to assert Philippine sovereignty from both China and the US, Duterte employed a strategic naming and shaming campaign against the US at the ASEAN conference this year. The effects of this campaign would be two fold. First, it would serve as a power play of words to China. By showing that the Philippines has the audacity to stick it to the US, Duterte would show that the Philippines stands for its own interests in South East Asia. Second, it would serve as power warning to the US that the Philippines will assert its sovereignty when encroached upon. Duterte’s fiery invective against President Obama leading up to ASEAN and his closing speech at ASEAN which publicly admonished the US’ involvement in Mindanaoan affairs exploited the very norms that characterized the ASEAN Way. Duterte’s reproach at ASEAN not only broke face, but also disrupted the norms of mutual respect and quiet diplomacy that distinguishes ASEAN as a regional organization. As a result however, Duterte’s brazen attitude has led the way for China to consider reopening talks regarding the South China Sea, which could hopefully lead to the US to back off from the maritime region.

Duterte’s objective in attaining a crime and drug free Philippines is what he believes is the best way to secure law and order and fight corruption for the interests of the Filipino people. Yet, the coverage of extrajudicial killings for Duterte’s War on Drugs has been referred to as a crime against humanity. UN Special Experts on Human Rights have even criticized and urged for a halt to these unlawful killings in the country. In response, Duterte has denounced upon the failures of the UN to solve issues in other regions of the world, and has even alluded to the Philippines leaving the UN to pursue its national interests. Duterte even proclaimed in the hypocrisy and toothlessness of the UN for accusing the Philippines of such an atrocity, while disregarding the historic violations of the US (like police brutality). In turn, Duterte exploited the presence of the UN by citing its inability to effectively enforce anything as his justification for his War on Drugs.

Overall, Duterte’s first several months in office shows a realist Philippines looking for ways to exert its sovereignty in South East Asia. By looking at how Duterte maneuvered through ASEAN and UN Rapporteurs for Filipino national interests, weaknesses of both regional and international organizations have come to light. Shared practices in regional organizations can be easily broken for the pursuit of national interests. The collective action problems, special treatment of developed states, and failures of international organizations can detract from their legitimacy when put up against national interests.