Eleventh Hour: The Philippines’ carbon emissions are so small, why should we care about the COP?

By Atty. Alexandra Gamboa 

Writing and reflecting on each Conference of the Parties (COP) since Paris has always been such an exercise of awareness. It is always a struggle of balancing personal frustrations and beliefs with how the process is going, while also recognizing the many complexities of multi-country negotiations and the context that each one is coming from. It is a whole process that always feels like an ultimate test in patience and compassion, both for self and for the world.

It is with this lens that I, again, reflect on the recently concluded 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The COP26 was unique in many ways. Because of the global pandemic, there had been a lapse of two years between COP25 in Madrid and COP26 in Glasgow, instead of the mandated meeting of the parties every year. It is also against this COVID-19 backdrop where there were significant challenges to participants and attendees: from brand-specific vaccination requirements to additional budgetary considerations such as mandatory quarantine periods, as well as budget reallocations by governments for public health priorities, to limited access to conference areas to prevent overcrowding. These are all necessary given the health pandemic the world is facing right now. However, they are all challenges for meaningful participation in the COP, especially for cash-strapped third-world countries, and even more so for civil society organizations (CSO) with limited funding.

This COP26, we also saw a unique country delegation from the Philippines, this time headed by the Department of Finance (DOF) as the point person for climate finance in the country. We also saw a new set of negotiators, with only veteran Albert Magalang of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) present.


A long-standing feature of the delegation was unfortunately missing, that of CSO participation, a feature which has always been touted by other countries as very inclusive and critical in keeping with the whole-of-society approach that the Philippines has always been admired for.

The COP26 is important to the Philippines in many ways, despite our humble contribution to global carbon emissions. Oftentimes, participation in the COP, by virtue of our membership in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, is seen as a source of responsibility or additional burden for a third-world country that has not greatly contributed to causing climate change.

What is less emphasized is the fact that there are many funding opportunities within the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement that we stand to benefit from, and that we have a right to, especially as a country highly vulnerable to climate change, which is precisely why the DOF has not only been actively engaging but now even leading the country delegation to the negotiations.

Equally important to emphasize is the age-old adage of having strength in numbers. Through a coalition of countries like the Philippines, countries that do not account significantly for carbon emissions but are directly impacted by climate change are leading an important paradigm shift that is taking place in the negotiations throughout the years.


In the past, mitigation or the cutting down of carbon emissions has been at the forefront of conversations. Now, because of the battle cry of countries like ours, adaptation to climate change effects and reparation for loss and damage from these effects are now added as priorities in the negotiation, highlighting our reality that climate change in the Philippines is here and now, and that some countries suffer from it more than others, and that needs to be addressed.

This COP26 also saw a victory for us where, finally, reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on 1.5C was included in the Glasgow document. This was one of the main disappointments from the previous COP25, where some countries did not want to acknowledge the report, which provided scientific basis for the calls for increased ambition. Now, in COP26, not only was the report referenced but it was referenced in the first subheading labeled “science and urgency,” emphasizing further the need for countries, especially those with significant carbon emissions, to rapidly decarbonize.

It is easy to feel discouraged after reading COP26 outcomes when you hear the same common threads: country ambitions are not enough to meet the 1.5C temperature goal, financial pledges are not enough to meet the goals, still no arrangements for loss and damage, and still no language on coal phase-out. But this is exactly why countries like ours need to be vigilant because these are all still battles to be won.



Atty. Alexandra Gamboa is an environmental and energy lawyer, public policy specialist, and law professor. She is currently a partner in YDL Law and serves as a policy consultant for a number of non-government organizations. She was previously the Manager of Government Initiatives for Rare’s branch office in the Philippines. She was also previously the Deputy Chief of the Legal Services Division of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines, where she contributed to government policy and negotiated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process.

Atty. Alex has been a Climate Reality Leader since 2016 when she attended the training in Manila. She has also served as a mentor for the Global Climate Reality Training in 2020.



This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.