The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economies to fall. To bounce back, the Philippines has adopted a whole-of-society approach in turn-around management. A basic advantage of the Philippines is its cohesive private sector that has taken the lead and has quickly channeled resources towards the most vulnerable communities. This softened the impact on the people especially during the early weeks of the lockdowns.
The Philippine government, like all others around the world, was unprepared for the pandemic but, nevertheless, enforced policies and social amelioration measures to help people get by. After many months of suspended economic activity, it is time to get up and move again. But instead of just kick-starting the economy, a calibrated shift to a green economic recovery makes good practical sense. As the world tries to overcome the pandemic through a “back-to-basics” and green lifestyle, there is a great opportunity to sustainability change the wasteful economy we have all been used to.
During a virtual discussion recently organized by the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute and the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, Congressman Elpidio Barzaga, Jr., together with Undersecretaries Juan Miguel Cuna and Analiza Teh of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), called for greater stakeholder involvement towards a green economic recovery, which promotes sustainable development and ensures that the environment is not compromised.
Mr. Cuna stated that the country’s recovery period is an opportunity to transition to a new socio-economic model that is climate-neutral, resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. He reported their push for possible legislative initiatives such as amending the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and the Wildlife Act. Likewise, Ms. Teh underscored the need to structure systems that would enable people to live with smaller carbon footprints, particularly by investing in sustainable infrastructure to ensure long-term impacts. The government should also develop economic recovery packages to support the most vulnerable sectors and promote innovations for clean energy.
The 2011 Green Economy Report of the United Nations Environment Program states that “to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair.” Being fair means recognizing a country’s peculiarities in transitioning to an economy that is less dependent on carbon and more efficient in the use of resources. Most importantly, the shift to a green economy should be socially inclusive.
Some private business groups that have embraced the call for a green economy are Coca-Cola Philippines, Metro Pacific Investments, Prime Metroline Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Meralco, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, and the Ayala Group. These companies commit to the principle that sustainability is not just a statement for corporate social responsibility; rather, it is integral to their business models. Human, economic, and environmental health must harmonize with business decisions and operations. Companies must go beyond their core services to provide for those who are in need.
It is imperative to shift from the linear model to the circular economy. There is an increasing need to invest in the long term and focus on infrastructure to better the lives of the people. Even the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure development program could take some better turns with the construction of large covered elevated walkways along EDSA and other high-traffic areas instead of just highways for motorists. Local governments can probably replicate the Ayala Group’s transformation of the Makati central business district to encourage a healthy “walking culture” by building elevated walkways linking the workplace to public transport terminals.
Green growth is not limited to the use of electric vehicles and online activities such as virtual meetings, work-from-home arrangements, or e-commerce. It encompasses a wide range of behavioral lifestyle choices.
Indeed, as what Stratbase ADR Institute President Prof. Dindo Manhit stated during the virtual discussion, the emerging green sector can be tapped to generate jobs for workers who have been displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government could provide fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to attract green investments and projects that would not only contribute to economic growth, but also help conserve the environment and our natural resources. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) is the right fit for these ventures to materialize.
Collective effort towards reviving the economy will need the right policies and infrastructure to support this kind of sustainable turn-around. Once sustainability has been deeply embedded in business operations and in our everyday lives, then not only will costs be minimized, but the destruction of our planet can be averted as well. Along this line, environmental stewardship must be the centerpiece in creating a better and more resilient new normal.
The disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic punctuate the urgency to change our ways. With a private sector that takes the initiative and the people’s support, the government should focus on creating the policy infrastructure to get things done well and swiftly.
Venice Isabelle Rañosa is the Research Manager at Stratbase ADR Institute.