The Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) is an international non-government group advancing fair climate policy and low carbon, climate-resilient development. Based in the Philippines, it is engaged with the wider international climate and energy policy arena, particularly in Asia. It is recognized for its role in helping advance effective global climate action and the Paris climate agreement.
Formerly known as Green Renewable Independent Power Producer, a sustainable energy solutions initiative first formed in 1998, the organization was renamed to reflect its broader agenda, covering climate policy, low carbon resilience, climate finance, communications, and diplomacy in international, national, and local arenas.
Fighting for 1.5ºC with frontliners
ICSC promotes fair climate policy globally as an advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and the Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers (V20), composed of 55 of the world’s most vulnerable countries. ICSC was the senior advisor to the Philippine presidency when it chaired the CVF and V20 from December 2014 to August 2016.
ICSC is an accredited observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and an advisor to the Philippine delegation to the UN climate negotiations. It also represents Southern think tanks as a member of the High Level Consultative Group of the InsuResilience Global Partnership.
The Institute is part of the Steering Committee of the Asia Energy Network, a broad coalition of energy transition advocates in the region; the secretariat of the Asia Climate Experts Group (ACE) composed of leading climate scientists in Southeast Asia; a member of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, a nationwide coalition of over 40 civil society groups working on diverse climate and development issues. It was the previous chair and currently a member of the board of CENTRE, a network of renewable energy (RE) experts, developers, advocates, and enterprises, and co-convenor of the Philippine Commission on Women’s Technical Working Group on the Environmental Conservation, Protection and Rehabilitation dimension of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Mobilizing and tracking climate finance
ICSC provides climate policy, finance, and energy advocacy and strategy development advice to civil society organizations (CSOs) and networks in Asia and Africa. It is a convenor of GCF Watch, a Southern civil society-led initiative established to help empower civil society groups from the Global South to engage the Fund more effectively.
ICSC is the convenor of the global Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative (AFAI), an international research initiative tracking how climate finance, committed by donor countries and organizations, has been received and utilized by recipient countries such as the Philippines. The Institute was the Philippine lead when the global initiative was established in 2013, and when it closed in 2015, ICSC not only sustained the initiative but also established AFAI+, adding mitigation finance in the list of funds tracked. Through AFAI+, ICSC continues to promote new tracking and monitoring tools to improve climate finance transparency and accountability in the Philippines and in the Global South region.
The organization is a critical voice in the development of climate finance policy in the Philippines. In 2012, it led the crafting and passage into law of the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), the first legislated Philippine climate finance mechanism dedicated to supporting local adaptation initiatives. ICSC currently sits as a civil society representative to the PSF Board and continues to support local governments, communities and organizations in developing local adaptation plans and budgets.
In February 2021, ICSC, together with ACCORD and CARE Philippines, released a report entitled Climate Finance Adaptation Study Report for the Philippines, which showed that USD 770 million (PHP 38.5 billion) or 37 percent can be considered as over-reported from the USD 2.1 billion (PHP 105 billion) of adaptation finance for the country reported by donors across 18 assessed projects from 2013 to 2017. These findings stressed the significance of climate finance accountability for both donors and recipients, as well as the importance and urgency to maximize the funds that the Philippines is receiving for climate action.
ICSC is also leading the first locally-led proposal to the Green Climate Fund together with the municipalities from Eastern Samar, Bantayan Islands, and Palawan. The proposal was done through the Land Bank of the Philippines as the accredited entity and focuses primarily on adaptation measures needed in water security.
Understanding climate impacts
ICSC works with scientists and local academic institutions to surface the creeping impacts of climate change in the country, more formally known as slow onset events (SOEs), associated with the adverse impacts of climate change. These impacts include sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, salinization, and land and forest degradation.
In 2015, the organization launched the report “Slow Onset Climate Change Impacts: What it is, Why should we care, and What we can do about it” with the Congressional Policy Budget and Research Department (CPBRD) of the of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. The report helped elevate the centrality of SOEs in climate discourse against the still strong and narrow fixation equating climate change with disasters.
ICSC’s SOE research includes academic partners affiliated with Benguet State University, Visayas State University, and University of Southeastern Philippines, promoting, reviewing and initiating studies in Benguet province, the Cordillera Administrative Region, the Eastern Visayas Region (Region VIII), and Davao Region (Region XI), respectively. ICSC and its partners published local science-based studies that showed the magnitude of impacts of SOEs, as well as the need to implement more innovative adaptation measures. The studies were formally launched at a forum ICSC co-organized with the German Development Institute and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in November 2017 on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany.
ICSC currently leads the establishment of Multi-Actor Partnership (MAP) that seeks elevate the discussion on how climate and disaster risk finance and insurance instruments can help the most vulnerable communities in the country. As of today, MAP is supported by at least 20 organizations, cooperatives, academic institutions, and government agencies including the Department of Finance and the Insurance Commission. ICSC works on the MAP as part of a global consortium from various countries in Asia and Africa.
