The Philippines, Asia's fastest-growing country and among its most vulnerable to climate change, has launched several new strategies to both prepare for the impacts of global warming and develop its renewable energy capacity.
Meeting in Washington, D.C., recently, a high-level government delegation outlined its plans for low-carbon growth and this week is meeting with counterparts in California to discuss ways to implement policies on the ground.
From a new "People's Survival Fund" aimed at making communities more resilient to climate change to working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to create a greenhouse gas inventory, the Southeast Asian archipelago nation is among a growing number of threatened countries whose leaders say they see in climate change an opening to push smarter growth.
"There is really a lot of opportunity for the Philippines on climate change, especially in the area of mitigation," said Philippines Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Anne Lucille Sering. Sering's agency -- one of the world's first climate change commissions -- recently launched several "eco-town" frameworks around the country, all chosen for being critical biodiversity areas vulnerable to climate change.
Meanwhile, a new renewable energy law is finally on the books in the Philippines, and this week the government released guidelines for clean energy projects to be considered for feed-in tariffs. The government has set a target of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 to at least 15,000 megawatts of installed capacity.
Coal and natural gas currently dominate the energy landscape in the Philippines, but it also ranks second after the United States in global geothermal power production, and the country's energy department has been mapping renewable capacity nationwide.
High potential for renewable energy
Although the Philippines suffers from power shortages and some of the highest electricity rates in the region, Sering said parts of the country with high biomass, solar and wind potential can supply their own electricity and even produce excess. A recent Greenpeace report argued that renewable energy can contribute more than 50 percent of the nation's energy by 2020, an investment that could create thousands of jobs.
"This should be considered defensive expenditures," Sering said. "Climate change is for us more of an opportunity than a disaster."
But then, there is no shortage of disaster. The island nation experiences an average of 20 shattering typhoons each year. In 2009 alone, Sering said, typhoons wiped out 2.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
"Just in one year," she said. "We are talking about 2 billion pesos [about $48 million] diverted from education, building new roads and other things. It's created a dent in our anti-poverty initiatives."
Climate policy experts say they have been struck by the amount of work the Philippines is doing domestically to get a jump on climate change, even as countries dither over how much to curb greenhouse gas emissions or aid poor nations.
Athena Ballesteros, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute think tank and a senior adviser to the Philippines climate change negotiating team, said the government knows it can't afford to wait for global assistance. She said the People's Survival Fund -- for which the government has carved out a percentage of the national budget -- is a sign of serious commitment.
Not waiting for international consensus
"A country like the Philippines that has been battered and seriously impacted by climate change is taking on responsibility. They know they can't wait for the international community to figure this out," Ballesteros said. Last year's Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,000 people and left more than 80,000 others homeless.