How is the weather?

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

It is common in the UK for strangers to begin a conversation by talking about the weather, cheering a beautiful sunny morning or commenting on a rainy day being good for ducks to enjoy. For over 20 years, Britain has had a conversation about the weather in every location we have an embassy. We wanted to break the ice for serious engagement on the issue of global warming and the impact this is having on the future of our world. The United Nations began a negotiation process in 1990 and after decades of meetings, speeches, posturing and genuine intent, we are now on the verge of a global deal when the UN family meets in Paris in December. Our ambition is to go beyond the theatre of the summit in Paris, to real action by every country.

Everyday, we come across pollution from vehicles, factories, and burning of agricultural and other waste. We don’t like it, but we seem to tolerate it. The price for progress is being paid for in air quality, degradation of rivers and lakes, and deforestation. Lack of concerted action and credible enforcement of environment protection law has now unleashed the monster of global warming. Scientific evidence clearly points to a man-made situation where, without action, sea temperature will continue to rise by another 5 0 Celsius. Any scenario above 20 C points to large scale flooding, loss of coastal land, and severe drop in production of rice and other food. Up to 40% of the world’s species would become extinct. Millions of climate refugees will need new places to live.

The sterile debate on who is to blame is moving on. Alongside the historical culprits, China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico are now amongst the world’s top green house gas emitters. We accept that countries like the UK will need to take stronger action and be a part of the assistance programme other countries will need. By law, the UK is committed to a target of 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. The European Union, as a whole, has already submitted its formal target to the UN of a 40% reduction by 2030.

The Philippines is expected to put forward its proposal shortly. In many respects, this country is both fortunate and unfortunate. Speak to farmers and fishermen and they will tell you that harvests and times of bounty have been disrupted not just by individual weather events but on a longer trend. Floods, typhoons and droughts no longer follow historical patterns. A focus on some essential areas could very easily bring the Philippines into the zone of agreement for the UN summit in December. Already, 48% of energy here comes from renewable energy with a further 12% from natural gas. The solution is to invest more in geothermal, solar and hydro rather than the short term expediency of burning coal.  On any road trip I make, I see the opportunity and necessity of enforcing regulations on vehicle emissions. More planned, electric and fuel efficient public transport will not just help achieve targets but also improve public health. Buildings can be green. Our Embassy in McKinley is a certified example. Solar panels on roofs and use of foliage are actions within the reach of most people, even more so with well targeted incentives. Instead of burning waste, it would be far more productive to produce electricity, especially in areas where the national grid is sparse.

President Aquino leads the country’s response to climate change and through his Commissioners, we will see the contribution the Philippines makes to the UN process. By bringing together important line ministries, including Finance, Transport, Energy and Natural Resources, there is a strong chance of delivery. If the ambition remains to improve the lives of Filipinos, there can be no better legacy.

A green economy is not a poorer economy. The UK is growing and has already taken out 30% of emissions from 1990 levels. We have new businesses. Smart electricity meters in homes and businesses, optimise use of energy. We are now investing more in new railway projects than any other European country. Research and development in new engines, alternative energy sources and designing out components that require high energy input are flourishing.

So if you are asked how is the weather? It is better to reply that it has to be better. Like us, the Philippines has to show ambition that goes beyond its borders. As Chair of the Vulnerable 20 Group in the UN process, you have a very influential position. The threat of global warming requires ambition beyond bureaucrats and politicians. Join the conversation.

(Asif Ahmad is the British Ambassador to the Philippines)


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