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Despite years of laying the groundwork for a greener economy, the Philippines’ energy mix remains predominantly brown. Photo by Pixabay

Green day: Is a ‘greener economy’ within the Philippines’ reach?

The Philippines has all the law to allow the clean and just transition after the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of natural disasters. What is stopping it from becoming greener?
The Philippines has all the law to allow the clean and just transition after the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of natural disasters. What is stopping it from becoming greener?

This story was originally published on ABS-CBN News. The writer was one of the fellows participating in our journalism fellowship on just and green transition from COVID-19 with Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the Philippines, more focus has been devoted to the recovery of its economy, which is projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to suffer the sharpest drop in Southeast Asia. 

However, the devastating impacts of natural disasters (the most recent example being Typhoon Goni, 2020’s strongest storm to date) serve as reminders of the country’s vulnerability to human-made climate change. 

With the recently imposed moratorium on new coal power plants in the Philippines, discussions on the country’s move towards a “greener economy” are once again in the spotlight.

A cyclist sloshed through flash floods caused by Typhoon Goni in Pasig city, Metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by Mikael Angelo S. Francisco

“While we have initially embraced a technology-neutral policy, our periodic assessment of our country’s energy requirements is paving the way for innovative adaptations in our policy direction,” said Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi in a recorded speech for Singapore’s International Energy Week 2020.

A closer look at the history of green legislation in the Philippines shows that the groundwork for this transition has been laid out across the past two decades. While environment-friendly job opportunities are on the rise, there has been minimal progress in the country’s journey towards economic transformation.

The year 2008 saw the passage of the Renewable Energy Act, which aims to bolster the development of the country’s renewable energy resources and systems. Eight years later, then-President Benigno Aquino signed into law Republic Act (RA) 10771, also known as the Philippine Green Jobs Act of 2016, which aimed to help the country move towards a greener economy. 

The Green Jobs Act laid down provisions and incentives to facilitate the creation of agricultural, industrial, or service jobs that preserve or restore local ecosystems and biodiversity. These jobs will provide secure and sustainable sources of income for Filipino workers. 

The act also provided a list of agencies that would develop and administer appropriate standards and technologies for green goods, jobs, and services alongside the Climate Change Commission (CCC).

Labor and economy expert Dr. Rene E. Ofreneo noted that there was a “cluster of environmental laws” passed from 2000 to 2011 that could strengthen the adoption and proliferation of green jobs in the Philippines and the country’s transition to a greener economy. One example is the National Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008, which integrates environmental education at all levels.

The problem, however, was the lack of execution. According to Ofreneo, a “bold, radical restructuring of the economy” is needed, alongside the firm implementation of existing environmental laws.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed major socio-economic challenges that inhibit the Philippines’ transition to a greener economy. Photo by Pixabay

In reality, the Philippine economy continues to be predominantly brown. A year before the Green Jobs Act was signed into law, coal still accounted for 44.5 percent of the country’s total power generation mix. The number rose to 54.6 percent in 2019, according to the DOE. 

To date, 28 coal-fired power plants are still in operation in the Philippines. And while the moratorium prevents new coal projects from coming to fruition, 22 proposed plants have already been approved for construction. The completion of these projects will place coal’s role in the Philippines’ energy mix at 53 percent in 2030.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has bared certain uncomfortable realities about the Philippines. Aside from an economic slump partly due to a heavy reliance on BPO industries and overseas remittances, the pandemic also highlighted the connection between poverty and issues on the environment and health. This was most evident in the transmission of COVID-19 throughout rural areas, coastal areas, and urban poor communities, most of which lack the proper facilities for water, sanitation, and hygiene. 

Despite the grim development, there has been a bit of progress made since 2016. Awareness about climate change has increased, with a few businesses adjusting and adopting green jobs. 

In a recent interview with Mongabay, Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), confirmed that no new coal plants have been constructed in the country since 2017, largely due to resistance at the community level.

Furthermore, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has already established a technical and vocational hub to equip Filipino workers with essential green skills and ensure a just transition. A green jobs resource development plan from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also exists, detailing the steps the country must take from now until 2022. In addition, the proposed Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill aims to promote and incentivize investments in greener energy sources.

Still, as Ofreneo stressed, gaps between policy and implementation must be addressed decisively. “If there is no transformation of industries, society, and communities, nothing will happen.”

At this point, only the country’s commitment to just transition and economic transformation – which includes changes in industry and agriculture, stronger environmental preservation, and a more proactive approach to addressing social inequality – will determine if “greener” days truly are ahead.