Can a waste picker or a jeepney driver be the face of climate change mitigation?
The answer is yes. Both depend on industries that contribute carbon emissions, the culprit behind climate change. Both will also be affected immensely when these industries shift to clean energy as they face the possibility of losing their sources of income.
They, therefore, are in the best position to show how the transition can be done in an inclusive manner, with them getting new jobs that are more environmental-friendly done in a pace that is neither too slow nor too hasty, through a process that will take into account their situation, their reality and the future of their own families.
This is called just transition. “Just Transition—the idea that justice and equity must form an integral part of the transition towards a low-carbon world—is increasingly being mobilized both to counter the jobs versus environment binary and to broaden the debate on low-carbon transitions,” the 2018 report “Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low-Carbon World,” explained.
The report, done by the Just Transition Research Collaborative, cited the example of Canada, where coal miners are expected to be laid-off following the government’s announcement of a national phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.
Labor unions and organized groups such as The Alberta Federation of Labour and United Steelworkers asked the government to provide measures that will cushion the impacts of such phaseout on their livelihoods.
The government of Alberta hence introduced a Coal Community Transition Fund and a Coal Workforce Transition Program.
Such steps are also imperative in the Philippines to also prevent the demonization of workers who demand just transition. They are being painted as enemies of change, when they are not.
Jeepney drivers who held a transport strike did not stage one because they opposed the modernization of public transportation per se. They did it because the costs of switching to vehicles that are Euro 4-compliant are too big, hence their demand for a higher government subsidy.
“We also know about climate change and we do not object to steps that the government wants to take to fight it, but what we are asking for is just transition. The change that they want could not just happen overnight,” Jaime Aguilar, president of the National Confederation Transport Union said in an interview.
A modernized jeepney costs around P2 million. The government has only allotted an P80,000-subsidy for each unit; the jeepney drivers would have to pay the rest using their own money. A jeepney driver, Aguilar said, only earns around P800 a day.
Waste pickers, on the other hand, could be affected by the disruptions in the recycling industry caused by proposed ban on waste imports. Waste pickers perform an important role in collecting and segregating items that are still recyclable.
Both a ban on waste imports and recycling done right are needed however in order to minimize plastic pollution and pave the way for reduced plastic production. Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, with carbon emitted from its whole life cycle.
“Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” a study of the Center for International Environmental Law said that the annual emissions in 2019 from the plastic life cycle are equal to emissions from 189 coal plants.
In order to help waste pickers sustain their source of livelihood amid a waste import ban, the local market for recycling, focusing on local waste, should be energized and supported by the government.
Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of Ecowaste Coalition said the Philippines already has the needed law—the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000—in place in order to improve the local market for recycling. What’s left to be done is for it to be enforced properly.
“The Philippine government should enforce the Recycling Program as stipulated under RA 9003 otherwise known as The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 Section 26 that states “The DILG and other concerned agencies and sectors, publish a study of existing markets for processing and purchasing recyclable materials and the potential steps necessary to expand these markets. Such study shall include, but not limited to, an inventory of existing markets for recyclable materials, product standards for recyclable and recycled materials, and a proposal, developed in conjunction with the appropriate agencies, to stimulate the demand for the production of products containing post-consumer and recovered materials,” she said.
Training for green jobs or jobs in the renewable energy industry should also be made available to other workers who stand to lose employment as the country shifts to clean energy. There’s already a law which promotes green jobs, defined as “employment that contributes to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment, be it in the agriculture, industry or services sector” in Republic Act 10771 or the Philippine Green Jobs Act of 2016.
The Climate Change Commission is tasked with designing and developing standards and certification system for companies that will provide green jobs.
Such options for formal just transition measures must be made known to workers’ groups, cooperatives representing the informal sector and labor unions, which in turn should not also be afraid to have their voices heard in the revolution to have a world that is not dependent on dirty energy.
Ms. Romero is a freelance journalist who has written about environment and human rights issues for local and international news organizations.