The climate pathway to recovery

April 24, 2021

This pandemic, the global crisis, and the successive disasters that we have experienced before allowed us to reflect on our actions that are seemingly at war with our environment. Now is the right time for us to tackle environmental degradation with urgency.

There’s an invisible tie that binds health and climate, recently seen in the unintended effect of the Covid-19 recovery package. As many of us were forced to stay home, and the steel mills practically ground to a halt, the environment rapidly improved in the slowing down of human activities. Around the world, air pollution is reduced, wildlife reclaimed some of their habitats.

“For decades, the debate has been whether to choose economy over conservation of natural resources. This is a false dichotomy. The economy and all of society are fully and entirely dependent on natural resources—our natural capital that includes our forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems,” three-term Senator and now House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda said. “We have to realize and value the intricate interrelationships of our environment, our health and the climate.”

While the COVID-19 lockdowns have brought about fleeting improvements in greenhouse gas emissions and air quality, these efforts are not enough to reverse the effects of climate change in the country and globally. This, as the massive scale of the climate crisis has never been more evident than today, said Legarda, who is also the Global Champion for Resilience of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation, and Ambassador for Parliaments of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

“We have to recognize that our planet is fast declining, as record highs of 2020 as the warmest year and the period 2011 to 2020 as the warmest decade on record, worsening effects of climate change, and economic shocks from this pandemic set us back to achieve our goals on sustainable and resilient development,” Legarda said.

Legarda said the country’s ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic should also advance bolder efforts on climate action, as its vagaries can largely influence the movement of diseases. Think how warming can change the birds’ migratory patterns and affect interaction with humans.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development noted that zoonoses, or diseases transmitted from other animal species to humans, account for approximately 60 percent of all infectious diseases and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans, which include Covid-19, Ebola, Avian Influenza, Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, among others.

“We have to create more resilient communities than before. I urge not only the national government but every Filipino to contribute in the staging of a resilient and sustainable pandemic recovery for us to avoid and overcome future and interconnected threats,” Legarda said. “We have to rebuild our communities, reduce vulnerabilities and address the climate risks to promote a climate-adaptive, disaster-resilient, risk-sensitive and sustainable development.”

According to Legarda, the only way for a resilient and sustainable recovery is the climate pathway. It’s not about merely enhancing the capacities to rebuild after each and every disaster, but rather on reducing risks for the people and building lasting communities so that when disasters strike, we are prepared.

“We can do this foremost at the local level, where simple local adaptation measures can reduce disaster risks and spell the difference,” Legarda said. “All climate action is local. We must be able to translate our policies, speeches, and laws into simple language and technology for our people to actually benefit therefrom.”

Legarda stressed that the response must address underlying inequities in society affecting the capacity of local actors to adapt even as they stand on the frontlines of climate change, including marginalized communities, indigenous peoples, women and children, and youth. Local planning and investments can help ensure that the best information is shared, resources are made available, and the best policies are enacted.

Insofar as legislation is concerned, Legarda is one of the pioneers of taking the cudgels for the environment, having legislated, since 1998, numerous important environmental laws, such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Climate Change Act, the National Environmental Awareness and Education Act, the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, the Renewable Energy Law, the People’s Survival Fund Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, among others.

“It is vital to fund these laws and make sure these are efficiently implemented and that the people understand and benefit from them,” she said.

Most recently, Legarda lauded the approval of the Philippines’ first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which pledges significant cuts to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“We welcome the signing of the NDC, which will drive more ambitious climate action, stronger and more sustainable economic growth, and a green pandemic recovery,” Legarda said.

Environmental consciousness should also influence our lifestyle. Legarda reminded that strictly following the provisions of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act is a place to start, as well as other practical environment-friendly habits, such as walking and biking, using low-wattage appliances and unplugging electronics when idle, gathering and storing rainwater or reusing laundry water for other daily chores.

Healthy plant-based diets, sustainable food systems and regenerative farming, which reduce food waste and present major opportunities to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impact, can also fast-track green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Climate action should not be a once-a-year effort. Let us show our commitment to save planet earth and contribute to the sustainability of our communities by integrating climate action into our daily lives,” Legarda said. “This pandemic, the global crisis, and the successive disasters that we have experienced before allowed us to reflect on our actions that are seemingly at war with our environment. Now is the right time for us to tackle environmental degradation with urgency.”