Green recovery: Rebuilding our lives for the better
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2020 - 12:00am

As the world grapples with COVID-19 and starts to gradually prepare for dealing with its longer-term impact, governments and societies should reflect on what we can learn from this crisis.

With the Philippines joining more than half of the global population in lock-down, the first lesson learned is the deep interdependency between our countries and the high exposure that we all have to unanticipated external shocks. With the virus spreading uncontrollably, it has been those governments that have accepted responsibility for the well-being of their citizens that have better limited the gravest consequences.

The second lesson is that multilateralism and global solidarity work – together we are stronger.

The third lesson has been the necessity to accept science and respond to it. We will have to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and to do our best to cope with the virus. But science will also need to guide us when we think about economic recovery, climate change and environmental degradation. For our future it will be crucial to avoid lapsing into a fossil fuel and resource intensive recovery, which would put people and the planet irreversibly in peril. The EU encourages all its partners including the Philippines to put in place clear and robust low carbon policies and green recovery strategies. While the quarantine regime has grave consequences for the health and livelihoods of many, it was somewhat encouraging to be joined by many more cyclists on the streets of Manila than in the pre-COVID-times when I already used my bike to commute to the office. While this for many was done by sheer necessity, I hope some will stick to their bikes in the future.

COVID-19  is an exceptionally large-scale human tragedy but science tells us that this is just a warning compared to the existential risks associated with global warming and other planetary challenges. Healthy natural ecosystems are a prerequisite for continued prosperity. Unaddressed climate change – if the international community fails to bring the increasing greenhouse gas emissions down – and environmental degradation will lead to catastrophic consequences. Similarly, the growing number of violent weather phenomena can lead to a very unsettled world. Global warming is harder to tackle than the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no vaccine against climate change, but together we can do it and we can address this only if we use the economic rebound from COVID-19 to accelerate the transition to a safer, more resilient future.

The choices we make today will chart tomorrow’s future.

Over the next two years, governments around the world will seek to spend about €10 trillion borrowed from future generations. Recovery plans should therefore be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘build back better’ and invest in an economy of the 21st century, and not in the obsolete carbon economy of the past. The European Union has reconfirmed its commitment to a green, digital and resilient recovery and will stick to its goal to be climate neutral by 2050 – and we challenge anyone to beat us to it so the whole of humanity wins!

Against this background, the EU stands ready to continue its engagements with the Philippines on ways to direct investment to environmentally sustainable economic activities.

Our recently signed Access to Sustainable Energy Programme, with a budget of €66 million or P3.696 billion, responds to the Philippines’ goal to promote renewable energy sources to decrease the use of polluting power sources such as coal and its negative impact on climate change. With the EU support, the  Philippines is also pursuing the implementation of an ambitious climate pledge (*Nationally Determined Contribution intended to be the Philippines’ investment strategy for a low-carbon development) in line with its ratification to the Paris Agreement.

We have been also working with the Department of Science and Technology for more than one year on the preparation of a programme to share knowledge, capacity, expertise and technology on the use of satellite technology for a more effective response and approach to disaster risk management, ocean monitoring, water management or site selection for the production of renewable energy.

Working hard to find new ways to win this collective challenge and allowing our children to enjoy a decent human life on a peaceful planet is after all not an idealistic pursuit. Together we can realize our dream to build a better future. We just need to be true to our values, listen to science and strengthen our economies. There is no realist alternative to green recovery. In our view, it is the only way to go.

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(Thomas Wiersing is Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the EU Delegation to the Philippines.)

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