Welcome to the Daring Cities podcast, where we talk to urban leaders around the world who are taking radical climate action to prepare for, adapt to and tackle the climate emergency. Today we visit Pasig City in the Philippines. A regional trendsetter in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, Pasig City is now a model city nationally in terms of its COVID-19 response, which gives citizens the tools to grow their own food and use sustainable transportation.
Julia Scott: [00:00:06] In this episode of Daring Cities, we visit Pasig City in the Philippines. This growing hub on the eastern border of metropolitan Manila has set a lot of environmental firsts. Its emissions data and a fresh approach to public outreach is giving residents the tools to lead on climate action.
Allen Angeles: [00:00:25] We want an action plan to be a model action plan for not only for Metro Manila, but also for the entire Philippines.
Julia Scott: [00:00:33] Pasig City’s early commitment to low emission development also helped pave the way for its COVID-19 response, and for what’s next.
Val Bugnot: [00:00:42] This is now a model city also nationally in terms of the COVID-19 response, preparing their populations towards a better normal.
Julia Scott: [00:00:59] Welcome to the Daring Cities podcast, where we talk to urban leaders around the world who are taking radical climate action to prepare for, adapt to and tackle the climate emergency. Cities are taking daring steps toward solving the climate crisis and finding ways to navigate opposition and support from unexpected places as they go. I’m your host, Julia Scott.
Julia Scott: [00:01:23] Daring Cities is produced by ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability. ICLEI is a global network of more than 2,000 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. We drive local action for low-emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular urban development.
Julia Scott: [00:01:46] Pasig City is a city in motion. And it’s growing — both because of jobs and in-migration from neighboring cities in metro Manila. Its reputation as a green city has also grown. It’s known for its leading role on climate change.
Val Bugnot: [00:02:03] Pasig City is trailblazing. It’s redefining how cities are governed in a way that the leaders are listening both to the people and the data that they have at hand.
Julia Scott: [00:02:15] Val Bugnot works with ICLEI’s Southeast Asia team. She lives in the Philippines herself and says that even though Pasig is a small city of just 75,0000 compared with Jakarta or Hanoi, it’s set an example for the whole region.
Julia Scott: [00:02:30] Three years ago, Pasig was the first in the Philippines to collaborate with ICLEI on a greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The results called for a focus on energy use, solid waste and transportation. So the city started on a comprehensive climate action plan to address those problem areas.
Val Bugnot: [00:02:47] There’s a lot of milestones that Pasig City has reached first and it has, you know, shared a lot of valuable experience and a lot of valuable learnings to Jakarta and Hanoi as they’re also reaching those milestones.
Julia Scott: [00:03:01] To be clear, making a plan that connects low emission development to economic development at a time when Southeast Asian megacities are seeing the most significant urbanization in history is a daring move. But that kind of challenge is what got the city involved in the first place. Just ask Allen Angeles, who grew up in Pasig City and now serves as director of the City Environment and Natural Resource Office. As industries have grown, he says, so have the city’s pollution challenges.
Allen Angeles: [00:03:30] I’ve seen Pasig develop into a vibrant and progressive city. I’ve seen what the progress has brought to Pasig, and the ill effects of industrial zones and factories as well.
Julia Scott: [00:03:45] Obviously, the quality of life many Pasigueños now enjoy is an important step forward, he says.
Allen Angeles: [00:03:52] But if it would be damaging our natural resources as well as the environment, this environment will not be enjoyed by the future generation.
Julia Scott: [00:04:03] Pasig City is less than an hour by car from Manila City, but it has its own distinct character made up of 13 villages, or barangays. Two rivers flow through them and join into one. Its young new mayor, Vico Sotto, has made the environment one of his development priorities.
Allen Angeles: [00:04:20] We are looking forward to investing more on renewable energy solutions. We want our streets to be carless. We want the children to enjoy our streets. We want to provide quality service also for our Pasigueños and prevent scattering of solid waste also in the community.
Julia Scott: [00:04:41] In recent years, Pasig City has cut back the amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills, and reduced landfill emissions by half. It’s built several solar arrays for specific buildings, and the next step there is to try to hook them into the metro grid, overseen by the biggest power distribution utility in the country. It’s training city officers to go into each barangay and evaluate how residents could save energy and reduce emissions on a grassroots level.
Julia Scott: [00:05:09] And then there’s transportation. The Philippines are notorious for tricycles, the three wheel auto rickshaws that are especially prevalent across Southeast Asia and the global south. They’re usually powered by petrol. Not so in Pasig City.
Allen Angeles: [00:05:24] The two-stroke tricycles, we actually replace it with e-tricycles.
Julia Scott: [00:05:28] Working with local drivers’ associations, the city has provided battery powered e-trikes in many areas. The program is popular because it’s a money saver for drivers. The next step is to install solar-powered charging stations.
Allen Angeles: [00:05:42] This actually helps not only in decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions, but also provide that extra income for our tricycle or operators and drivers.
