(in photo above) The COVID-19 pandemic triggered one of the most acute global economic crises of the last decades and exposed the circular relationship between pandemic risks and economic, environmental, and social factors. In the Philippines, the consequences included record-high unemployment, worse social inequalities, a steep fall in the GDP, and an enormous debt level.
As the Philippine economy continues to slowly recover from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that both the public and private sectors transition away from the business-as-usual practices of the past that made the country one of Asia-Pacific’s most vulnerable nations to the interrelated effects of health, socioeconomic, and environmental shocks.
This was the main message of a recent study on green recovery in the Philippines. Undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with support from the Government of the United Kingdom and in collaboration with Global Factor and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability Southeast Asia (ICLEI SEAS), the study aims to take advantage of the opportunity to redesign the development trajectory of the country after the COVID-19 pandemic towards a greener and more sustainable one.
Over 170 stakeholders from national government agencies, local government units, private businesses, civil society organizations, non-government organizations, and the academe gathered on 10 November 2022 for a virtual parallel session to discuss the key results and highlights of the study. Anchored on the study’s result, the event included dynamic discussions on how different sectors of the society can lead the way in greening the Philippines’ development pathway.
The parallel session was held during the 60th Annual Meeting and Conference of the Philippine Economic Society.
At the opening of the session, United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, Her Excellency Laure Beaufils, said “This study highlights the economic and social benefit from a recovery strategy which puts the environment, climate, and people at its heart.”
“Our efforts to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our lives and those of generations to come. Inaction or resumption of business-as-usual could be catastrophic. We are all in a race to seize the opportunities for green recovery and to redouble our climate efforts to reach net-zero by mid-century,” Ambassador Beaufils added.
Dr. Selva Ramachandran, UNDP Philippines Resident Representative, also noted that as the world and the Philippines goes into the new normal, efforts must be taken to ensure that the country can minimize and is prepared for future crises.
“We need to employ policies and practices that go beyond increasing the country’s overall income or wealth. We need to formulate new ones that provide incentive to investing into preserving our planet and in so doing enable us to exploit the multiple dividends of investment in resilience and sustainability. Setting foot into a green recovery pathway is a good start,” said Dr. Ramachandran.
The need for green recovery
According to the 2022 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report, developing countries have been struggling to bounce back from their pandemic losses, with the problem compounded by record-high inflation and debts.
In the Philippines, the pandemic drove the country to its first great recession in the last two decades. The country averaged a 6.4% gross domestic product (GDP) growth annually from 2010-2019; however, GDP shrunk by 9.6% in 2020. Unemployment rates also rocketed during this period, averaging 10.4% for the year and reaching 17.6% in April. As a response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government increased its consumption expenditure resulting in an enormous debt-to-GDP ratio of 54.6%.
A simulation by Cambridge Econometrics on the impacts of various recovery scenarios post-COVID-19 shows that at a global level, undertaking green recovery plans provides a larger gross domestic product (GDP) stimulus in the short-term, and higher and more permanent benefits to GDP growth in the long-term. In terms of jobs, green measures are also shown to produce more significant employment multipliers versus the status quo over the next decade.
The environmental impacts of global green recovery are also expected to further the emissions reductions brought by the pandemic’s limiting effect on mobility and the economy. Cambridge Econometrics posits that green recovery could lead to as much as a 9% CO₂ emissions reduction by the end of the decade—a significant chunk of the targeted 45% emissions reductions needed by 2030 to keep within pace of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C.
Likewise, the UNDP study projects that Philippine GDP growth rate will have a steeper increase when subsidies are great enough to have an impact in the increment of renewable energy consumption in comparison with the slow recovery that occurs with a business-as-usual scenario. CO₂ emissions would also drop faster according to predictions with the increase in renewable energy consumption and consequent decrease in fossil fuel consumption.
In addition to the macro-level benefits of green recovery in the Philippines, the study also analyzed the country’s four priority economic sectors and provided sector-specific green recovery entry points and recommendations based on current national policies. Specifically,. these analyzed sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and transportation.
The study encourages the private sector to take an active role in bringing about changes in their business strategies, with the collaboration and incentives of local governments to change interest perceptions and building social majorities to create a sustainable and inclusive economic system that protects the environment and people.
Agreeing with the recommendations, Architect Felino Palafox, Jr., Director of the Environment, Climate Change, and Infrastructure Committee of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said that taking into account the lifecycle cost of green measures, investments made in sustainable development will be recovered over time.
“Green is the way to go. We need to comprehensively plan from ridge to reef and ensure balanced, sustainable urban planning,” added Architect Palafox.
The Honorable Placido Eduarte, Jr., Mayor of Tayum, Abra and Special Assistant to the President of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), on behalf of the LMP President and La Paz, Abra Mayor, Honorable Joseph Bernos, said that the concept of green recovery is still in its infancy among many local government units (LGUs). He said “Many local chief executives have realized the importance of going green and in anchoring our efforts in sustainable growth. However, many municipalities are not yet familiar with green recovery.”
Expounding on the gaps that challenge the mainstreaming of green recovery, Mayor Eduarte explained “These include the limited technical capacity and financial resources. Most local bureaucracies are not built for that.”
Meanwhile, Honorable Dakila Carlo Cua, Governor of Quirino Province and President of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), said that although many LGUs are undertaking sustainability practices, there needs to be more active sharing of best practices between local governments.
“There are many sustainability examples from the grassroots. What we need to do is document them better so they can be shared with other LGUs and other leaders,” said Governor Cua.
Closing the program, EnP. Floradema Eleazar, Climate Action Programme Team Leader of UNDP, said “Why are we aiming for green recovery? Simply because we want recovery to be more sustainable. Everything that we do will be useless if the climate and biodiversity crises will not be halted. We want to emphasize the multiple dividends from green recovery to better inform policies, programs, and investments so that we can create impact for people on the ground.”
“We look forward to greater collaboration in the country as it formulates and implements its updated Philippine Development Plan,” concluded Eleazar.
The full “Greening of the Philippines’ Recovery and Resilience Strategies” study is set to be launched soon by UNDP via www.undp.org/philippines.