Interconnecting climate with gender, health
With the support of the Women and Earth (WORTH) Initiative of the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (WOMEN), ICSC organized a photovoice workshop and community analysis to help the local government of Guiuan, Eastern Samar mainstream gender, health, sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the context of climate change in their development plans. The project concluded with a strategic planning session of adaptation initiatives and resource mobilization. This initiative laid down the foundation for a more evident linkage between gender and climate change and the importance of integrating this into long-term local strategies.
ICSC is at the forefront of promoting real competition in the power sector, sustainable energy, and low carbon resilient development.
ICSC’s energy policy team is composed of some of the leading minds in energy economics, policy, and regulatory issues in the country. The organization engages directly with the Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Finance (DOF), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, the Joint Congressional Committee on Energy, the Mindanao Development Authority, utilities, power sector institutions and companies, electric cooperatives, and local government units in support of an early transition to affordable, sustainable, reliable, and efficient energy systems. It has released groundbreaking reports on small island grids and stranded coal plant assets, and led the campaign to pass a coal tax in the Philippines in 2017.
ICSC has co-organized dialogues with the DOF and DOE in promoting energy transition investments, an economy-wide carbon tax, and the cost effectiveness of maximum RE penetration in Mindanao energy plan. ICSC has played a key role in raising the great and growing economic pitfalls of dependence on inflexible baseload generation in the country’s power sector strategies.
Working with the Center for Research on Energy and Air, ICSC released in 2021 a groundbreaking report showing the annual cost to the country – close to a quarter of its gross domestic product – arising from the continued neglect of air pollution and appropriate air quality standards.
During its early days, ICSC developed alternative RE programs for on-grid and off-grid communities in the province of Negros Occidental. It eventually launched the country’s first 27-strong electric public vehicle fleet known as e-jeepneys to international acclaim in 2007 as part of the Amsterdam-based, Doen Foundation-supported Climate-Friendly Cities initiative. The e-jeepney project has received numerous distinctions, among them is the top prize in Discovery Channel’s Ecopolis Program as “the best transport alternative that can save the world’s cities from pollution.” It also won the Grand Prize in the Inclusive Mobility Challenge project of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ateneo School of Government and the Metro Manila Development Authority.
Advancing the energy transition
ICSC provides data-driven analytical reports showing the urgency – and rapidly growing investment opportunities – in accelerating competition reforms in the energy sector. It has also provided critical guidance to national climate response strategies demonstrating the centrality of resilience in driving sustainable development forward that at the same time increasingly contributes to global decarbonization goals as a co-benefit.
In the past few years, ICSC has established that coal plants are already stranded assets and highlighted its unreliability as a main power source. This year, the narrative has been pushed further, by establishing that coal is expensive, unreliable, and intermittent, which was stressed with supporting data and information through the work of the organization’s data scientists.
With the continuous breakdowns of major coal plants in the Philippines, leading to rotating power outages especially in the summer season, ICSC has been engaging with and has been bridging the national government, civil society organizations, and the private sector to stress the urgency to fast-track the energy transition in the country.
In August 2021, the Institute released a report with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), and Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) entitled Analysing Energy Transition Risks in the Philippine Power Sector which demonstrates how and why “stranded asset risks for coal power plants in the Philippines will likely materialize independent of additional policies on renewable energy,” which has already been the trend globally.
Enabling communities through RE-Charge Pilipinas
In 2014, ICSC set up RE-Charge Pilipinas (RCP) in Tacloban City, ground zero of Super Typhoon Haiyan, as a training center for RE applications and sustainable solutions. It aims to show how RE can better power disaster response and rehabilitation and low carbon development. Powered by a 9.75-kilowatt solar power system, the facility is located within Tacloban’s commercial district, near the city’s port.
RCP has since launched two initiatives which aimed to dismantle the myths that all renewable energy systems are technologically sophisticated, expensive and suited only for men.
The Solar Scholars program was initiated in 2014 to help community members, local government officials, and civil society representatives harness solar power for emergency response and community development initiatives. They are trained to do energy assessments in their households and communities, as well as set up, operate and maintain portable solar-powered devices called TekPak for emergency lighting and powering of basic communication and medical equipment.
Several versions of the TekPaks have been developed, informed by feedback from the communities. At present, the TekPaks are formed using locally available parts, and assembled by a community of RE enthusiasts, interns, volunteers, and Solar Scholars under the guidance of the RCP staff.
As of November 2018, ICSC has trained 300 Solar Scholars from the provinces of Samar, Leyte, Eastern Samar, Iloilo, Rizal, Laguna, and Cagayan. And in 2021, the Solar Scholars grew further, with trainings conducted in the Bicol Region and in Surigao del Norte amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICSC also convened the RE-Serve Humanitarian Corps, a volunteer group trained to provide solar power to humanitarian and emergency responders. The Corps are composed of responders from various local government units, humanitarian organizations, student organizations, and other community groups.
Haiyan survivors trained by ICSC as Solar Scholars continue to provide support to other localities facing extreme weather events, disasters, and vulnerable communities who wish to take different development pathways, covering north of the country (e.g. Cagayan and Rizal in 2018) Central Philippines (e.g. Guiuan and Marabut, Samar) and most recently, Surigao del Norte in Mindanao.
