Policy Roundtable on Sustainable Development, Environmental Security and Climate Change
Summary: The policy roundtable highlighted initiatives and lessons in two cities, one in Germany and one in the Philippines; the challenges of climate finance and the role of the private sector in promoting sustainable energy processes. The roundtable also raised a number of questions and opportunities for Singapore in terms of promoting and adopting sustainable development practices.
Local Leadership and Sustainable Development
Mr Boris Palmer
Mr Boris Palmer argued that it is possible to have economic development and protect the environment at the same time. As a relatively small city with less than a million residents, Mr Palmer stressed that Tübingen’s goal is no longer going green but its goal is now to ‘go blue’ in terms of environmental sustainability.
This is anchored, according to Mr Palmer, on Tübingen’s public campaign for emission reduction especially through environment-friendly mobility, heat consumption and the city’s solar power system. Notably, he stressed that about 75 per cent of Tubingen’s residents are employed in the public sector, thus making it easier to mobilise the population for environmentally sustainable activities. Mr Palmer then outlined a number of recommendations especially for local leaders that can be undertaken to secure a sustainable environment in the future.
He emphasised that local leaders can always reach out for low hanging fruits especially at the individual level through effective incentives for the public to contribute to local initiatives. Mr Palmer also stressed that local leaders need to ‘activate’ the communities and other surrounding municipalities towards coordination and collaboration. He also challenged local leaders to lead through action over talk and promises especially since local leaders can always do more at the local level.
Mr Palmer promoted the use of technology, especially renewable energy such as photovoltaic or solar energy and hydroelectric energy, and new technological innovations that can support environment-friendly policies. He emphasised that local projects can be ‘small but many’ as critical steps to make use of all options available for environmental sustainability at the local level. Mr Palmer further asserted that local leaders should always consider the context, and if possible, map out all options before offering solutions and implementing policies because he believes that any city can do something about climate change, no matter how small. Mr Palmer concluded that protecting the environment always requires leadership and local leaders are indispensable to push a sustainable agenda forward.
Strategies for Sustainable Development
Mr Herbert Bautista
Quezon City, Philippines
Mr Herbert Bautista of Quezon City, Philippines shared the Quezon City government’s strategies for sustainable development. Mr Bautista highlighted that the city faces a number of environmental challenges since Quezon City is the biggest and most populated city in Metro Manila and the second largest in the Philippines, with almost 3 million people. Despite such challenges, Mr Bautista noted that Quezon City has been recognised in terms of environmental protection and sustainable development, not only in the country but also in the international arena. Currently, Mr Bautista serves as the Chair of the
Executive Committee of the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – Local Governments for Sustainability in Southeast Asia. He stressed that the Philippines is a country vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the city’s rapid urban development requires that the local government is not only able to balance urban development and environmental management but also able to increase the city’s adaptive capacities to the impact of climate change. He shared that as the city mayor, his biggest challenge is to face decisive actions that will impact such adaptive capacities for the city’s residents. He noted that the city is guided by the Millennium Development Goals as the framework to address the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable development. Mr Bautista highlighted that Quezon City’s environmental programme has evolved into a more holistic and comprehensive approach that takes into consideration the global challenge of addressing the impacts of climate change. He gave a brief overview of the city’s pioneering strategies and internationally-recognised policies to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, including its: (1) Solid Waste Management Program; (2) Biogas Emissions Reduction Project; (3) Green Building Ordinance; (4) Quezon City Greening Initiative; (5) Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance; and (6) Energy Efficient Street Lighting Project, among many others.
Mr Bautista noted that Quezon City is known for its Solid Waste Management Program particularly as the first local government unit to implement a system wherein the private sector has full responsibility over the city’s solid waste in designated service areas. Aside from private sector involvement, the local government has strictly implemented a “no segregation, no collection” policy to effectively reduce the city’s waste to more than 99%. Mr Bautista also highlighted the city government’s effort in biodiversity profiling by tagging the tree species planted in the city to document the carbon sequestration potential of the city’s green spaces. Mr Bautista also asserted how the city’s closed landfill disposal facility has now been transformed into a model for beneficial use of waste resources with its Biogas Emission Reduction project. The project has since given the city international recognition for emission reduction through the capture of methane gas that is converted to electricity for public consumption. Moreover, he emphasised that the city has benefitted from volunteerism from schools, the private sector and the communities in city-wide cleaning operations of its waterways and tree-planting campaigns.
