The Practical Politician from the Philippines

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Student Reporter Andreas Slotte had the privilege of interviewing Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering, Vice Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines, during the UNEP Switch-Asia Sustainable Consumption and Production Conference (SCP) in Asia, held in Bangkok, Thailand. A government official in a unique position, Ms Sering is in charge of finding practical, implementable SCP policies that could be enacted in the Philippines. Unlike the comparatively steady states of developed economies, the Philippines present an exciting challenge of a country seeing high-single digit growth rates (the Philippine’s Gross Domestic Product grew by 6.6% in 2012, and has had an annual growth rate of 5% for the past 10 years), yet in pressing need of infrastructure and other macro-scale projects. With this in mind, her office is in a great place to learn from the mistakes of the West and adopt best practises when building their country.

For a climate warrior, what is perhaps exceptional about Ms Sering is that she is fully aware of the limitations of her mandate, and of how to work within the scope of it. When asked about how SCP policies can be implemented in a country such as the Philippines, she starts off by addressing the practicalities of implementing various SCP policies. Much more a policy maker than an environmental scientist, Ms Sering knows that any policy that is about to be implemented has to be customised to your constituency; hence it’s not always a straightforward process of mimicking proven policies from other countries. As she says, “one needs to understand whether to intervene or not, and when to do so if it’s applicable.”

It is important to remember that SCP can be seen as a restrictive policy, as one is effectively trying to limit or curb specific behaviours to ensure the long-term success of a growth plan. Thus it is not merely about finding the best solutions and implementing all of them, but rather one has to pick and choose the policies that will deliver the most bang for your buck. Ms Sering says quite clearly that “we’re trying to do everything at the same time,” and for policy makers like herself, who aren’t science experts, if the science isn’t translated to implementable, measurable, and precise solutions, then nothing will happen in the end.

In the end, as Ms Sering notes, “The intention of SCP is to produce more with less,” and this is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks facing policy makers: namely of how to reframe something that can be often see as a restrictive policy to something that would be seen as an opportunity. Using McDonalds as an example, she highlights how SCP policies need to work in the future. By saying that “multinational companies have mastered the strategy of understanding what the community needs“, she is showcasing the avenue that developing governments’ policy makers must take. One example that she cited was that climate change was seen as a more relevant concern than increasing fuel or food prices among Filipinos. Using this popular sentiment as an additional mandate, one can see an ample opportunity for a policy maker.

Whilst we try to move toward a sustainable future, one of the key questions always becomes whether or not a country can afford to implement some of the more costly environmental policies. As Ms Sering noted, her office is still mostly doing analyses on what sort of policies that could be implemented which still have a positive net impact on growth. She admits that there is still a problem with measuring and monitoring success, as it can be very difficult to quantifiably measure targets with regards to SCP policies.

When asked about how we can achieve green growth, achieve the same standards of living in the developing world as in the developed world, and still adhering to the protocols established in the 10 Year Framework Programme (10YFP), she quickly admits that it will not be feasible to achieve this. “However, you do incremental changes that matter”, and whilst “it seems that it is not feasible at the moment. So you look at where it can be effective and you look at the niche. Then you can have rules that only apply to the niche.”

Though she doesn’t face an easy task ahead of her, she has certain mandated tools – and a growing economy – on her side that many of her counterparts lack. Perhaps even more importantly, she understands what she can and should achieve, and what should be left on the backburner for another date. To get the full scope of the talk, watch the full interview below:

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