Creating a Green Trend for our Future

Key Points of the National Action Plan

by Former Senator Heherson T. Alvarez
Commissioner, Climate Change Commission

Philippine Green Building Initiative 1stTECHNOFORUM on Sustainability
SMX Convention Center, Pasay City, November 9, 2012


Thank you for inviting me and the Climate Change Commission to participate in this forum on sustainable development.

I note with interest that your theme – “Working Together to Build a Sustainable Asia” – has a regional perspective. This is quite encouraging because seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change are here in Asia.More people in this region are at risk than in any other part of the planet. With more than 96 million Filipinos, the Philippines is the world’s 12th most populated country.

By working and striving together, we can learn about the best practices of our neighboring countries. At the same time, our neighbors may learn something from our responses as the third most vulnerable nation in the entire world. Sharing knowledge about potential impacts of climate adversity will enable leaders to make better decisions on adaptation measures and mitigation strategies both at national and local levels.

Our Changing Climate

Our climate, as documented by scientific research of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been changing radically as a result of human activities.  Uncontrolled carbon emissions are raising global temperatures which, in turn, foment increasing weather anomalies.

Extreme weather conditions around the globe are causing bewildering and often tragic consequences on societies and ecosystems. We either have   an over abundance of rainfall or droughts– but whichever one occurs, ithas an impact on  agricultural productivity,  on  human health, on  forests and other ecosystems,   on energy supply and on social stability.

We do not have to go far for examples. Two years ago, the Philippines was devastated by a series of super typhoons with maximum gusts as high as 200 kilometers per hour –remember Milenyo, Reming, Senyang and Queenie?The recent monster   hurricane “Sandy,”   sweeping last week through the eastern seaboard of the United States,   left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding.   Rehabilitation of the devastated areas will require an estimated $50 billion or more.

Early in my political career, I saw the threat of global warming. As   chairman of the Senate committee on environment beginning in 1989 -- some 23 years ago –I made the following warning:

“We must defuse the ecological time bomb of global warming today to save tomorrow. Every medium must be used for education. A crusade, the moral equivalent of war, in confronting climate change must be waged effectively, swiftly. What it takes to save the earth is a change in attitude, lifestyle, consumption, habits of thinking and way of viewing creation.”

Over the years, I have advocated that massive public investment in renewable energy be systematically allocated, with the aim of diminishing our heavy dependence on coal and   fossil fuel.  Realistically, of course, we cannot entirely eliminate the use of coal and   oil.   But by developing our resources in alternative energy forms – wind, solar, water, geothermal, and biofuels-- we can sustain our own development and be a larger master of our future.

The Philippine Green Building  Initiative

Before I go on, let me say a few words about our sponsor, PGBI. Van Jones, in his best-selling book The Green Collar Economy,  says the first wave of environmentalism is conservation. The second wave is regulation, and the third  wave  is investment. PGBI, I believe, has gone through  all these  three stages, and it continues to promote  thiscycle of conservation, regulation and investment  as it moves forward.

PGBI is a great example of a  pioneering environmental organization engaged in promoting  a green economy. Between the old, outmoded ways of designing and constructing buildings and structures, PGBI members have band together to make a moral choice – they have embraced a green path for the future PGBI  is the kind of organization  we need in every sector of the economy.

The government cannot solve all the ills of environmental degradation. The private sector must play a  huge and pivotal role, and this is why we  appreciate the existence and inroads made by PGBI.  We need to replicate  the concern and the principles of PGBI in all areas – in education, in banking and finance, in transportation and industry, in the medical profession.  PGBI’s  environmental stewardship has fostered a new spirit and a new era in the Philippine building and construction industry.

The goals of PGBI  are closely linked with the mission of  the Climate Change Commission. We are bond together in our quest for sustainable development. And we can appreciate this linkage even better by a brief review of our National Climate Change Action Plan.

