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Plastic-free nation well within reach

“We must work together to address the problem of marine debris. And we must build resilient and stronger communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.”

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A whole-of-nation approach will ensure a more holistic, sustainable, and inclusive economic recovery from both the pandemic and the climate emergency,

During a Cabinet meeting in November 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte raised the prospect of prohibiting the use of single-use plastics as part of efforts to save the environment.

A “shocking” amount of single-use plastic, mainly 60 billion sachet packages a year, ends up as trash, according to a report of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. It also found out that almost 48 million shopping bags are used daily in the country that totals 17 billion of the polluting pouches a year.

Also ending up as trash yearly are 16.5 billion smaller, thinner, and transparent plastic bags.

“We must work together to address the problem of marine debris. And we must build resilient and stronger communities to adapt to the effects of climate change,” Mr. Duterte said.

Towards the goal of eliminating the growing threat, the President assigned Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III as chairperson-designate of the Climate Change Commission (CCC).

Dominguez immediately pushed for a ban on single-use plastics nationwide.

“The perennial risks and hazards from plastics pollution and its future impact entail higher costs and more resources, thus requiring urgent action from government,” Dominguez said.

In response to the call of the President, local government units (LGU) issued respective ordinances regulating or banning the use of single-use plastics.

Government agencies have also adopted national policies to support the campaign.

Dominguez encouraged Congress to speed up the enactment of legislative measures under the House Committee on Ecology and the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change to phase out single-use plastics and make manufacturers responsible by taking a role on the collection, sorting, and recycling or reusing of plastics.

Policymakers were also urged to “proactively review the implementation of existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act (Republic Act or RA 8749), Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003), and Clean Water Act (RA 9275) to ensure that the Philippines attains inclusive and sustainable high economic growth”.

Dominguez said the pandemic should be treated as an opportunity to enact responsive policies to safeguard the future of communities, the environment, and the Filipino people.

“The upward trajectory of the economy should be anchored on stability and environmental sustainability,” he noted.

“A whole-of-nation approach will ensure a more holistic, sustainable, and inclusive economic recovery from both the pandemic and the climate emergency,” he said.

The business sector gave its full support to the call of Dominguez.

Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (DCCCII) president John Carlo Tria said the private sector is one with the government in the campaign for environmental protection.

“We have no argument with the ban as it will be an opportunity for manufacturers to produce alternative packaging that is more environment-friendly,” according to Tria.

Alternative packaging should be promoted that will also help the economy since many of these are made locally.

“I think this is a good move of the city,” he said, adding that many businesses have promoted to consumers not to use plastic containers.

“We see a lot of establishments already using alternative items,” he noted.

The effort has also won support from other nations such as that from the United Kingdom (UK).

In a virtual meeting with British Ambassador Daniel Pruce, Dominguez said the Philippines appreciated UK’s offer of technical assistance mainly on effectively communicating to the public the importance and long-term benefits of banning single-use plastics.

Pruce said the UK is ready to assist the Philippines in preparing for its contributions to the discussions in the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) slated in November, where a broad range of issues such as green finance, energy transitions and climate crisis resilience and adaptation strategies will be tabled.

COP26, which the UK is chairing this year, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland. It will bring together signatory-parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Alvarez, the point person of the Department of Finance (DOF) on climate crisis concerns and who was present at the meeting with Pruce, said discussions with the British Embassy were held to bring in renewable energy (RE) investors on Philippine policy gaps to convince them to funnel investments to the country.

Alvarez noted the urgency of attracting more RE investments given the government’s recent decision to impose a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.

During the meeting, Dominguez also touched on the UK’s commitment to implement the first phase of its Iconic Bridges Project for Sustainable Socioeconomic Development in Cagayan province.
Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency and Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth committed to share UK’s expertise to support legislation pushing reduction if not a ban on plastics use.

Dominguez has also met with Alok Sharma, the President of COP26 and a member of the UK Parliament, to explore areas of cooperation between the Philippines and the UK on raising the awareness of Filipinos on the urgency of climate action and in fine tuning the legislative measure that aims to ban single-use plastics.

A “green industrial revolution” that can give rise to new and cleaner0 industries which has the potential of creating more jobs while effectively cutting carbon emissions was also taken up.

A country free of plastic pollution should be part of the new normal that Filipinos are all looking forward to.

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