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Climate Change and the Multiple Tugs of War

MedNet held an e-Learning forum entitled Climate Change and Mediation, which tackled the importance of mediation in the realm of climate change. Dr. Antonio La Viña, an internationally recognized expert in climate change law and policy, discussed initiatives from the local community to the international level to attain climate justice.

Associate Director Climate Policy and International Relations, Manila Observatory (MO)
Dr. Antonio La Viña | Manila Observatory (MO)
"The physical reality of climate change has resulted into multiple tugs of war internationally, nationally and locally."

The problem of climate conflict and the related problem of justice can be found internationally. First, between countries - between big countries and small countries; rich countries and poor countries; oil producing and fossil producing countries to countries that are most vulnerable, that would be impacted the most. Even among developing countries there are many tugs of war, many conflicts. There are several situations of climate injustice within our group. I have negotiated through the years for developing countries. It was difficult because the truth is, there are a lot of conflicts within that group.


The poorest countries, who have contributed the least, are the ones most affected. And within those counties, the richest people within those countries have contributed the most, and the poorest people who have contributed the least are the most affected. So actually, the richest in the Philippines have contributed more than the poorest in America and Europe. But the poorest in America and Europe have actually suffered less than the richest in the Philippines because of adaptation options, resources. that are available.

We need to pay attention to these societal conflicts. We need to mediate. 

Third, it’s a conflict between generations. The worst climate impacts are going to come in 2040, 2050. With business as usual in fact, even with some reduction, it will still get worse before it gets better. I’m 63 years old and could die anytime. Maybe I shouldn’t care anymore. But I have children who are in their 20s and 30s. And they’ll probably have children - at least, some of them would get married. I have to care. But some people don’t care. In fact, quite a lot of people say they don’t want to have children because of climate change so that they don’t have to care anymore. It is a conflict between generations. You could end up really not just caring about today and let the consequences of today’s bad decisions affect future generations.


And then, it’s a conflict, a tug of war, between species: between man and other beings. All of this change is driven by human society - human need, human luxury, human aspiration, human selfishness and human greed.


In this tug of war, those who shouldn’t win are the ones who consistently come out victorious. There have been so many consequences on the ground. We began the work 30 years ago, and even after 30 years, the results remain the same. We’re losing in all the crucial tug of wars and conflicts.


Where we are now? We’re running out of time. Our approach to climate change, is what you would call command and control. Litigation. Instead of mediated decisions. In reality, we still have a lot to do. But we have to be innovative.

We have to shake the time bottle, and mediation is one of the weapons and tools that we have.

In the climate field, I am known as a mediator, as a facilitator. I always tell people that I can be sent to any conflict situation and I will come back alive, and probably with an agreement.


What I can do is share with you is what makes one a good climate change mediator at the national and local level.


The Philippines is a leader in two things. We are known to be the main advocate of the 1.5 (Celsius global temperature reduction). I was the main negotiator for the Philippines for that. The challenge is that big, developed and developing countries, e.g., US, China, Saudi Arabia refuse this. We lost five years as we are not able to get 1.5. as the minimum. At the same time, we advanced in our advocacy for 1.5 as an aspiration goal of the Paris Agreement. But as an aspirational goal as the legal goal was 2.0, which was not a good goal. Today, many accept 1.5. as the aspirational goal. Yet, we lost five years of ambitious actions. Now, we are catching up. Hopefully, in what is called Global Static this year when we take a look at where we are, we realize that we are so far away.

What are the important points when you negotiate or mediate climate change? 

Understand the science.

Don’t negotiate or mediate on climate if you don’t understand its science and where the science is, where the uncertainties are. There are a lot of uncertainties. You are actually mediating something that information is still flowing in.


In mediation, generally environment and specially climate change, you have to have a process of receiving new information and assimilating new information, even at the local level.


For example, there are two terms that come up which are new and not being discussed by scientists even three months ago. One is atmospheric river, that is, even in the atmosphere, a river-like phenomenon can occur. Basically, clouds accumulate creating a river above us that can flow and flow and the rain comes down. The other term that came out in the last weeks is shear line. Shear line is a cold and hot wind that will create a weather event. If you have a combination of a low-pressure area and amihan (north easterly wind) the rain will fall. That explains why you have a lot of rainfall in two very distant parts of Mindanao, such as, Zamboanga City and Cotabato City. In that sense, climate mediation is challenging.

Like any mediation, the mediator or facilitator of climate issues must be aware of the power imbalance.

Rich countries have more resources, more negotiators, more information than poor countries. So, how do you help poor countries? They can bond together. They can provide support. We were successful in Sharm El-Sheikh in getting a climate justice bond, after 30 years of fighting for it.


I would make a comment on adaptation. The problem about adaptation is that it is about the future, about preparing for climate change impacts. That’s the concept of adaptation, legally speaking. But we are already suffering climate change impacts. How can you tell people to be resilient and to mitigate their emissions when they are already facing enormous climate impacts? This is why we advocated for the “loss and damage fund.” Developing countries, led by a Filipino, united to champion this cause. We outpaced the developed countries. We defeated them in the tug of war, causing them to stumble and guiding them to the right path.


We should find a way around weakness. As mediator, facilitator or negotiator, you use mediation for that purpose. I recognize that I have sources of power. I have knowledge. I have experience. I know a lot of people. Sometimes, I have appointed or political positions. I have access to powerful people who make decisions, even internationally. You use that to even the battlefield.


Lastly - on the international level - Indigenous Peoples. They are the ones most directly impacted, yet they are marginalized. However, we saw an opening in negotiations on forest. You cannot talk about forest and climate without involving IPs. Because they are the most affected, they should be able to put in some principles. I mediated an agreement between all the countries worldwide to ensure that IPs have. It couldn’t have been just me. Because they were present and their voices held strength, we achieved an agreement regarding their involvement.


Here in the Philippines, we are not yet at the point where we can say we have won, especially during the Duterte time. Duterte really crushed the natives, especially the Lumads in Mindanao. That’s also the reason why I cannot negotiate for the Philippines on climate change. Well, at least for a while, even now. We lost human rights reputation. My reputation in climate change is that I care about human rights, and that Philippines cares about human rights. Duterte crushed that. For one, Duterte crushed the Lumad schools. They had to go into Bakwit (evacuation) schools mode. I was their lawyer. We had to step back to enable them to push back It will take them 10 to 20 years to get those schools back in place. I should live another 10 to 20 years because that’s important work.


The Lumad schools are the best response to climate change for Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao. I founded a new group called Mindanao Climate Justice Resource Facility that’s quite big now. We’re based at the Manila Observatory. But working with the Church, working with a lot of organizations, a lot of schools to fight back and push back against red-tagging and against climate change and against environmental injustice. But the approach is not to fight. The approach is actually to negotiate from a position of strength believing that you can convince the other side, even if it seems impossible.

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