The discourse around environmental sustainability has exploded over the last few years. With rising sea levels, droughts, and destructive weather disturbances, the impact of global warming has become more evident. Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech at the UN Climate Summit and Bill McKibben’s 350 Campaign are just some of the fervent calls raising the alarm about how weather-related catastrophes will get worse if societies fail to implement immediate and genuine changes to counter the effects of global warming.
Due to its geographical location, the Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change. Studies show that due to global warming, typhoons will be more frequent and destructive, sea levels will rise and storm surges will severely impact human life as well as global, regional and local economies. When Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the country’s central region, thousands of families were displaced, casualties were in the thousands and the livelihood of millions of workers were disrupted.
Comprising 7,641 islands with a total coastline of 36,289 kilometres, the country holds two-thirds of the planet’s biodiversity and 70% of the world’s flora and fauna with many species of plants and animals only found in the Philippines. The country depends on its diverse ecosystem for food and water, raw materials for pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, and energy resources such as geothermal, biomass fuel, solar and wind. In addition, the country’s natural beauty attracts tourists from all over the world, contributing significantly to the economy. Taking care of the country’s ecosystem supports economic goals, helps deliver on national sustainability commitments and mitigates the impact of climate change on people’s lives and well-being.
In 2009, the Philippine government enacted the Climate Change Act or Republic Act 9729 to ensure climate resilience, build a low-carbon economy, and increase the country’s role in the global climate change dialogue. This act led to the establishment of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), which oversees the country’s sustainability goals and since then various laws and policies have been implemented to promote ecological conservation programs and increase environmental awareness.
Investing on Green Energy
Currently, more than 70% of the country’s energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels with renewable energy (RE) sources contributing less than 30% to the energy mix. Somewhat alarmingly, according to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2019 report, renewable energy technologies actually decreased to 20.8% due to the continuous drop in hydroelectric power and limited penetration of other RE technologies. To achieve the target of increasing the RE share to 35 percent and support the sustainable energy agenda, the country needs to increase its RE capacity to more than 15,000 megawatts (MW) by the year 2030.
With a comprehensive National Renewable Energy Program (NREP), the government is working on addressing the challenges that delay the wider application of RE technologies, facilitating the participation of the private sector and encouraging investments in the development of renewable energy sources. Global conglomerate, GE joins the campaign for wider adoption of RE sources and push to generate power using sustainable methods. Through innovative technologies such as concentrated solar power and photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, GE aims to make significant power contributions in the rural areas of the country. On the other hand, partnerships with local companies open up opportunities for foreign companies looking to invest in the renewable energy sector of the country. Most recently, Singapore-based Arran Investment Pte. Ltd. forged a partnership with local renewables and thermal energy company, AC Energy.
Pushing for Ecotourism
More than 8 million tourists arrived in the Philippines in 2019, bringing in a total revenue of USD 9.31 billion. However, the influx of visitors in the country brings associated problems such as environmental degradation, soil erosion, pollution and decreasing wild life. Recognizing the impact of tourism on the environment, the Department of Tourism (DOT) though the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) pushed for the rehabilitation of several tourist destinations within the country. Under TIEZA, the tourism department will grant incentives such as tax exemptions and duty-free importation of equipment and goods to businesses compliant with the government’s sustainability guidelines. To promote sustainable tourism, DOT is working with local government units, communities and businesses through the Sustainable Tourism Development Project (STDP) which aims to make tourism development more sustainable and inclusive. The project was launched in El Nido, Palawan with initiatives focusing on improvements to the town’s drainage, solid waste, ecosystem-based tourism site management, and enterprise and skills development for local businesses.
Sustainability in Action: Environmental Initiatives at Grassroots Level
As elsewhere in the world, the impact of climate change is most felt by the marginalized sector. From 2010 to 2019, the damage incurred due to natural and extreme events and disasters amounted to PhP 463 billion, with agriculture taking the largest share at 62.7% or PhP 290 billion. To alleviate the economic effects of natural disasters and create pathways to inclusive growth, citizens and non-government organizations (NGOs) are establishing social enterprises. Based on a study by the British Council and PhilSEN, more than 160,000 social enterprises are currently operating in the Philippines and supporting environmental goals to protecting the environment, help small producers in agricultural value chains, and improve communities. International environmental groups such as Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Haribon Foundation have also established a strong base within communities and push their environmental advocacies by supporting social enterprises.
Climate activism is also gaining momentum among the Filipino youth and young environmental activists are at the forefront calling for climate justice and solutions to mitigate the climate crisis. When Fridays for Future staged its first global school strike, young environmental advocates were marching in support along the streets of Manila.
The United Nations Sustainable Development 2020 Report ranks Philippines at 99 with a score of 65.5. While the country can do more towards achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in terms of renewable energy, building sustainable communities and cities, and responsible consumption and production, policies and programs are laid down to correct the course and improve the country’s overall performance. Startups, investors and multinational companies can also explore the Philippine market and leverage the opportunity to contribute towards the conservation and protection of the country’s natural resources. With the government, the private sector and communities contributing to the environmental conservation goals and sustainability, we are looking forward to a future where the environment flourishes and the next generation thrives.
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