Climate action in urban areas

Jumping off from their recent work with Pasig City around establishing a circular economy, Climate & Sustainability advisors Shawntel Nieto and Clarisse Banaag write about other initiatives city leaders are undertaking around the world to take climate action in densely populated urban areas.

4 September 2023

By Shawntel Nieto and Clarisse Banaag

A FEW weeks ago, our Climate & Sustainability (C&S) advisory team had the privilege of facilitating a training program we designed called the Pasig City "Innovation for Circular Economy (ICE)" Hub training. The three-weeklong event was part of a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project to help local governments transition to a circular economy through a portfolio of solutions, including the phased design and operationalization of a unique ICE hub and obtaining buy-in for the hub from stakeholders and barangay within the city.

The UNDP selected Pasig as the project's pilot city because of its good working track record with the UN agency and the city leadership's commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. The LGU has explicitly made sustainability a key priority area in the city's development. It is not alone in this focus, which points to how much climate change has come to occupy not just the minds of city leaders but of urban citizens as well.

In December 2022, Deloitte conducted a survey of 200 city leaders and 2,000 citizens globally to better understand the initiatives they were taking to become future-ready. When asked about the biggest challenges their city would face over the next five years, 94 percent of city leaders and 54 percent of citizens cited climate change and pollution. How these respondents were addressing the global crisis — which includes initiatives similar to what Pasig has started — could serve as a template for other LGUs that are similarly concerned about the impacts of climate change on their densely populated jurisdictions.

Environmental resilience and sustainability

Among the survey respondents, there was a pronounced emphasis on building environmental resilience by focusing on specific problem areas. Top on this list was pollution, with 87 percent of respondents reporting that reducing air, noise, and water pollution is a key component of their environmental resilience plan. This is followed by flooding (74 percent) and water scarcity (73 percent), which were notably identified as massive challenges by respondents from Asia.

To address air pollution, many city leaders were focusing on public transit and other sustainable modes of transport. Eighty percent of the respondents planned to increase the usage of city buses in the next five years, while more than 70 percent were looking to incentivize the use of e-scooters and bicycles/e-bikes.

Here in the Philippines, the Department of Transportation announced earlier this year that it would spend P700 million in 2023 to construct at least 470 kilometers of dedicated bicycle lanes. While the effort is appreciated, it is not enough, as can be seen in the steady stream of incidents where cyclists' lives are put at risk because of having to share the road with automobiles. Instead of doing the bare minimum for these environmentally friendly commuters, LGUs would do well to support the growth of the cycling community by providing safe road networks and accessible amenities for charging and securely parking their rides.

A similar infrastructure concern may be hampering the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) here in the Philippines. Seventy-two percent of the city leader respondents said they wanted to increase the usage of electric or hybrid vehicles, whose sales continue to grow globally. But according to Deloitte's 2023 Global Automotive Consumer Study, interest in purchasing a hybrid vehicle or EV in the Southeast Asian region was lowest among Filipinos because of the lack of public charging facilities.

The country's largest power distribution company appears ready to lead efforts to establish a network of EV charging stations. This initiative, coupled with the government's various incentives designed to fuel EV adoption, could tip the scale in favor of EV ownership. But what impact would this development have on Metro Manila's perennial problem of traffic congestion?

In the area of management practices, city leaders are incorporating sustainability into their various functions. Sixty-seven percent said they were incorporating sustainability metrics into the local city planning process, while 59 percent were incorporating environmental metrics into their investment decisions. Fifty-one percent were promoting circular economy practices similar to what Pasig is doing with its ICE Hub investment.

Taking these and other initiatives altogether, the major goal for city leaders is to achieve net zero and carbon neutrality, but the roadmap to that endgame may not be aggressive enough. Deloitte, for example, is working as a global network to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. In our survey, 71 percent of city leaders said they expected to hit their net-zero targets only around 2050.

Will this effort be enough to push back against the impacts of climate change? City dwellers will find out soon enough. In the meantime, it is important for everyone to get involved in the climate action initiatives that their cities are pushing. Pasig's leaders, for example, aren't just building the city's capacity to transition to a circular economy; they are planting the seeds for significant behavioral change at the citizen level so that everyone is more mindful of the effects of their consumption and, therefore, more invested in mitigating its negative impact.

It's going to take more than a village to address the climate crisis we are all experiencing, and, as the city of Pasig demonstrates, we need to continuously invest in and implement proactive, systemic, systematic, and multi-stakeholder approaches and initiatives to ensure our urban areas remain livable spaces.

As published in The Manila Times on 4 September 2023. Shawntel Nieto is an assistant manager, and Clarisse Banaag is an associate, both with the C&S advisory team of Deloitte Philippines.

Did you find this useful?