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Marcos skips COP28, Citing Pinoy seafarer hostage situation

Marcos skips COP28, Citing hostage situation
Helen Flores - December 1, 2023

DUBAI – President Marcos decided at the last minute to skip the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) here, saying he had to attend to the plight of 17 Filipino seafarers held hostage by Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea.

It was the first time that Marcos had canceled an official foreign trip since his election as President in June last year.

“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 (Friday),” Marcos said in a post on his official X account at 8:22 a.m. yesterday, more than an hour before his scheduled departure. He did not provide additional details.

Marcos said he was to meet with his officials yesterday to discuss the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Tehran to extend assistance to the Filipino seamen.

“Today, I will be convening a meeting to facilitate the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Tehran, Iran, with the aim of providing necessary assistance to our seafarers,” he said.

Only members of his Cabinet, including Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos, Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan showed up at the Villamor Air Base for a send-off ceremony at around 9:45 a.m.

Members of the media covering his participation in the COP28 were already at the airport when the President made the announcement on social media.

Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will represent Marcos at the COP28 and deliver his administration’s statement on climate change.

Loyzaga is the official representative of the President to the Climate Change Commission. Marcos chairs the CCC.

“I have entrusted DENR Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to lead the COP28 delegation and articulate the country’s statement on my behalf,” the Chief Executive said. COP28 runs until Dec. 12.
Compensation fund

In a statement, Loyzaga said the Philippines will strongly press for the implementation of a compensation fund for developing countries that have suffered the most from climate change.

She said the establishment of Loss and Damage Fund is among the priorities of the 13-day COP28, which opened at the Dubai Exhibition Centre.

“The Loss and Damage Fund is extremely important because there are climate-related adverse impacts that are beyond our ability to finance,” Loyzaga said.

Developed countries and private sources would be called upon to contribute to the operationalization of the fund in a timely and locally driven manner, Loyzaga added.

Countries agreed to set up such fund in last year’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

“Climate finance is a huge theme in COP28. We are working in seven major negotiating work streams: loss and damage, climate finance, adaptation, the global stocktake, the just transition, especially of our labor towards a renewable energy future, but also specifically our concerns about reskilling and upskilling our workforce. And finally, mitigation and Article 6 (of the Paris Agreement), for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and avoidance,” Loyzaga said.

A transitional committee working out the details of the fund, however, reportedly failed to issue a set of recommendations on how to set it up and make it operational.

Developed countries, led by the US, want the fund to be based at the World Bank, while developing nations said this would make it hard for them to tap into the funding.

Loyzaga added the Philippines is at the point where it would need to do a thorough review of the country’s commitment to a 75 percent GHG emission reduction.

“I think it is extremely important for us to be heard by other countries because what we’re trying to do is really approach our climate resilience by twinning adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction. And that will involve the social, economic, environmental, and scientific efforts of our whole government,” she said.

The Paris Agreement calls for keeping global warming in check by limiting temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, and the reduction of GHG emissions by 45 percent by 2030, to reach net zero by 2050.

Net zero means bringing down global GHG emissions to almost zero, while the residual or remaining GHG emission is captured or absorbed, mostly by forests, which sequester carbon dioxide, a major GHG.

“Our participation in COP28 seeks to amplify calls for developed nations to fulfill their commitments to developing countries in the areas of climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building,” Loyzaga said.

“Moreover, our exposure internationally will open opportunities for access to financial and technical support that we need as a country vulnerable to climate change.”
Biggest platform

In a speech on Wednesday at Malacañang, Marcos stressed the significance of the Philippines’ participation to the COP28, saying it’s the “biggest platform for the international community where all stakeholders will have all-hands-on-deck to address climate change and help mitigate its impact.”

In 2022, CCC vice chairperson and executive director Robert Borje said the Philippines incurred P506.1-billion losses in the past decade due to climate change and geological hazards.

The meeting with the Filipino community at Dubai World Trade Centre, meanwhile, was also expected to push through last night without the President, according to Malacañang officials.

More than 140 heads of state, government and royalty were expected to attend the opening today of the World Climate Action Summit at the Dubai Exhibition Centre.

At a pre-departure briefing on Wednesday at Malacañang, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa Almojuela said high on the agenda of the Marcos administration at this year’s COP were fast tracking the energy transition, delivering and enhancing climate finance, and adopting resilient food systems.

Prior to Marcos’ decision to skip the annual climate gathering, several bilateral meetings were also being arranged between Marcos and other world leaders on the sidelines of COP28, Almojuela said.

She said the Philippines has a total of 237 registered on-site delegates, representing 16 agencies and members of civil society.

“Many of them (Filipino delegates) will be staying behind after the President has completed his program for the negotiation which is… usually it extends beyond two or a couple of days beyond the schedule because these are very important conversations,” Almojuela said.

In his speech during the turnover of P541.44-million People’s Survival Fund (PSF) to six local government units at Malacañang on Wednesday, the President said he would use COP28 to call on the global community to stay committed to climate change mitigation programs.

“We will use this platform to rally to global community and call upon nations to honor their commitments, particularly in climate financing,” he said.

The President underscored the significance of the COP28 to the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change in the world.

“But we must also take the lead when it comes to the global move and the global aspiration that those most vulnerable communities around the world will somehow be assisted by the developing countries when it comes to these measures to mitigate and to adapt to climate change,” he added.

The PSF finances climate change projects not funded by other government agencies.

Among the activities eligible for PSF funding are projects on water resources management, land management, agriculture and fisheries, and health. – Bella Cariaso