Below is the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities’ statement at the 04 June 2020 hearing of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Climate Change, as delivered by ICSC executive director Renato Redentor Constantino. The Committee, chaired by Rep. Edgar Chatto, considered House Resolutions 724 and 761, calling for the declaration of a climate emergency and briefing on the programs and activities of concerned government agencies on climate change and the environment in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Good morning colleagues.

We wish to thank the House Committee on Climate Change, ably chaired by Rep. Edgar Chatto and supported by the always professional Committee Secretariat, for organizing this hearing.

As an international climate policy group based in Metro Manila, we are eager to contribute some insights to the discussion. We wish to do so by recalling the memory of former Senator Heherson Alvarez, who passed away recently. The memory of Manong Sonny is doubly significant. First, because he was a true pioneer of this issue, decades before it became part of mainstream debates. Second, because, in all candor, remembering Manong Sonny will also remind us our clamor to declare a climate emergency is two decades late.

We need to recognize as well that many have acted decisively.

The lack of a declaration of an emergency did not prevent then Senator and now Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda from leading, with former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Congressman Erin Tañada, from pushing for and enacting the People’s Survival Fund in 2012.

Likewise, the lack of a declaration has not prevented Rep. Edgar Chatto from exercising inclusive, decisive, and inspired leadership not only over this committee and the House of Representatives but in his own home province of Bohol, just as congressional leaders from the Bicol region, central Visayas and legislators from Mindanao have taken action to advance strategic adaptation and climate mitigation measures.

That said, it is important to recognize the context we find ourselves in.

It is clear the COVID-19 pandemic has largely revealed systemic weaknesses that would have just taken more time to uncover otherwise. Government is focused on addressing the pandemic as a matter of national priority. This stance is correct and the House is wise in marshalling efforts and resources to respond decisively to the impact of the novel coronavirus.

However, we in ICSC see certain points cannot be over-emphasized.

We need to recognize that smart and forward-looking government spending in the near-term and longer-term is going to be urgent as are collaborative mechanisms among vulnerable countries. This is because core spending to address the pandemic fallout can very well be the same resilience spending that is required to adapt to climate change which can move us closer to securing what we must continue to chase, the country’s early attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here is another insight to stress:

Colleagues, daily global fossil CO2 emissions fell by 17% in early April 2020 compared with 2019. This fact highlights the limitations of individual behavioral change such as working from home and reducing car and plane travel, in driving deep, sustained emissions cuts needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Individual actions are vital, but insufficient.

The pandemic has also placed squarely on the table the urgent need to listen to scientists and to act based on science. As scientists advise physically distancing to prevent transmission, while a vaccine is still being developed, scientists stress the urgency of keeping global warming below the 1.5- degrees Celsius threshold to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

We need to understand that investments designed to adapt to our new climate can and will deliver a strong return on investment.

The power sector provides a good example of opportunities inherent in the climate and COVID-19 nexus. For instance, the crisis has accentuated the advantages of variable renewable energy (VRE) in keeping prices low and stable. Supply from VRE, especially those under the Feed-in-Tariff system, have stable prices independent of capacity utilization. The low-demand situation accentuates the merit-order-effect on spot wholesale prices.

Other examples demonstrate the importance of integrative approaches.

Meralco experienced a fall in peak demand of almost 40%. It took early steps to respond to the situation and, as the country’s largest distribution utility, it was able to invoke force majeure provisions in its power supply agreements and negotiate adjusted terms with its business partners to help cushion the impact on consumers. Discussions in ERC are now tackling the need to support smaller electricity cooperatives to invoke similar clauses. According to the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, of the 59 electric cooperatives that suffer from higher unit electricity rates because of lower utilization of contracted capacity, only two have managed to negotiate with their suppliers. Steps can be taken to help protect ratepayers from similar future shocks through urgent reforms in procurement processes.*

The fact is, many COVID and climate responses can go hand in hand. Certain measures, such as restrictions to food trade, exacerbate vulnerabilities to climate hazards and must be ditched. But pandemic stimulus will prove critical to massively upgrading key areas of the economy that have long required resilience and modernization such as urban services, medical and food supply chains, clean energy infrastructure that favours decentralized power, and transport systems that prioritize moving people instead of cars. Measures called for by legislators, for instance, the demand to prioritize protected and interconnected bikeways, are wise, urgent, and enjoy massive public support.

These together can pump prime economies, create jobs and increase social solidarity in normal times as well as in anticipation of the next outbreak.

*These points on energy policy were culled from a forthcoming opinion piece by IEEFA analyst Sara Jane Ahmed and ICSC energy policy advisors Alberto Dalusung III, Jose Logarta Jr., and Pedro Maniego Jr.