Julia Scott: [00:05:55] The program caught on and became a model for the national government, which purchased more e-strikes for Pasig City.
Julia Scott: [00:06:05] Pasig City faces a constellation of growing pains that are common to the entire region, like solid waste management or traffic emissions, says Val Bugnot.
Val Bugnot: [00:06:13] The trend is that most megacities in Southeast Asia, they are booming economically, the population is growing, but also the greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. And in terms of the climate crisis, that’s not good.
Julia Scott: [00:06:32] But energy consumption is by far the main culprit across countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Val Bugnot: [00:06:39] There are parts of the city where it’s residential and there are parts of the city where it’s more commercial. So the energy demand is very high and the city runs, you know, 24/7. And there’s such, you know, a lot of people and a lot of industries using energy.
Julia Scott: [00:06:55] Those three countries are part of Ambitious City Promises, ICLEI’s signature project to help rapidly urbanizing Southeast Asian cities pursue low emission development, and to do it by developing bottom-up models of citizen-inspired climate action. There used to be a narrative that developing countries could either have a higher quality of life with more consumption, more emissions… Or continue to do without. Not anymore.
Val Bugnot: [00:07:24] They do not have to choose between economic development and low emission development. They can integrate together and, you know, make it possible for their citizens to have a good economic life, but also preserving the integrity of the environment.
Julia Scott: [00:07:38] Ambitious City Promises is all about helping cities achieve their climate goals by getting everyone on the same page who has a stake in the life of that city: businesses, households and city officials. First, it helps cities create a baseline greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and then a low emissions development action plan. The whole concept originated in Seoul, Korea, in 2015.
Julia Scott: [00:08:03] Allen Angeles has been to Seoul and he’s seen the results.
Allen Angeles: [00:08:07] I’ve seen how the people participate. I’ve personally seen their actions on greenhouse gas emissions and the drive of the local government. It has actually inspired me.
Julia Scott: [00:08:21] He brought some ideas home with him. In 2019, Pasig City launched an online citizen engagement platform called EcoPledge that gives Pasigueños specific ways to make a tangible difference, like pledging not to set the air conditioner to below 25 degrees Celsius. It’s based on a similar platform built for Seoul.
Julia Scott: [00:08:41] This is key. Cities can’t be daring unless residents understand what’s at stake and how they can help.
Val Bugnot: [00:08:48] Their constituents, the people living in these cities, they are aware of climate crisis. They are aware of climate change, but they are not sure how they can contribute and help their cities.
Julia Scott: [00:09:03] Now, Pasig City is writing its own City Promise, a sweeping comprehensive action plan that marries data and public engagement. This includes neighborhood projects that focus on how people live and how to improve their lives. Pasig City has been introducing bike lanes in the commercial districts where traffic is a major problem. It hosts Carless Sundays. And it was one of the first cities in the metropolitan area to introduce urban gardening. When we talk about a new normal. It was these projects that gave people the tools to adapt when COVID-19 came to the Philippines.
Allen Angeles: [00:09:38] The establishment of urban gardens is also one strategy for food security.
Julia Scott: [00:09:43] Pasig City has 52 urban gardens, or about two per Barangay. Many Pasigueños lost their jobs this year, and lockdowns limited their ability to go seek out nutritious food.
Allen Angeles: [00:09:56] This affected those individuals in terms of capability to to buy food for their family. That’s why encouraging them to produce their own food within their gardens, within their community, within their backyard would provide them food security.
Julia Scott: [00:10:14] The city donated seeds and compost to community organizations who were able to distribute them to residents. City leaders also came up with a completely new way to get food to people under quarantine when public transport was shut down: a mobile market that visited neighborhoods on a regular schedule.
Allen Angeles: [00:10:30] We call it Mobile Palenque. We also implemented the online market or online palenque, which people can order to the market and our staff and our team will be the one to buy it.
Julia Scott: [00:10:48] Pasig City was the first local government to implement that. And the city found other ways to adapt to challenges it faced. Bike sharing, for instance, became way more popular. People got used to walking when they could. The city doubled down on making the streets safer, ensuring they were clean and well lit.
Allen Angeles: [00:11:05] In this time of the pandemic, we were able to move from one point or another using this non motorized vehicle and really helped us a lot in terms of mobility. I’ve seen a lot of bike stores selling a lot of bicycles.
Julia Scott: [00:11:23] Allen Angeles says COVID-19 has offered the city some important lessons that it intends to carry forward into its comprehensive climate action plan. It’s nice that some of the changes ahead reflect trends the city already hoped to see.
Allen Angeles: [00:11:37] I think this will be part of the new normal.
Julia Scott: [00:11:46] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Daring Cities podcast. Daring Cities is produced by me, Julia Scott, with engineering help from Chris Hoff. Special thanks to Allen Angeles from Pasig City, and to Val Bugnot, Dana Vigran, and Ariel Dekovic from ICLEI.