The world, as we know it, is changing. The coronavirus disease has upended our lives in more ways than we can imagine.
On the one hand, the resolute and urgent response to the pandemic has shown humanity’s remarkable capacity to unite as one and drastically implement policy and systemic changes for the greater good.
On the other, the unprecedented impacts of the pandemic have reaffirmed what environmental and climate advocates have been saying: Sustainability is the new reality for governments, businesses, and all sectors of society.
Science, common sense, and futures thinking tell us that now is the opportunity to build back better and forge a more sustainable path by ensuring a green economic recovery from the pandemic.
But what exactly is green recovery, and how has the Philippines responded to calls to green economic stimulus packages?
Green recovery refers to designing economic recovery programs that will channel massive investments on the short-term goal of reviving industries and creating jobs and on projects and initiatives that will help achieve long-term resilience and sustainability objectives.
In the Philippines, talks about a green recovery have been primarily brought forward by the development sector and civil society organizations working on climate and environmental issues.
The government, albeit fragmentary, has responded to these calls.
Three months into the pandemic, the Interagency Task Force Technical Workgroup on Anticipatory and Forward Planning prepared the “We Recover As One” report. Its recommendations, however, did not include critical green recovery measures and the greening of manufacturing and packaging systems.
Fortunately, in September 2020, lawmakers enacted the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which allotted ₱1.1 billion to build bike lanes in metropolitan areas. In the last quarter of 2020, the Department of Energy announced a moratorium on all new coal projects and announced critical programs such as the Green Energy Option Program (GEOP), which will provide consumers at least 100 kilowatts of power and the opportunity to source their supply from renewable energy resources. Another initiative, the Green Energy Auction Program (GEAP), will provide renewable energy developers the capacity to supply electricity to distribution utilities and retail suppliers.
If implemented properly and aggressively, these programs will promote competitiveness in the power market, resulting in lower electricity prices and an increased share of renewables in the energy mix.
Also groundbreaking is the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ sustainability finance framework, which directs all banks and financial institutions to fully incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG), and sustainability principles into their corporate strategy, risk management, and bank operations.
Moreover, the Department of Finance and the Climate Change Commission have announced their support to ban single-use plastics nationwide as a way to advance sustainable solid waste practices, curb plastic pollution, and promote sustainable production.
These policy wins must be supported through the full implementation of environmental and climate change laws in one cohesive plan that will chart our country’s pathway towards climate resilience and low-carbon economic development.
The impending development of an implementation plan for the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement offers a golden opportunity to do this. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030, 2.71% of which is unconditional (or will be funded by domestic resources) while the rest will be conditional (or dependent on support from developed countries).
The NDC Implementation Plan is envisioned to substantiate the 75% target with specific sectoral policies and measures and clear finance and investment components. It will be a roadmap that will modernize and green our energy, agriculture, waste, industry, and transport sectors.
In developing this plan, the government must engage both the private business sector and civil society to facilitate the convergence from all stakeholders. Individually, these sectors have initiatives, expertise, and resources to make a positive societal impact. By bringing them together, this will enable us to achieve our emissions avoidance and reduction goal and increase our conditional target.
We need more open dialogue and knowledge exchange sessions among key stakeholders from the public, private, and civil society sectors, to ensure that the momentum for sustainability will keep going in the coming months and years. The Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies, for instance, launched a series of virtual town hall discussions on sustainability and climate action, starting with Moving Towards A Sustainable Future Through ESG. It enjoined business, government, and civil society leaders to discuss the challenge at hand — build synergies, identify gaps, and attain integration, balance, and inclusion of a broad mix of perspectives and actions.
Given all these, can we truly ensure a green recovery from the pandemic?
The answer is yes. If all stakeholders will work in unison; if public and private sector leaders will align their short-term pandemic recovery plans with the country’s long-term sustainable development goals; and if the government will enact more well-defined and predictable policies that will further enhance the capacity of businesses to thrive sooner in this new era of sustainability.
The sooner we are able to act together, the sooner we will deliver green and decent jobs, cleaner air, a healthier and safer environment, and a better reality for the Filipino people.
Nazrin Camille D. Castro is currently the Manager of the Philippines branch of The Climate Reality Project (TCRP), a non-profit organization dedicated to training and mobilizing people to communicate and act on the urgency and solvability of the climate crisis. TCRP is a partner of the Stratbase ADR Institute.