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What future do you wish to see?

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen (The Philippine Star) - May 4, 2021 - 12:00am

As I continue to find new ways to maintain productivity and a healthy mind and body in the current global situation, I can’t help but to look forward to a future post COVID-19. I cannot wait to be able to take a walk without masks and face shields, to see my children go back to school and experience the best of their development years and, of course, the opportunity to explore more of what the Philippines has to offer.

I have also had the opportunity to think about what other aspects I wish to see more of in the “new normal.” I am aware that the situation, as elsewhere also, is dire in the Philippines and that thousands of lives and millions of jobs have been taken away by the pandemic. But I also see signs that make me more optimistic. I had the opportunity to comment in a previous column on the great resilience and solidarity of the Filipinos, which continue to impress me day by day.

I would like to focus today on a trend that I observe and which rejoices me. The trend of consumers towards a more conscious and healthier lifestyle, of companies towards more inclusive and responsible behavior, the strengthening of public-private partnerships. In short, a model of society that is more sustainable and less vulnerable to future shocks such as pandemics.

In my view, Filipinos are ready to embrace modern solutions to existing problems. These include, for example, new digital solutions or the embrace of cycling as a necessary form of mobility, with plans to create safer infrastructure down the road. The push for a strong fintech industry is also a welcome development, as similar in Switzerland, this would result in further innovation in the pursuit of a more inclusive financial system.

And then there is a new wind in the energy sector. Prior to the return of tighter mobility and gathering restrictions, I had the opportunity to meet with some members of this field. While I was happy to hear about their work and their future collaborations with the government and private sector, I was reminded that energy sufficiency remains to be a serious problem, with a possible shortage occurring in the near future. This would of course be a cause of concern, especially as the demand for energy continues to grow, as does the technology that it powers.

This only goes to show that a shift is needed not only in our behavior, to reduce our energy consumption, but also in the sources of energy we use. This idea, of course, is not new. Numerous countries around the world have recognized the need to shift to a cleaner future. The trend is picking up in the Philippines, as I observe that renewable energies and sustainable solutions are among the top priorities of the Department of Energy and the main actors of the private sector. Switzerland and its companies have a lot to offer in this field.

In Switzerland, a country that tops the ranking of innovation and has one of the highest per capita spending in research and development, a successful cleantech start-up industry emerged that saw a tenfold increase of funds raised from $30 million (P1.5 billion) in 2016 to $375 million (P18 billion) in 2019 – all in three years. This growth is not surprising in a country where cleantech contributes 4.5 percent to GDP and where nearly 100 percent of rail transport is powered by renewable energy. Hydroelectric power is also responsible for providing just under 60 percent of Swiss electrical supply. Switzerland has also set some ambitious goals, all in the pursuit of a cleaner future. These include the 43 percent reduction of the average energy consumption by 2035, the phasing out of nuclear energy by 2050 and of course the objective of zero net greenhouse emission by 2050.

In the Philippines, Swiss companies provide innovative solutions towards a cleaner future. Companies such as ABB have helped meet the energy gap through its work of supplying solar energy to communities around the country. Other Swiss companies such as Bühler, DKSH, Holcim and Nestlé incorporate renewable energy into their business processes, provide efficient technologies and lead the way in the management of solid waste, thus reducing their carbon footprint and aiming at climate neutral services and activities. They take their societal responsibilities to heart.

These are just some of the efforts that the Swiss embassy will be highlighting in our #CleanerFuture series on our Facebook and Instagram. We believe that everyone should know the benefits and possibilities of renewable energy and cleantech, so that we can all contribute to the cleaner future that we wish to see.

Last April 22, the world celebrated Earth Day, an occasion that marks the importance of environmental protection and reminds us how we only have one Earth to call home.

In the week prior to this global celebration, the Solar Impulse Foundation succeeded in finding and labeling 1,000 clean solutions to support businesses and governments to tackle the climate crisis, while being profitable and creating jobs. This initiative was launched by a true visionary from Switzerland, explorer Bertrand Piccard. I had the pleasure to host a dinner in his honor in Beijing a couple of years back, as he came to China to present his vision, and I must say that he is one of the most inspiring personalities I ever met. His adventures around the world in balloons and solar-powered planes have not only captivated people around the world, but showcased what pioneering spirit of innovation is capable of.

Of course, there is so much more to be done, but we know that it can be achieved, and that we can collectively contribute to the successes and solutions. This is the clean future that I will help to build.

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines since August 2019. Prior to this assignment, Ambassador Gaschen served as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Beijing from 2015 - 2019. He also held the same designation in the Swiss Embassy in Paris in 2011.

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