What makes an environmentalist president?

By Purple S. Romero, abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Apr 23 2010 07:54 PM | Updated as of Apr 24 2010 05:08 AM

Local experts list 5 issues to measure candidates by

Amid the propensity by some quarters to “overstate the importance” of planting trees especially as a tool against global warming, the Manila Observatory points out in a technical primer on climate change that a “green” president is not just one who promises a million trees by the end of his or her term. 

Environmental protection is not an isolated issue, separate from the concerns of social welfare and economic development. Hence, planting a million trees alone is a largely insufficient means of establishing an effective “green” leadership.   
Presidential aspirants--and Filipino voters--should be expected to be know this. The Philippines, after all, is prone to natural disasters.
It was not long ago when the Philippines was ravaged by tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng, where hundreds of Filipinos died and damages in agriculture and infrastructure reached US$4.4 billion, equivalent to 2.7% of the Gross Domestic Product as reported by the National Disaster Coordinating Council. 
In 2008, typhoon Frank killed over 500 people nationwide and resulted in damages amounting to around P13 billion. 
Climate change could bring stronger typhoons. This means more lives could be lost, more families left homeless, and more livelihood destroyed.
So what does a “green” president to do when he or she starts a new administration in July? 

Implementing 2 major laws

The legal groundwork on battling climate change response has already been laid out for the next president.  It will be just be a matter of strict implementation.
There is the Climate Change Act of 2009, signed into law by President Arroyo only last October. It makes the president the head of the Climate Change Commission, giving him or her a directly influence on the development of the Climate Change Action Plan.
The plan sets the government’s priorities in making adjustments to enable people and communities to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. Adaptation measures include the construction of sea walls, the establishment of an early warning system, and the use of more water reservoirs or dams.
As the head of the Climate Change Commission, the president will also have the opportunity to have a first look at how his people (the secretaries of departments) aim to address the various problems brought by climate change. These concerns may include the threat of lesser crop production due to unstable weather, the rise in sicknesses such as malaria, and the destruction of roads and other infrastructure due to typhoons.
Under his headship, the commission will also be able to work directly with provinces, cities, and municipalities in assessing the vulnerability of their areas.
The commission has the power to recommend key investments in sectors which would be most affected by climate change, such as water resources, agriculture, and health.
Another novel legal weapon against climate change is the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Bill. Passed by both chambers of the Congress in January, the bill replaces the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) with the more powerful National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDMC).
The new body concentrates on disaster preparedness, and not just on disaster response. Hence, from providing emergency measures, such as supplying rubber boats, the NDMC shifts to strengthening disaster risk reduction at the community level. The council will get inputs from local disaster risk reduction councils in LGUs.
The president enters the picture when it comes to the appointment of the defense secretary, which will head the council.
Appointing the right Cabinet members

Appointing the right people is crucial not only for the council, but for the rest of the government agencies whose mandate centers on the protection of natural resources and of the people themselves.
These appointments fall again on the shoulders of the president. “The president should not infuse the appointments with politics,” Gaile Ramirez, officer of the Communication and Information Division of environmental group Haribon Foundation, told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.
This has been the case under the term of Arroyo, who appointed 3 of her political allies as chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
She named Michael Defensor, her campaign spokesperson in the 2004 presidential elections, as DENR secretary from 2004 to 2006. Arroyo replaced Defensor with Angelo Reyes, whom she previously appointed as defense secretary in 2001.
After Reyes, Arroyo picked former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza as DENR head. Atienza supported Arroyo in the 2004 elections.
Environmental groups such as Kalikasan-People’s Network of Environment and the Legal Rights and the Natural Resources Center assailed the appointment of the 3 because they have no background in environmental work.
They were also appointed at a time when Arroyo was pushing for the revival of the mining industry.
It is not only the DENR, however, which is at the forefront of responding to climate change. The secretaries of social welfare and development, health, education, and public works and highways will also be working with the Climate Change Commission and the NDMC.
The president’s choice of people is inarguably central to the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction. Aside from contributing to the vision of the administration, these officials will have a say on the budget.  Regardless of how much resources they have, the secretaries will direct what programs will be given top funding priority.
This is worth looking at as the Climate Change Act mandates government agencies to set aside a percentage of their budget for disaster management.
Putting a technocrat at the MMDA

The choice for the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is crucial to disaster risk reduction.
“He should be a technocrat,” University of the Philippines professor and former head of the MMDA planning department Ramon Cabanilla told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.
Arroyo’s appointees to the post include current MMDA chair and former regional trial court judge Oscar Inocentes and former Marikina Mayor and now vice presidential candidate Bayani Fernando.
The job calls for carrying out unpopular measures for disaster mitigation, Cabanilla said. Hence, the MMDA chair should have a well laid-out plan on disaster preparedness and the capacity to persuade LGU officials to work with him.
One of these unpopular measures is the demolition of informal settlers in danger zones. Aside from the fact these squatters run the risk of losing their lives and homes to typhoons, their presence along riverbanks has also constricted waterways, such as Pasig River and Laguna de Bay.
After the onslaught of Ondoy and Pepeng, Arroyo has ordered the relocation of 500,000 squatters residing in Metro Manila. This will cost the government P30 billion, according to the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers.
Fernando’s demolition drive has been hit, however, for allegedly resulting in human rights violations.
Cabanilla said that in order to make such drive successful, the MMDA chair should lay out an overall disaster risk reduction plan.  This includes identifying relocation sites and linking up with LGUs for livelihood opportunities. A new MMDA disaster mitigation center will oversee the plan’s development and implementation.
Contrary to the perception that the MMDA’s line of work covers only traffic easement, the MMDA is actually at the center of buttressing the metropolitan’s defense to disasters. It has the responsibility to formulate and implement policies on solid waste disposal. It even has the authority to operate a sanitary landfill.
More than this, the MMDA has the mandate to establish flood control systems. In 2009, Newsbreak reported that the MMDA overtook the supervision of the Effective Flood Control Operation System from the DPWH.  The EFCOS, which could have alerted authorities about the deluge of floods, has gone to waste, however after Fernando opted not to utilize it because maintenance costs are too high.
Heading rehabilitation efforts

The next president will have to continue the rehabilitation of areas ravaged by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.
The findings of the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission, the body tasked to devise long-term solutions to disasters, outlined the actions needed to be taken by the end of this year.
These include the introduction of incentives for LGUs that have disaster mitigation plans, the integration of disaster risk reduction management in education, and the establishment of evacuation centers in critical areas.
By 2012, early warning systems should have been installed, hazard mapping for all LGUs completed, and disaster risk reduction infused in programs for poverty reduction.
These short-term to medium-term goals would entail costs amounting to over P1 billion, but overall expenses could reach more than P50 billion, P40 billion of which will be borrowed from multilateral organizations.
The president would have to find ways to pay off any loans incurred because of the country’s efforts for rehabilitation. This would demand a good economic plan.
Negotiating for adaptation funds

As the rest of the world set their eyes on the next climate change negotiations in Mexico, the next president of the Philippines would have to set the country’s agenda on greenhouse gas mitigation and funds for adaptation.
He or she will either push for a climate change agreement which commits to ambitious GHG reduction targets, or settle for an accord which has loose goals, just what like President Arroyo did. In the climate change meet in Copenhagen last year, Arroyo said that it is better to have an accord even if the GHG reduction target is not that high, than to have nothing at all.
The president will also have to choose who will form his negotiating team. These people will try to clinch agreements on technology transfer and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.
Last year, Arroyo let go one of the country’s toughest negotiators, Bernarditas Mueller. Mueller has demanded for deep carbon cuts from rich countries. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)