Mr Bautista further reported how the city’s Green Building Ordinance made inroads towards the implementation of retrofitting government buildings not only for environmental sustainability but also for disaster resiliency. He noted that the ordinance aims to maintain minimum standards for green architecture and infrastructure in the city which would include the utilization of eco-friendly technology and systems in the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings and their surrounding land space. Mr Bautista also took pride in the utilization of Light Emitting Diode technology to replace and retrofit the city’s existing streetlights that will reduce electricity consumption by at least 50 per cent and reduce emissions with the city government’s Energy Efficient Street Lighting Project.
Among the city’s 42 environmental legislation or ordinances, Mr Bautista accentuated the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance that enables for plastic waste recovery from the waste stream and also imposes a plastic recovery system fee that goes into a ‘Green Fund’ to fund environmental initiatives. Since 2012, the system has already recovered more than 2 million plastic bags from the waste stream and has since generated more than PhP60 million pesos to the Green Fund.
Mr Bautista concluded with an emphasis on the city’s adaptation and disaster risk mitigation strategies, highlighting the city government’s resettlement program to move about families away from disaster zones, about 10,000 families on the city’s waterways and about 15,800 families on the earthquake prone areas; and the city’s urban development framework anchored on mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and environmental management in all governance systems and processes.
Climate Finance and Economic Transformation
Dr. Suzanty Sitorus
Climate Finance Working Group, National Council on Climate Change
Dr Suzanty Sitorus argued that the heart of climate change action does not entirely rest on environmental protection but on economic transformation. She emphasised that transforming unsustainable economic development into a low-emission and resilienteconomy may open up a more manageable scale for actions, particularly at the city and local levels. She highlighted that despite the focus on climate finance, political leadership in terms of national commitment and multilateral cooperation is more important.
Dr Sitorus noted that climate finance is always a source of contention in the UNFCCC process since developed countriesare deemed responsible in providing funding. This is despite the fact that climate finance flows are not limited to North-North and North-South but also includes South- South, domestic North and domestic South flows. Climate actions, Dr Sitorus pointed out, have been implemented through various financing sources, through a plethora of financing instruments, managed through different financing mechanisms.
She underscored the fact that financing flows from developed to developing countries only range from USD40 to USD 175 billion per year compared to the global total climate finance that ranges from USD340 to USD650 billion per year. She cited the example of Indonesia’s public climate finance that disbursement e USD951 million in 2011 with about 66 per cent coming from domestic resources.
She concluded by the emphasizing that in addition to costs for mitigation and adaptation strategies, climate expenditures also aim to support energy security, food security, and trade competitiveness. These additional expenditures add further burden on developing countries’ constrained budgets that have to be balanced along with urgent and emerging but competing priorities. Dr Sitorus then concluded and reiterated the cross-cutting and transformational necessity for leadership alongside climate finance, technology and human capacity to define climate action.
Clean Energy: Potential, Challenges, and Experiences
Dr Jay Mariyappan
Managing Director, Sindicatum Group
Sindicatum Sustainable Resources
After defining the Sindicatum Sustainable Resources portfolio, Dr Jay Mariyappan highlighted the fact that the potential for clean energy is huge in Asia and that ASEAN alone has targeted approximately 55GW of renewable capacity by 2030. Dr Mariyappan emphasized that Asia’s huge renewable resource comes from municipal waste, geothermal, wind (onshore and offshore), solar, agricultural waste, hydro, biogas from wastewater, energy crops, tidal/wave, etc. These resources are already being tapped with increasing investments in Asia for clean energy. Dr Mariyappan noted that the question then lies not on the availability of renewable energy resources or lack of capital but the challenges in getting them to market. He highlighted challenges including the fact that fossil fuel subsidies are out of control in the region, with about USD850 billion a year in Asia, and with the highest subsidies in China, India, Indonesia and Thailand. However, he echoed the World Energy Outlook’s assessment that fossil fuel subsidies will start declining globally in 2014. Moreover, he noted the reforms that are being implemented to reallocate subsidies with developments that led to lower global oil prices since 2013. Likewise, he maintained that lowering fossil fuel subsidies also lowers the cost of support for renewables. Dr Mariyappan also noted that there is no clear carbon price in Asia and is very uncertain globally despite carbon markets representing about 50 per cent of the solution to global warming. The current trend of low emission trading schemes and high taxation, according to Dr Mariyappan, requires a redesigning of emissions trading schemes and a simpler carbon tax mechanism.
