Friday, May 15, 2020

The “New Normal” can—and must—be a green one

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Businesses have ground to a halt all across the country in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whole industries have dried up as we enter into the third month of lockdown measures.

As we progress ever further into the pandemic, the question remains – how are we to recover? And what will the new normal look like?

We must make the “new normal” a green one. And we have what it takes to do just that.

Over the past few years, scientists have marked an 18% increase in global carbon emissions compared to the years before. Even if our emissions have gone down under the lockdown, they still remain incredibly high. Once countries and their economies begin to move and open up once more, we will see a resumption of those high emissions, and things will return to how they were before the pandemic.

As a nation, we have recognized the need to address our emissions. President Duterte, in his 2019 State of the Nation Address, stressed the need for the energy sector to transition toward renewables.

The energy sector is the largest source of carbon emissions out of all our industries, having produced 54% of greenhouse gases in 2016. The country has initially committed to reducing our emissions by 70% by 2030. Civil society groups, coal-affected communities, and power consumers have already called for clean and affordable renewable energy. Meantime, businesses like AC Energy Philippines have already responded to these calls and commitments from the national, with the company committing to completely divest out of fossil fuels by 2030.

This transition should have happened many years ago – but progress has been slow.

Now, we’ve seen what clearer skies can look like. While emissions may not have drastically gone down under the lockdown, many of us have observed how clear the skies are compared to what many may even remember. This will not continue if energy-intensive industries and unsustainable transport modes are to return to normal. For us to keep our emissions low, we must make our various sectors such as businesses, industries, and even cities, more sustainable and environmentally-responsive –and this pandemic is teaching us why.

First, we need to be more self-reliant as a country, even in terms of our energy needs. Much of the coal we use to power our plants is imported. With whole countries in lockdown, this importation has stopped.

Meanwhile, we have abundant indigenous and renewable energy sources right here in the Philippines, that are ready and available for use whenever we need them. According to the Department of Energy, the country’s renewable energy potential is vast with at least 4,000 megawatts (MW) for geothermal, 76,600 MW for wind, 10,000 MW for hydropower, 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day for solar, 170,000 MW for ocean, and 500MW for biomass. The recent proposed auctioning of 2,000 MW and identification of competitive renewable energy zones (CREZs) of renewable energy capacity is a good start. However, we need to be able to support ourselves, which is why we must continue to explore and use these renewable sources of power.

Second, there is a need to address our looming power needs. The lockdown has caused a delay in the construction and commissioning of several fossil-fueled power plants that had been slated for operation. This could lead to supply challenges in the future. Commercial and industrial power demand may have decreased during the lockdown, but this has been offset by an increase in power demand from our own homes. Once community quarantines are lifted or eased, we can expect a surge in demand. There is immense opportunity, therefore, for us to plug our growing gaps in local power production, if only we were to tap into our bountiful sources of clean, renewable, and indigenous energy and implement stronger energy efficiency initiatives.

Finally, we need to stray away from thinking that our economic recovery will be a choice between livelihood and the environment. This dichotomy does not exist; sustainable business can easily meet our needs as a country. We’ve seen that investing in natural capital for ecosystem resilience, especially in climate-responsive sectors such as sustainable agriculture, does not only come with the associated environmental and health benefits, but can also provide a much needed economic boost.

It is possible for our economy to recover on the back of green industry, so long as companies are innovative and we create the environment for sustainable businesses to thrive. It is not a choice between the economy and the planet.

Top economic experts have already pointed out the vast economic and environmental potential in putting investments into sustainable industries. These experts have pointed at investments in clean energy infrastructure, clean research and development spending, and the greenification of buildings and public spaces as great ways for us to expand the economy post-lockdown while addressing the looming climate crisis. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas recognizes this with their recent sustainable banking framework, thus setting the foundation for integration of sustainability in the banking sector and increasing financing flows and investments to green and sustainable economic development.

As of this writing, the government continues to prepare stimulus packages to help our businesses and industries, and society as a whole, return to normal after the lockdown. There are plenty of avenues for us, now, to build a sustainable future. The opportunity exists not just in the production of power. We can improve our homes, buildings and infrastructures by retrofitting and making them more energy-efficient. We can pursue sustainable development with urban nature-based solutions in the expansion of our cities. We can take a look at our transportation system and look for solutions that are sustainable, pollution-free, and accessible for all. Investing in all of this will create many, greener jobs and livelihoods for the disenfranchised of Filipino society. Our economy needs a boost, yes, but we can still reimagine our country as a greener one - so long as we put our money where our mouth is. If we don’t, we’ll continue on our old path towards catastrophic climate change.

2020 marks the first time in more than 10 years that we’ll feel the full effect of the

Renewable Energy

Law as all policies and mechanisms under the Law are now in place. The chance for a greener future is here. The pandemic has asked us to dramatically rethink our way of life and the way we do business. Even as our healthcare systems get strengthened, industries like the power sector have been given the opportunity to make themselves sustainable, so long as we allow them to do so.

Changing development pathways to make development more ecologically-responsive and sustainable can make our economic recovery even meet our own climate goals. With the help of the appropriate policies, a clear sustainable development direction, and strong public support, we’re moving forward with our climate action, but we need to move faster. The process of building the “new normal” has begun – we must make sure that it will be a green one.

Written by Atty. Angela Ibay, WWF-Philippines Head of Climate and Energy

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