Climate and Environment

Marcos cancels COP28 trip as Red Sea hostage situation takes priority

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Marcos cancels COP28 trip as Red Sea hostage situation takes priority
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. arrives for the leaders and spouses dinner during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Week at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, California, on November 16, 2023.
AFP/Josh Edelson

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:55 p.m.) — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is no longer attending the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the chief executive said Thursday, just hours before the start of the critical conference. 

Marcos, who has often mentioned the need to address climate change in his speeches, announced his last-minute decision to skip COP28 on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“In light of important developments in the hostage situation involving 17 Filipino seafarers in the Red Sea, I have made the decision not to attend COP28 in Dubai tomorrow,” the president said. 

On Wednesday, a day before COP28, Marcos awarded climate adaptation funds to six local government units. In his speech, the chief executive said that he will use COP28 as a platform to call on nations to honor their climate commitments, particularly in financing.

Marcos was supposed to lead the opening of the Philippine pavilion, a space where the government can showcase its strategies to combat climate change. He was also scheduled to speak at a side event organized by the Philippines in collaboration with the Kenyan government and the International Organization for Migration.

Although climate change has been a recurring theme in his speeches, green groups have criticized him for not translating his words into tangible actions. 

“With his absence at the UN climate talks, President Marcos Jr. is going to miss another opportunity to walk his talk on climate justice,” Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Jefferson Chua said.

In Dubai, the progress of countries towards achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be assessed in a process called global stocktake. 

Debates over the operationalization of the loss and damage fund, which will provide compensation to climate-vulnerable countries that are least responsible for the warming of the planet, will also take center stage in the negotiations. 

Pressure on Yulo

Marcos said that Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga will lead the Philippine delegation.

Aksyon Klima Pilipinas national coordinator John Leo Algo said the “pressure is now on” Yulo-Loyzaga “to prove that the millions spent in preparation for the delegation’s activities in Dubai will result in attaining what is needed to scale up climate solutions in the Philippines.”

Algo said the Philippine delegation needs to be “genuinely inclusive” and provide fair opportunities for non-government stakeholders to engage.

“It has to ensure that the finance and support it will secure during COP28 will benefit our pursuit of climate justice and sustainable development without passing any more burdens to the most vulnerable communities,” he said. 

For Chua, Marcos can still demand payment from fossil fuel companies that drive the climate crisis and advocate need for an urgent, fair and full phaseout of fossil fuels even outside COP28. 

The Philippine delegation to COP28 is composed of 237 registered onsite delegates, representing 16 agencies and members of the civil society.

Seafarers in captivity

Marcos said that he will convene a meeting Thursday to facilitate the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Tehran in Iran to provide assistance to the seafarers who are held in captivity by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. 

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the Israeli-lined cargo vessel Galaxy Leader on November 19 and held hostage its 25 crew members. The ship had been chartered by a Japanese group, and was flying the flag of Bahamas. 

The Houthi fighters said the move was in retaliation for Israel’s war against Palestinian militant group Hamas. 

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