Monday, June 21, 2021

Algo: Recovering from Covid-19 with a climate lens

THE Philippines finds itself facing the brunt of two crises. Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic is at the forefront of national agenda for the foreseeable future, as public and private sectors develop urgent strategies to limit the spread of the coronavirus and adapt to a different normal.

However, this does not change the reality of the climate crisis for the country. Already one of the nations at highest risk for the past decade, the shock to systems caused by Covid-19 increases furtherthe vulnerability of the poorest sectors to extreme weather and slow onset impacts, without proper interventions.

With both crisis having immediate and long-term ramifications for a country aiming to industrialize, the Philippines must pursue a recovery pathway from Covid-19 that also strengthens its capacity to address the climate crisis.

Points of integration

Within the Covid-19 recovery plan released by the Inter-Agency Task Force are strategies and actions where co-benefits aligned with climate change mitigation and adaptation can be achieved.

One of the main areas for integrating the climate agenda involve food security by strengthening the resilience of the agricultural sector and associated supply chains. The pandemic has re-emphasized the importance to national development of this sector, which has long been one of the poorest in the country.

Included in the recovery plan are programs including linking farmers to supply feeding programs and relief operations, grants and loan assistance, and provision of support services and farming equipment. These can improve the economic and social well-being of agricultural communities, which are also crucial for building long-term climate resilience.

Another key strategy includes the promotion of backyard gardening and community farming, some of the most readily-doable actions in which every Filipino can partake. They not only provide improved food security and health, but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These become more important in urban areas, given the high population density and food demand, and contribute to positive behavioral change necessary to address both crises.

With the onset of the rainy season, disaster prevention and preparedness must also be prioritized. Measures such as adjusted planting and harvesting periods and enhancing early warning systems are needed to mitigate agricultural losses. Last May, timely advisories by the Department of Agriculture and other government agencies allowed PHP9 billion worth of rice and corn to be harvested before the arrival of category three typhoon Ambo, reducing potential losses.

Strengthening environmental protection can improve both public health and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The recovery plan includes the adoption of work-from-home arrangements and more open and green urban spaces, both of which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that can increase risk to COVID-19. Improving solid waste management at the community level also reduces the risk of spreading other diseases and the likelihood of extreme floods, especially during the rainy season.

Strengthening the implementation of forest protection and reforestation programs can have multiple national and local co-benefits such as absorbing carbon dioxide, biodiversity conservation, and maintaining a healthier environment. Forests in critical watersheds must be prioritized as they also play a critical role in maintaining adequate water supply, which has been a growing problem in areas such as Metro Manila in recent years.

With the richness and diversity of ecosystems in the Philippines comes opportunities for nature-based solutions that are generally more cost-effective in the long run than technical solutions, while also aiding in recovery from Covid-19. The mainstreaming of such solutions are aligned with promoting co-financing between national and local government units (LGUs) for development programs that may benefit multiple LGUs, including livelihood opportunities and climate resilience.

These strategies should also be included in the Philippines's climate solutions as listed in its Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris climate agreement. The document, which will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by the end of this year, will be the country's voluntary contribution to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2030 and avoid more catastrophic impacts.

It should be highlighted that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a threat that can influence different aspects of the economic and social well-being. Aside from causing extreme weather and slow onset events, it can also enhance factors that worsen issues such as extreme poverty, land degradation, migration, conflicts, and outbreaks of diseases. Similar to Covid-19, a whole-of-society approach is needed to address the climate crisis, albeit on a broader, decades-long basis.

Furthermore, the transition to the "new normal" should involve a greater emphasis on strategies addressing both crises, including sustainable modes of transport such as bicycles and renewable energy development. Investing financial, social, and human capital in these programs contribute to the attainment of national development goals inclusive of all sectors and enhanced self-sufficiency and resilience to potential disease outbreaks and climate change impacts alike.


John Leo is the program manager of Living Laudato Si Philippines and Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (Kasali). He has been a citizen journalist and feature writer since 2016. The actions included in this op-ed are from IATF's "We Recover As One" report released in May 2020.


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