Recovery through collaborative climate action

August 6, 2021

Green recovery starts with reducing carbon footprint, advocates agree

Recovery from the widespread impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic does not only involve curbing the spread of the virus and rebounding from financial losses. As the pandemic further stressed the issue of global warming, recovering from the pandemic now also entails a shift to more sustainable practices that no longer put nature at stake.

This aspect of recovery from the pandemic was the focus of the online forum held by BusinessWorld Insights, in partnership with the Energy Development Corp. (EDC), last July 26. Themed “Kickstarting Green Recovery,” the forum gathered environmental advocates from the government, nongovernment, and private sectors to talk about mitigating the country’s carbon footprint towards green recovery through climate action from all stakeholders.

Reducing our carbon footprint

Discussing the impact of the world’s carbon footprint, Yeb Saño, executive director at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, noted that the prevailing global development framework has basically ignored nature’s limits as dependence on fossil fuels as well as the prevalence of oil-based transport have persisted.

“The kind of development we have seen and have benefitted from puts so much tremendous pressure on the environment and it’s even widening the gap between the rich and the poor,” Mr. Saño said during his presentation, which looked back on how global warming — caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide — has spiked and might spike further if unmitigated.

Mr. Saño also stressed that the carbon footprint, or the amount of GHGs coming from individual or group activities, is causing the acceleration of climate change. Citing findings by Our World In Data, he noted that a large share of carbon footprint (over 70%) is accounted for by energy used in industry, transport, and buildings, among other uses. This was followed by agriculture, forestry and land use, with nearly 20% share.

Mitigating this carbon footprint by reducing GHG emissions among businesses and stakeholders, thus, serves as a key to address climate change.

“Climate change affects… all sectors of society, people, and the planet. Therefore, it is our duty to really look into limiting all of that footprint,” he said. “The planet is hurtling towards a dangerous trajectory that may go beyond [global warming], and we need to avert that. In order to do that, carbon budget is a key aspect.”

For this to be achieved, Mr. Saño recommends embracing and pursuing greener electricity powered by renewables; greener transport; greener food coming from local sources and farmers; greener economy in terms of local jobs for green industries and reducing energy emissions; and greener spaces in terms of people-centric spaces and greener buildings.

Mr. Saño also pointed out that reducing carbon footprint must be initiated among companies, 100 of which are found by the Carbon Disclosure Project to be responsible for 71% of GHG emissions. “It’s really important that we have very serious conversations with these companies… because they do dictate the kind of shape the energy sector evolves into,” he said.

Following the climate pathway

Meanwhile, Hon. Loren Legarda, deputy speaker of the House of the Representatives, pointed out that attuning to the climate pathway paves the way for recovery from the pandemic. This pathway, according to the deputy speaker, is laid out by the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that aims to limit global warming to as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“To achieve this, we must target a net-zero global economy by 2020, which means that GHG emissions worldwide must reduce by 45% by 2030, or by 7% every year for the next nine years,” Ms. Legarda continued.

The Philippines should join the rest of the world in limiting global warming since it is “the best form of adaptation” even if the country is found to contribute only a third of 1% of emissions in the world. The country’s commitment to these goals is shown by its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement of reducing emissions to 75% by 2030 — 2.71% of which is unconditional and 72.29% is conditional.

“We submitted this target despite this country’s probably insignificant emissions because we know that climate-resilient development is the right path to improving the lives of our vulnerable population, as well as growing our economy,” she explained.

For Ms. Legarda, reducing carbon emissions entails the support and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency; sustainable transport systems; nature-based solutions; resilient buildings and infrastructure; and shifting from the use of single-use of plastics towards a circular economy.

While massive financing from international, national, and multilateral sources are needed in meeting these goals, the deputy speaker added, the private sector is nevertheless sought to help the public sector in achieving the country’s sustainability and resilience goals.

“Incentivizing and de-risking investments in low-carbon and innovative technologies while building stakeholders’ capacities for mitigation must be the new approach in government and in business,” Ms. Legarda explained.

The deputy speaker, who authored several environmental laws throughout her career, also stressed that with a lot of legislation in place to enable the country’s climate action, implementing these laws across government units and organizations, and practicing these among individuals is crucial.

“We need a paradigm shift in the way we think, work, and even breathe,” Ms. Legarda said. “We just have to work together and change the way we know how life was… We have to discard the old lifestyles — the consumptive, consumerist, throwaway culture that we continue to have until now.”

The call to be regenerative

Being regenerative, which EDC has incorporated in its mission since last year, was the focus of Richard Tantoco, the company’s president and COO, throughout the forum. He noted that the pandemic, while gravely impacting economies, gave a temporary respite from carbon emissions as this significantly fell by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tons in 2020. “We cannot afford to waste the momentum that we have from it,” he added.

At the same time, Mr. Tantoco continued, the call is ringing louder among companies to be regenerative, going beyond survival and sustainability in order to contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

“Instead of looking at our business solely as an engine for profits, we need to elevate everything we touch — starting with our environment, then our communities, customers, co-creators, and investors,” the EDC executive said.

Mr. Tantoco also mentioned that its projects have regenerative benefits for its stakeholders: cleaner energy to meet the demands of customers; prudent and tested deployment of capital for investors; and green jobs and empowerment for communities.

“That’s what we call regeneration — taking one extra step, just thinking a little bit harder about what we can do to uplift our stakeholders and enhance our environment,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Tantoco recommends unleashing the ‘arrows’ of policies, innovation, and investments, which he sees are needed to steer green recovery in the right direction. Stakeholders responsible for these three, he continued, should thus be held accountable.

As Mr. Tantoco shared how their ‘regenerative’ mission has recently been achieved by their company, he noted developments in investment as EDC listed a P15 billion worth of ASEAN green bonds last year, with its first tranche of P5 billion listed at the Philippine Dealing Exchange Corp. last June.

“I’m happy to report that it is ten times oversubscribed due to a very strong demand from investors, who want to support and participate in the financing and expansion of our 100% clean energy portfolio, which is crucial in decarbonizing while reviving our economy,” he said.