climate change

[OPINION] Creating a green recovery pathway for the Philippines

Selva Ramachandran
'Jumpstarting a green recovery with more decent jobs, and healthy and resilient societies, is crucial to building back better and greener'

Almost a year has passed since COVID-19 hit, causing job losses and increasing poverty levels. Sadly, this has impacted people unevenly, particularly women, youth, the poor, and informal sector workers.

A recent United Nations Development Program (UNDP) survey showed many households (27%) earning below P10,000 lost all income during lockdowns. Estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) further revealed that 10.9 million workers in the Philippines have had their livelihoods disrupted – equivalent to 25% of total employment in the country. Women and youth are particularly impacted, especially those studying, training, job-hunting, or working part-time. 

As the pandemic continues, socio-economic recovery remains uncertain. The World Economic Outlook (2020) projections showed a glimmer of hope for the Philippines, but slowly striding on the path to recovery in 2021 and beyond. Sustainable recovery requires building back better in new ways. To do so, we need to work collaboratively.

Expanding digitalization is one approach. The ILO’s Future of Work in the Philippines Report recommended promoting competitive, innovative industries, and advancing productive employment, but noted that it must be accompanied by upskilling or reskilling workforces – particularly those in technology-supporting sectors, or those most impacted by COVID-19 or changes to traditional work – as well as investing in the digital and green economies. 

Jumpstarting a green recovery with more decent jobs, and healthy and resilient societies, is crucial to building back better and greener. Although modest compared to some countries, the Philippines is considered well on its way towards effective recovery thanks to the significant actions taken by the government.

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Notably, the government is at the cusp of submitting its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which aims for an ambitious target of 75% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But to do so, investment in green technology and energy is essential, while enabling a green recovery strategy.

This approach – putting emphasis on recovery that benefits all and progresses towards a greener economy – is not just good for our health and the environment; it is good for economic growth. UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report shows a $2-10 return for every $1 invested in nature- and climate-aligned COVID-19 stimulus packages. For the Philippines, this means COVID-19 economic recovery projects should also contribute to overall improvement of the environment and natural resources while reviving affected livelihoods, jobs, and industries.  

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) sets a positive example. Recent reports cited that BSP has invested close to $200 million on green bonds in 2020 – bonds that invest in green, sustainable and renewable investments – making the Philippines the 3rd largest green bond issuer in ASEAN with over $2 billion.

Mobilizing similar smarter, better investment is crucial to recovery success, which requires incentives to attract domestic and foreign capital. For instance, the proposed amendments for Foreign Investment Act could incorporate incentives to redirect foreign investment to green recovery opportunities – like renewable energy and electric vehicle production and usage.

But, this can be accelerated with a “whole of government” approach. Fast-tracked government efforts to promote green jobs, prepare the human resources needed, and monitor and support these mechanisms are necessary. Together with the proposed Philippine Action Plan for Sustainable Consumption and Production, they will set a momentum for greener recovery while propelling the country towards its climate targets.

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Timely action by the government should be matched with investments by others, including the private sector. The government creates an enabling environment and provides the required leadership. However, businesses and enterprises, development partners, business and labor organizations, and civil society play crucial roles to align efforts with the national green recovery agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, ensuring a green recovery requires the need to introduce support to unlock the potential of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the Philippines – those most impacted by COVID-19 – and increase their participation in green and inclusive recovery. MSMEs are the backbone of the Philippine economy. UNDP and ILO remain committed to supporting the enterprises, employers, workers, and the government to helping MSMEs bounce back.

We plan to do this through innovative financing, as well as providing business development and forecasting tools that will enable planning and transition to sustainable and more resilient economic opportunities. We welcome open and effective social dialogue on how we can best bring this to life. 

While the pandemic has caused one of the greatest disruptions of all time, the recovery effort offers a unique opportunity to change the course of development in the Philippines towards a human-centered, greener future, and leave a legacy for the next generations of Filipinos and the world. –

Dr. Selva Ramachandran is the UNDP Philippines Resident Representative.

Khalid Hassan is the ILO Philippines Country Director.

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