The National Action Plan

The NCCAP has seven strategic priorities. These are:

* Food Security
* Water sufficiency
* Environmental and Ecological Stability
* Human Security
* Sustainable Energy
* Climate-smart Industries and Services, and
* Knowledge and Capacity Development.

With the exception of food security, we can readily see that the PGBI is directly involved in six of these strategic priorities. The action plan recognizes that certain activities cut across strategic priorities in terms of financing, valuation of natural resources, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and capacity-building.

A major component of the action plan  is mainstreaming climate risk-reduction into local development plans and processes.  Our Commission  provides assistance and expertise to local government units in  the formulation of their respective climate change action plans.

Of course, this is easier said than done. We must candidly   admit that we face an uphill battle in striving to fulfill  our mission,   given the Commission’s  grave constraints in organization, staffing, and financial  resources. By legislative design, the Commission is  a research, planning and policy-making  body.

Does this mean that the Commission is a paper tiger, with no power to enforce its plans and policies? Not exactly. The strength and the influence of the Commission derives from the fact that it operates under the Office of the President, and its chairman  is  the President.  By executive order or executive fiat, the policies and programs adopted by the Commission become part of the government’s program.

President Benigno Aquino III has shunned the often cumbersome  and unwieldy process of decision–making throughthe traditional  full Cabinet court in favor of smaller Cabinet clusters that can deal directly and swiftly with problems in their particular sphere of operations. To address climate-related concerns and to hasten decision-making, President Aquino created the Climate Change Cabinet Cluster. This group includes the  Office of the Executive Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Public Works and Highways, the National Disaster Risk Reduction  and Management Council, the Climate Change Commission and others.

The cluster set-up has provided a wide latitude and  flexibility for the departments and agencies involved. For instance, DENR  cut across several government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a collaborative program to strengthen the country’s institutional capacity to adapt to climate change. The program, supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), involved five pilot projects representing key sectoral concerns:agricultural in  Ifugao province; health in Metro Manila; housing in Sorsogon; microfinance in in Agusan del Norte; and governance in Albay.

Working within the parameters of the Commission’s strategic priorities, I have been focusing  on seven major advocacies. These are:

1.  Sustainable development. Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

2.  Black soot reduction. Diesel-driven jeepneys, buses and trucks are responsible for 70% of black carbon emission in  our urban centers areas.  Black carbon, produced by inefficient burning of diesel, is a major health hazard to Metro Manila residents and urban dwellers.

3.  Energy from renewables. We need to gradually wean our economy away from an addiction of  coal and fossil fuels. We must increaseour reliance on wind, solar, tidal, and biomass.

4.  REDD. This stands for  “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”  This program  aims “to slow, halt and reverse forest cover and carbon loss."

5.  River Basins Development. The Philippines has 412 rivers in 119 proclaimed watersheds.  As vital drivers of the Philippine economy, the rivers and their basins have become the new focus of the country’s program for sustainable development. The river basin approach builds strong resilience to climate change.  It is   a comprehensive land use plan based on principles of sustainable development as well as on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

6.  Wider use of LED light technology. Use of Light Emission Diodes bulbs will reduce electricity consumption by as much as 60 to 80 percent.

7.  Green buildings. Green buildings are designed to efficiently use energy, water, and other resources; to protect  occupants’  health and improve employee productivity. Green buildings can significantly  to reduce waste, pollution and environmental degradation.

Incidentally, I had the pleasure of visiting the new 50-storey Zuellig Building in Makati. It is an amazing  structure, probably the country’s most sophisticated building in terms of environment friendly features.  It has solar panels and inverters that generate real-time energy for its offices,  high-quality marble from South America, and a built-in system for collecting rain water for recycling use.

But I would like to repay the hospitality of  Zuellig Building with honesty. Considering the P7 billion investment of Zuellig, I am disappointed that the building’s lighting system – apart from the natural sun light afforded by the design – relies  entirely on compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.  If  LED (Light Emitting Diodes) bulbs were used,  the building’s light  bill  would  have been drastically reduced by as much as 50 to 70 percent. Nonetheless, I can say that Zuellig Building represents a milestone in Philippine architecture and green building.

