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Philippines drops key negotiators for Lima climate change talks

Under pressure from EU and US, moves out of group that had China and India as anchors

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

In a setback to developing countries in general, and India and China in particular, at the talks, the has moved out of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) group. The Philippines, which had become a leading voice of poor countries at the climate talks for years, was under tremendous pressure from the US and the EU to move away from the powerful LMDC group.

Also, as a fallout of the mounting pressure, its prominent negotiator Naderev M Sano (better known as Yeb Sano) has been dropped from the delegation for the round of negotiations. Another well-known senior negotiator and veteran from Philippines, Berneditas Muller, has not found a permanent place in the country’s delegation as well.

Business Standard had earlier reported about the diplomatic pressure piled on to distance itself from the LMDC group, which has China and India as anchoring members on board.

The absence of the two members from the delegation and the distancing of Philippines from the group led to discussions between delegations of many developing countries as well as civil society groups at even before the formal talks were to begin.

A negotiator in the LMDC group confirmed to Business Standard that the ‘unfortunate’ issue was discussed. “We are sure the Philippines shall continue to argue strongly for its and other developing countries’ issues regardless. But, it shows the kind of pressures developing countries have to operate under at such multilateral forums,” officials said.

Yeb Sano had not only emerged as a strong negotiator for the poor countries last year at Warsaw but also caught the imagination of civil society, becoming a mascot for their protests against inaction of the developed countries. Personally impacted by the typhoon Haiyan back home, Sano moved the UN conference with his tears-riddled speech and then a fast through the fortnight, demanding more action from rich nations. Hundreds of civil society members fasted and protested with him. Muller, on the other hand, is known for her knowledge of the UN negotiations and her ability to argue on strong legal grounds.

The coalescing forces of civil society and the unity forged between developing countries forced the US to allow negotiations on an issue it was dead-set against till the last moment. Giving in to the overwhelming pressure, the US allowed talks to begin on a track of negotiations called Loss and Damage. This, basically, refers to the world finding a mechanism for paying damage and reparation to the poor for the inaction of the developed world to meet their obligations for fighting

The presence of Philippines in the group also dented the influence of the coalition of countries that the EU had built up over the years, which included other poor country groups. Till 2013, many small island countries and Least Developed Countries had been seen aligned closer to the EU at the climate talks than large developing economies such as China and India. They had aligned with the EU weakening the demand for a more equity-based new compact on climate change. But in the talks at Warsaw at 2013, their edge was partially blunted by Philippines, as vulnerable a country, impacted by the Haiyan, demanding that a new ambitious agreement in 2015 be built on the basis of existing provisions of the UN Climate Convention, including equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

Yeb Sano and Berneditas Muller had not responded to queries from Business Standard by the time this report was being filed. The US and EU had not responded to queries sent on a previous story, though EU’s Ambassador to India Joao Cravinho had reacted to the story later on twitter saying, “An imaginative piece but no connect to reality. Suffice to say, putting EU & US in same climate change basket is high fantasy!”

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, a veteran diplomat at the negotiations himself and member of the reconstituted PM’s council on climate change said, “Arm-twisting by powerful countries is a standard feature of international negotiations and the extent of pressure is in direct proportion to the perceived vulnerability of the weaker side.”

On how such diplomatic arm-twisting and lobbying could impact India, he said, “You will not be subjected to pressure if you have a reputation for standing firm. If you are fearful of defending your interest, no other country will do it for you. We expect India's climate negotiators to display the same spirit as our WTO negotiators did recently.”

At Lima, civil society groups continue to discuss how to take Yeb Sano’s fasting for climate action forward at “It’s becoming increasingly common for powerful vested interests to target those environmental defenders, who seek to protect the planet and its people. It’s certainly ironic that this could have extended into the climate talks themselves, where two of the most well-known advocates for the needs of impacted people to climate change are noticeable by their absence,” said Asad Rehman, head of International Climate at Friends of the Earth in the UK, who is in Lima for the talks. “It has certainly left many wondering if this could be due to pressure being brought to bear on small countries like the Philippines by those whose interests such powerful voices threaten,” he added.

Muller is expected to be at the talks on a temporary UN pass for at least a couple of days, as the talks begin on Monday morning in Lima.

First Published: Tue, December 02 2014. 00:41 IST