In 2021, ICSC was recognized as one of the twelve (12) recipients of The Shine Campaign’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund from Asia and Africa for its work with Sulong Sulu-an, a community all-women self-help group leading renewable energy efforts in Sulu-an Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar. With this award, RCP set up a 1.2 KW Power 4 All Mission solar generator to power the community health center in Sulu-an Island and provided a laptop, medical equipment, and a pedicab and bike to aid women health workers in the island’s COVID-19 response and vaccination drive last November 2021. As an outcome, almost 90% or 961 Sulu-anons received their first dose of vaccines out of the 1,071 target island population to be vaccinated.
In 2018, ICSC partnered with the locals of Suluan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, which the province has proclaimed as its Renewable Island Capital, to launch the Small Island Grid Electrification (SIGE) Sulu-an project with the aim of providing power for their households. The island barangay, which has never been connected to the main grid, is pushing for a hybrid solar and diesel island grid project that will power the development of Suluan Island into a prime ecotourism destination and major agro-fishing hub in Eastern Samar.
In addition, RCP, along with its consultants, interns, and volunteers, continues to innovate and test renewable energy systems such as the electric jeepneys, solar-powered water pumps, solar cooking stoves, wind turbines, and monitoring systems, as well as their potential applications for households, livelihoods and communities.
Building sustainable cities
ICSC’s sustainable urban mobility agenda is driven by one main goal: the prioritization of the needs of the majority. A mobility revolution has been well underway, led by common folks determined to provide for their families while protecting their health. Now more than ever, cycling and the prioritization of pedestrian needs are gaining national prominence as safe, empowering, cost-effective, practical, democratic and efficient transport modes.
In 2020, ICSC, together with The Climate Reality Project Philippines, MNL Moves, and 350 Pilipinas launched the Mobility Awards, a platform that recognizes acts of leadership by Philippine local governments, workplaces and commercial establishments promoting cycling as a reliable, efficient and sustainable mode of transport among their constituencies, customers, employees and communities.
In its initial leg, the Mobility Awards recognized governments, workplaces, and commercial establishments in Metro Manila, as over 80% of road spaces in the capital are dedicated to private cars despite only 12% of Filipino households being car owners according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In 2021, the Mobility Awards expanded to cities around the Philippines, with the Pinay Bike Commuter Community joining the list of its main convenors and collaborated as well with the League of Cities Philippines and twenty-seven (27) regional partners composed of civic groups and active mobility advocates across the country.
The Mobility Awards convenors also organized a bike count in Metro Manila in 2021, in partnership with the city governments of Pasig, Marikina, San Juan, and Quezon City, which estimated that the number of cyclists in the roads of the capital are now at the 500,000 mark. Titled Metro Manila Counts (MMC), the report showed that approximately 39,000 people cycling instead of using private cars equates to 4.2 metric tons of carbon emissions avoided and PHP89,225.06 per kilometer savings in terms of gasoline costs.
Amplifying the call to act through arts and humanities
The Agam Agenda
In 2014, ICSC published what may be the world’s first literary anthology on climate change composed of 26 images and 24 narratives in verse and prose in eight languages. “Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change” received the National Book Award in December 2015 and in 2016 received the Book Development Association of the Philippines’ Golden Book Award for Literature in English and the Special Award for Design. The book has been launched in 5 cities across the Philippines as well as in Washington DC, New York, Denver, California, and Berlin.
Since then, ICSC’s cultural advocacy program The Agam Agenda has sustained momentum and continued to communicate climate stories through various platforms: publications, online blogs, and even podcasts. In 2021, The Agam Agenda has released its second literary anthology on climate change entitled “Harvest Moon: Poems and Stories from the Edge of the Climate Crisis,” which is composed of more than 30 images and over 30 poems, stories, and essays about the climate crisis from writers, photographers, and artists in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America. The narratives and photographs in this book span 24 countries and 11 languages.
The Agam Agenda also launched the When Is Now campaign in 2020, a global creative collaboration for urgent climate action that calls for storytellers around the world to submit their own creations, may it be in the form of a written poem, a visual art piece, a song, dance, move, as a response to each other’s creations. These linked creations and an accompanying series of murals will reflect on lived experiences of the climate crisis, and national and regional demands for more ambitious, urgent climate action that protect the most climate vulnerable.
Alas ng Bayan
Alas ng Bayan is a ‘herstory’ exhibit that features the paintings of five Filipinas who resisted national oppression, social injustice, and rank misogyny throughout the country’s history: Gregoria ‘Oriang’ de Jesus (Lakambini ng Katipunan), Apolonia Catra (lone recorded woman officer with Macario Sakay’s forces), Remedios Gomez-Paraiso (Hukbalahap’s Kumander Liwayway), Lorena Barros (Martial Law activist), and Gloria Capitan (Bataan anti-coal activist). It is a collaborative project organized by ICSC, the Constantino Foundation, and 350.org Pilipinas, to raise awareness about the intersections between women, history, memory, climate change, and citizenship.