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Toward resource-efficient and green development

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, President Aquino declared three priority areas of investment in the Philippines: tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure. These are the basic areas that have extraordinary potential in our quest for a green economy.

An archipelago of 7,100 islands with a population of over 95 million, we were declared the third nation most vulnerable to climate change. Our dispersed islands are a unique challenge to climate-change survival.

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Our public and private sectors are engaged in a wide variety of climate-change mitigation and adaptation programs. I would like to stress three significant projects, among others, that may show a direction for green growth and sustainable development:

• Development of the country’s major river basins.

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• Building stronger resilience in our agricultural sector.

• Drastic reduction of black carbon from diesel engines in our urban areas with the enhancement of renewable energy capacity.

River basin development

Our country has 412 river basins which, along with watersheds, constitute 70 percent of our land mass. As the lifeblood and drivers of the Philippine economy, the rivers and their basins must be the new focus of the government’s program for sustainable development and climate-change adaptation and mitigation.

The Philippines is pursuing this through a multifaceted strategy, the “Integrated and Ecosystem-based River Basin Management Project.” Initially, the project will cover the 18 largest river basins nationwide, focusing on the Cagayan River, the country’s largest and longest. The Cagayan River Basin and its surrounding mountains, forests and wetlands, and the diversity of flora and fauna are golden opportunities for ecotourism.

Green jobs and green growth will be generated in a wide variety of subsidiary projects along the river, wetlands and adjacent marine sectors—mini hydropower plants, small catchment basins for flood control, water retention, and offshore tidal energy.

A notable program concerns national greening. It targets the planting of 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of degraded or denuded areas during the period 2011-2016.

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Teams of Filipino engineers, technicians, scientists and community leaders are currently addressing vital interrelated concerns—watershed conservation, flood mitigation, clean water sources, agricultural and fishery production, poverty alleviation, and power generation, an all-inclusive work generation.

National and local government agencies are also organizing and educating communities and individuals to manage and protect water and related resources.

‘Climate-smart’ agriculture

River basin development is closely tied to “climate-smart” agriculture, which fulfills the sustainable development goal of reducing poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.

At almost 32 percent, agriculture is the largest component of the Philippine GDP (gross domestic product). Locked for decades in a chemical production system, we have become a rice-importing nation, although rice is our main staple. It is a vast opportunity for organic fertilizer development.

River basin development will multiply the number of national and communal irrigation systems and small water impounding systems. Irrigation can make a hectare of land produce three rice crops in a year.

In Davos, the President expressed optimism that the Philippines would soon be a net rice exporter. By building a green resiliency in our farming methods, climate-smart agriculture will soon make the country sufficient in major staples by the end of 2013.

We are on the way there. Last year, the sustained growth and development of the country’s crop industry grew by 4.1 percent. The crop subsector posted more than one-half (51.5 percent) of total agriculture production, which increased by 2.92 percent in 2012, despite the chain of devastating typhoons.

Climate-smart agriculture is giving farmers better management of natural resources. Agro technicians are providing proactive research in crop farming systems. In addition, our Department of Agriculture has mobilized battalions of  “food soldiers” to achieve sufficiency in rice and major staples, under a medium-term Food Staples Sufficiency Program.

Reducing black-carbon emissions

Metro Manila’s large fleet of diesel-driven jeepneys, buses and trucks are responsible for 70 percent of the total emission of black carbon in the country. As many as 500,000 public utility vehicles, mostly jeepneys, produce 22,000 metric tons of diesel soot emissions a year.

Black carbon has a climate-change effect several thousand times that of carbon dioxide. The Philippine Environment Monitor estimates that air pollution costs the Philippine economy $1.5 billion annually. The World Bank estimates that 5,000 annual premature deaths due to air pollution make up 12 percent of all deaths in Metro Manila.

A project to address black soot emissions will be inaugurated this year as a public-private partnership. The goal is to modify some 500,000 Metro Manila public utility vehicle engines over a 5-year period. Through this program, the Philippines may be able to claim one of the largest, if not the largest, per capita reductions of climate-change emissions.

The project concerning black-carbon emissions and the enhancement of an alternative energy system are mitigation programs that will create technical and inclusive jobs. Ultimately, the Philippines will have to formulate a fossil-fuel policy that will make alternative energy systems competitive and bring us toward low-carbon development in accordance with the safe global targets defined by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Optimizing green economic benefits, increasing people’s capacity to control their lives, and at the same time reducing environmental risks and enhancing natural capital—this is the blueprint to bridge the shift to a green economy in the Philippines. We are beginning to pursue “the future that we want” for ourselves and for humankind.

Former Sen. Heherson T. Alvarez is one of three commissioners of the Climate Change Commission, which is chaired by President Benigno Aquino III. This paper was read at the 13th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit held in India last February 1.

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TAGS: Black carbon, Commentary, Davos, environment, Heherson T. Alvarez, opinion, River basin development, World Economic Forum
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