French President Hollande in Philippines to promote fight against climate change

French President Francois Hollande (right) walking past a Philippine honour guard as he arrives at a military airbase in Manila on Feb 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
French President Francois Hollande (right) walking past a Philippine honour guard as he arrives at a military airbase in Manila on Feb 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - President Francois Hollande arrived in the Philippines on Thursday, accompanied by two of France's leading actresses, to promote the fight against climate change ahead of a crucial summit of world leaders.

The two-day trip, the first by a French president to the Philippines, is part of Mr Hollande's campaign to build diplomatic momentum ahead of the United Nations event that France will host in December.

Mr Hollande says he is determined to "leave a mark" on history by brokering a historic agreement to contain climate change that would make up for the failure to reach such an accord in Copenhagen in 2009.

The Philippines is seen as a frontline state in the battle against climate change, having been battered by relentless storms in recent years that have emerged from the Pacific Ocean and claimed many thousands of lives.

These included Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing in November 2013 and which scientists have linked to climate change.

Mr Hollande will meet with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday evening, when they are expected to jointly call on world leaders to ensure that the Paris climate summit is a success.

The goal of the planned Paris pact, which must enter into force by 2020, is to limit warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Scientists warn that on current trends, the earth is on track for double that, or more - a recipe for catastrophic droughts, fiercer storms like Haiyan, and other extreme weather events.

However, most followers of the UN climate change diplomatic process are sceptical a pact can be secured that will be ambitious enough to achieve the 2-degree goal, with rich and poor nations continuing to fight over who should shoulder more of the burden.

Hollywood glamour

In an effort to raise awareness about the climate change fight while in the Philippines, Mr Hollande brought with him Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, who has been a long-time campaigner for environment group Greenpeace.

Melanie Laurent, another French actress who has had big success in Hollywood, is also part of Hollande's delegation, along with UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is also travelling with Mr Hollande.

In what is shaping up to be the most symbolic and emotional leg of Mr Hollande's trip, he will on Friday visit the small town of Guiuan in eastern Philippines that was devastated when Haiyan hit with winds of up to 315kmh.

The Aquino government is also warmly embracing Mr Hollande's trip, the first by a French head of state since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1947, as an endorsement of the Philippines' maturing democracy.

"The ties that bind the Philippines and France are underscored by the importance that the two countries give to democracy," Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told AFP.

"The affinity between the two peoples and their shared democratic values are deepened on this historic visit by the French president."

France was the first nation to recognise the revolutionary government of Corazon Aquino, the current president's mother, in 1986 when she led a "people power" uprising that overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

A number of trade agreements on "green" sectors, including in transport, renewable energy and water treatment, are also expected to be signed during Mr Hollande's visit.

The leaders are also expected to discuss the tense territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over their rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.