Three weeks ago, Pope Francis wore a cheap yellow raincoat in his outdoor mass in Tacloban, known as ground zero of super typhoon Haiyan. He told the similarly-dressed faithful, most of whom were typhoon survivors, that he came to the country specifically to be with them.
In three weeks time, French president François Hollande will also be in the Philippines. It will be the first time one of his kind visits the Philippines, although what made bigger headlines here is the possibility that Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, and other global personalities will be part of his entourage.
These two leaders have a common reason for coming to the country—they want to spur global action on climate change.
During his flight to Manila, the pope said he plans to release his highly-awaited encyclical on the environment by June or July. This high-level letter is expected to explain why climate change is a moral problem that must be solved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He added that he wants it to influence the all-important climate negotiations by the end of the year.
Hollande, whose country is hosting these negotiations, is looking to issue a joint statement with President Benigno Aquino III and eventually other heads of state. His envoy, who came to the Philippines two weeks ago, explained that he is looking for allies to make a new global climate agreement happen in Paris.
The climate negotiations have gone on for more than 20 years, but this year, the so-called road to Paris begins in Geneva.
Starting Sunday evening, Manila time, negotiators of 195 countries from around the world will meet in this cold yet beautiful Swiss city to discuss almost 40 pages of draft “elements” on what the Paris agreement should contain.
The plan is that by Friday night, at the latest, these negotiators will have reworked all these conflicting options and opinions into a workable agreement.
The climate negotiations are not known for their punctuality—the Lima conference went 30 hours overtime—but the new facilitators of this process have released a note showing that they intend to end this round of talks in time.
The Geneva talks are relatively minor compared to the Paris conference, or the mid-year talks in Germany, but good progress here would keep alive the hope of the world steering away from even more dangerous global warming than what we are already dealing with.
This is literally a life-or-death matter for the Philippines and many other poor countries which also happen to be among the most vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change impacts.