He then pointed out the opportunities that can come about with the historic US-China agreement in emission reduction targets and the G20 commitment towards a protocol with legal force in 2015. Dr Mariyappan further outlined policy and implementation challenges surrounding such opportunities, including: (1) administrative barriers that may be due to inconsistent policy frameworks at the local and national levels, delays in policy implementation, and lack of transparency and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures; (2) renewable energy support that may be politically uncertain and inconsistent especially in reference to feed-in-tariffs, financial and non-financial incentives that may have limited impact; (3) policies biased to existing systems that can include lack of regulation and advantageous positions for bigger power players and; (4) technical and financial barriers that may lead to equity-funded projects due to the design of the feed-in-tariff system, poor infrastructure and thus insufficient transmission capacities and the poor financial health of state-owned electricity companies.
He concluded by presenting examples of Sindicatum’s landfill gas to electricity projects in Thailand that have been operational since 2010 which is registered under the Clean Development Mechanism of the UNFCCC. He asserted that the success of the Thai project can be attributed to four main factors, namely: (1) the clear implementation of Thailand’s renewable energy policy which is renewable every 7 years; (2) the linking of national and local policies that enabled the process of acquiring permits for the project; (3) the alternative non-Baht revenue from the carbon pricing; (4) the safe and timely payment through the Provincial Electricity Authority and; (5) overcoming challenges that included grid connections, Power Purchase Agreements, carbon pricing volatility and debt financing. The project, Dr Mariyappan reported, is an awardee in the on-grid category of the Renewable Energy projects category of the ASEAN Energy Awards 2014.
Some of the themes that emerged during the discussion that ensued after the roundtable include:
Framing the issue: One of the salient points that emerged was the importance of framing climate change in such a way that various stakeholders can be persuaded to care about the issue. It was emphasised that points of concern should be presented in an understandable way to reach not just academics, but also the government and private sector as well as people on the ground. There was a strong recommendation for such transmission of ideas through taking deliberate, provocative action. Moreover, the media should always be considered since it will always have a significant role in influencing public opinion and the national agenda of politicians.
Government energy policies: Despite much advancement in technology, it was pointed out that government regulations and vested interests often result in a slow-down of progress in the renewable energy field. It was thus emphasised that it is important to have consistent government policies to make it easier for the private sector to do business. It was stressed that this one of the most basic requirements if the private sector is to play a significant role in building funds for climate finance. For example, the government’s policy on fossil fuels directs the percentage share that renewable energy can have in the market. This was also evident in the case of Indonesia, where the government has introduced a ‘Feed-in Tariff’ (FIT) for geothermal waste. Although this is a step in the right direction, there was a growing consensus that more incentives are needed.
Important role of local authorities: The relevance of strong, democratic leadership that does not follow a top-down approach was highlighted. Local authorities have a big part to play in determining the future of their constituencies. Community ownership should be encouraged by making individuals a part of the process of change. If any amendments are required in policy, then it is important for people to be ‘plugged’ into the programme.
It was highlighted that there is a strong relationship between various bodies at the local level that follows the guidelines of the national policy on environment, when discussion on the collaboration among various actors in the Philippines to battle climate change was raised. It was noted that the local authorities work closely with the national government in Manila. Notably, advocacy for clean-energy started in the mid 90’s under former President Ramos and currently, climate change policy in the Philippines is being reviewed and amended to encourage further participation from local governments.
Sustainability education: The existence of a ‘disconnect’ between people and the environment was brought up. Young people often have low levels of socio-ecological consciousness. Thus, it was recommended that there is a need for sustainability education to address the need for going beyond cognitive, objective facts in education systems. There was emphasis on the fact that in the private sector, courses tend to be very specific and environmental sustainability is not mainstreamed into the curriculum. The syllabi of degrees such as an executive MBA do not have a lot of courses on sustainability. It was also proposed that sustainability be incorporated into corporate quarterly reports in order to increase the influence of the Corporate Social Responsibility Department within the organization.
Legacy of Sustainable Development: There was a significant reminder from the roundtable discussion that sustainable development is about more than the present. It is about the future and the legacy that one chooses to leave behind. Keeping this in mind, the need for keeping technological innovations on the fast-track was recognized. The roundtable recognized the need for the world’s best minds to be engaged in order to prepare for the eventual depletion of fossil fuels. Promotion of energy-efficient inventions was highlighted as a step in the right direction.
Way Forward The panelists agreed that some important lessons needed to be learnt from Copenhagen including management of expectations as well as better transparency and participation. It was pointed out that only if developed and developing countries come together to tackle climate change, could there be hope for significant progress in the right direction.