Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje urged Filipinos to “go beyond Earth Hour” in mitigating the effects of climate change by participating in the country’s National Greening Program (NGP).

Paje sounded the call even as he invited Filipinos to once again join this year’s Earth Hour on March 31 by switching off their lights for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 in the evening. Yet, more than aiming for wider participation during that hour, he encouraged Filipinos to take a more sustained and active stance against climate change.

“An occasion like Earth Hour is dramatically impressive, yet we need to do more because switching off non-essential lights for one hour out of 8,760 hours in a year is only a short-term solution and will never be enough to make climate change go away. Earth Hour has shown us how we can achieve more if we are able to sustain united, convergent and simultaneous actions for our environment like the NGP,” he said.

Paje explained that the NGP, which aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares over a span of six years, is the “best example” of a long-term solution for going beyond Earth Hour, because forests of newly-planted trees, while maturing, act as carbon sinks as they sequester global warming-inducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to scientists, one tree during its lifetime can absorb an average of one ton of carbon dioxide.

He also noted how, in the recently-published Environmental Performance Index report of the Yale and Columbia Universities, the Philippines ranked first in the indicator for efficiency in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita, yet was a distant 86th place in emissions generated by thermal-power plants, and 51st in generation of renewable electricity.

“We need to increase our energy efficiency, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and increase our use of renewable energy to reduce our emissions. These, along with planting trees, are the best ways to offset or erase our carbon footprint,” he stressed.

The environment chief then expressed his hope that, in keeping with this year’s Earth Hour campaign theme, “I Will If You Will”, participating individuals, organizations or businesses would “dare” others to engage in activities under the NGP, from seed gathering or production to tree nurturing, in exchange for reducing their own emissions.

The Philippines has consistently led in the global switch-off since 2009 in terms of town and city participation. From 50 participating communities 2008, when the country first joined Earth Hour, the numbers steadily rose as 647 joined in 2009; 1,076 in 2010; and 1,661 in 2011. In 2009 alone, an estimated 611MWh of electricity was saved.

Earth Hour was conceptualized by World Wide Fund Australia and Leo Brunett . The first Earth Hour was held on March 31, 2007 in Sydney, Australia.