“The government must now step up to the challenge.”
Super typhoon Odette was the latest of the series of extreme weather disasters, which scientists have linked to climate change, battering our country. The government reports that 405 people have been killed, thousands more have been injured, and nearly 3 million Filipinos, mostly in the marginalized sector, have been displaced. After two months, 77,000 are still in evacuation centers while 133,000 remain homeless.
Damage to agriculture is staggering. According to National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council data reported 9 February 2022, 10 million hectares of food crop areas were destroyed, and more than 120,000 poultry and livestock wasted. Add to that the estimated damage to fisheries estimated at P2 billion.
The country is already deeply scarred by the pandemic crisis in so many dimensions. The extensive swath of destruction from typhoon Odette was certainly something we did not need. And after so many super typhoons hitting us, we should have been better prepared for such disasters. We should have developed more resilient infrastructure and well-integrated response protocols that could deliver faster response and recovery for the victims.
Unfortunately, we seem to be in this cycle of panic and complacency.
Climate change is already causing more frequent and more severe weather patterns ever seen in recorded history. The pace of technological advancement that drove industrialization and created the technology driven world that we live in today has spewed a shroud of greenhouse gasses (GHG) that scientists say is now beyond the tipping point. If this is not reversed, it will have existential consequences for all humans.
As humans have wielded the power of technology in constant reinvention of what a better life should be, the solutions for cleaning up the pollution we spilled to the planet is also technology. The widely espoused strategy is called “Net Zero,” which requires all industries to transform their operations to be carbon neutral by integrating emission reduction measures that will hopefully return the balance of carbon emission and natural carbon capture.
Here is where digital technologies are indispensable tools in transforming obsolete and emission heavy operations into efficient and environment friendly enterprises. A clear example is when we, together with all countries, went on strict lockdown during the breakout of the COVID 19 pandemic more than two years ago. In a matter of days, the atmosphere cleared up and we were awed by the starry night skies that were hidden by smog and city lights for decades. I remember back in the 60s when night skies, even here in Manila, were full of stars and seeing our Milky Way galaxy was a regular night stroll treat. We survived and continued; thanks to the level of digital technologies, we already have.
Again, it is the private sector that must play a leading role in being digitally empowered stewards of the environment and achieving Net Zero emissions on a planetary scale.
In a recently released statement of the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, Eng. Felix Vitangcol, the group’s Secretary General, emphasized how all ecosystems must move now by using digital technologies to strengthen resilience to the climatic consequences of climate change and integrate a carbon reduction and anti-pollution culture in all sectors of society.
Indeed, we see the big enterprises and business groups investing heavily to align with the historic Paris climate agreement and the Philippines’ Nationally Determined Contribution to cut carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030. Globe, for one, has counted 14 key facilities now powered by renewable energy in its track to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 among other advocacies and interventions that go beyond compliance to environmental regulations – an environmental stewardship mindset now being espoused by many private companies.
Vitangcol points out that digital platforms and applications distributed through broadband connections provided by the private telecommunications companies should be deployed to better observe, analyze, and respond to our environment.
“Advancing the much-needed immediate transition to a data-driven and digital-enabled economy can help our communities better monitor the real-time environment and climate conditions that would allow swift responses to areas where needed, control pollution generation by enhancing circular economic and business models, and efficiently manage and utilize available resources,” Vitangcol said.
Digital technologies are indispensable in developing more packaging and manufacturing processes that produce eco-friendly products and a circular approach to minimize the leak of harmful solid waste to waterways. New electric powered transportation will drastically reduce GHG emissions.
For the Philippines, we are still at a stage where expanding and improving the connectivity need to be a priority. We need a synergized and aggressive investment and digital infrastructure building roadmap to at least be at par with global internet speeds.
The government must now step up and start investing at a level that at least keeps pace with the private sector. We need fast digital transformation not just to recover and compete in a digital economy but to save our planet.