What PGBI  Must Do

There is a growing need for the Philippines to cut its dependency on coal  and fossil fuels as the main sources of energy. After the industrial sector, buildings are the largest  users of water and electricity,  and so they  contribute   to the  warming of our planet.

Since 2006, the building and construction industry has been on a continuous upward trend. This is a welcome development for architects and the construction industry as a whole. However, this is not necessarily a positive development for the environment. As we know, a great number of  the current projects and developments are not based on principles of green and sustainability.

A significant part of this trend is that  multinational corporations and  local companies  are now  putting a premium on  green initiatives as prerequisites in their  maintenance and operations. This  requires  the industry to  make  a paradigm shift to “green building”  and  bring the Philippines up to global standards in sustainable buildings and construction techniques  that are  environmentally-friendly and efficient in the use of space, energy and water.

Retrofitting old and existing buildings to be environmentally sustainable is bound to become a minor industry itself, as more companies and tenants demand ecologically responsive building spaces.

However, the scale, pace and general trend of the  industry must be  geared toward a unified  green building code. This will require the industry and its key allies -- such as UAP, PSME, PSVARE  as well as conservation, engineering, and interior design professional organizations -- to  come together in defining and implementing  unified green building standards and a nationally viable green rating system. To produce more rational, more livable  and  environmentally sustainable structures – that  is the  challenge for the industry and its key allies.

In closing let me make three basic recommendations. My first recommendation  is for PGBI to  study,  adopt or modify  the green standards established by Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA). As a small island city-state with limited resources and growing needs, Singapore is  using its land, water, energy and other resources in the most efficient,prudent and  pragmatic ways.

Singapore’s  Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development (IMCSD) set a target for Singapore’s construction  environment: By 2030, 80% of the existing buildings in Singapore are to achieve at least the BCAGreen Mark certification rating. In terms of energy efficiency, the committee set a target of 35% reduction from the 2005 level by 2030.
To support the IMCSD targets and strategies,  the BCA has already accomplished its Second  Green Building Masterplan in coordination with the private sector.

Dr. John Keung, BCA  chief executive officer, reports that a significant  result in 2005  was the production of a series of  “Green Building Platinum Guidebooks” for building owners, architects, engineering consultants, and construction companies. The guidebooks contain  useful information on sustainable building design, attributes of green buildings,as well as the latest green building technologies and design strategies and approaches.

My second recommendation is for the PGBI to set up a working group to look into  the fascinating  report of the U.S.  New Buildings Institute (NBI)  on Zero Energy Commercial Buildings  or  Zero Energy  Buildings (ZEBs). Recently, newly constructed ZEBs  on the Pacific coast of the  United States have gained wide attention.

Now, what is a ZEB? A ZEB is a  building that “uses no more energy over the course of the year than it produces from on-site renewable sources.” I understand that  ZEBs are constructed using readily available technology, with an integrated design  as well as   mechanical  and  electrical systems that  achieve  high levels of energy efficiency. 

Finally, after the studies on the Singapore and ZEB models,  I strongly urge  the PGBI to lobby  for legislation creating  a national green building code Such a code should include an  evaluation process and rate buildings as to their sustainability,  site development, energy use, water consumption, natural lighting  quality,  use of green materials, and other vital considerations.

Quezon City already has  an ordinance --  the Green Building Ordinance of 2009 --  prescribing  rules and  regulations that require minimum standards of a green infrastructure. However,  different cities cannot  have different standards for green buildings. The task of PGBI is to help formulate and develop national  standards and an objective  rating system.  It should then lobby Congress for an appropriate legislation containing these standards and rating system.

By doing so, it will help  protect the public, enhance the  environment and the community, and bring Philippine buildings – icons of  our civilization – into the 21st century.