Experts urge government, LGUs anew to step up efforts to stem effects of climate change

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2021 11:34 PM

MANILA - The COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a lesson for government to rethink its development goals and strategies in order to ensure resilience in various parts of the archipelago to better respond to future health and environmental crises, according to an economist.

Speaking at a webinar on "Climate Change and COVID-19: Adapting to Two New Normals," University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics Assistant Professor Dr. Toby Melissa Monsod said using gross domestic product (GDP) and other macroeconomic indicators such as employment and unemployment rates, price stability and inflation, and infrastructure projects, as the primary goal in crafting the national development plan is a “very very poor gauge of welfare and progress”.

“When we talk about development, hopefully, economists really should be looking at welfare and outcomes and improving the quality of life; if you don’t see that then the picture is very different.

“It (GDP) is notoriously incongruent with a number of things. For example, you may have a lot of production, for example in Laguna de Bay or Pasig River, you can have factories which are working for fish ponds that are producing output [but] pollution into Laguna de Bay or Pasig is not accounted for in those numbers,” Monsod said.

She added, “So if you pollute, your output doesn’t go down, they don’t correct for that, and so GDP does not correct for environmental damage,” she said.

In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, Monsod said the Philippines’ robust economic performance in the past decade was not enough to effectively address the health crisis, with the pandemic even plunging the country into the “sharpest reversal in growth among our regional neighbors”, dropping by around -14 percentage points. 

“Over the last 10 years, [the Philippines had] high, robust economic growth, second only to China in the last quarter of 2019… We [were] led to believe that we are resilient, like coming into the pandemic our economic managers actually said -- this was in March 2020 — that economic fundamentals [were] on our side, they thought that even under the worst possible scenario, the worst scenario, we would still grow in 2020 and in the medium term by about 6 percent. That’s what they thought in March.

“Obviously, this did not happen. We kind of fell really steeply in the second quarter of last year, and in the entire year (2020) we had the sharpest reversal in growth among our regional neighbors…. so our profound lesson was that we are not as economic-resilient as we think or thought,” Monsod explained. 

She further said, had the Philippines been “more prepared” in dealing with the pandemic, it could have saved about 3.6 percentage points in lost growth forecast for 2020 or roughly P680 billion. 

“If only we did our homework because the pandemic was not something unexpected — in 2005, WHO (World Health Organization) and everyone was already saying we need to prepare for these things. Many countries learned from SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the asian flu, and all that, we didn’t quite do that and that’s what happens,” she said. 

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE, EMERGING DISEASES PREPAREDNESS

National and local leaders must, therefore, realize that progress should come with human development; addressing environmental issues; and emerging disease preparedness, according to Monsod.

“Countries have overtaken us in terms of human development — China has overtaken us; East Asia and the Pacific countries, as a whole, the average has overtaken us; Indonesia, we are now the same HDI (human development index); Vietnam may soon overtake us. 

“That’s what happens when we forget that incomes like GDP is not the same as outcomes and by outcomes we’re talking about the quality of life,” she said.

For example, economic managers, who “control” policies and planning, need to tailor-fit targets in farming and marine fisheries to the realities of a changing climate which impact on production and food security, Monsod stressed.

Dr. Faye Cruz, head of the Manila Observatory Regional Climate Systems Laboratory, presented research findings of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) which are relevant to food security and health, among others.

These data include the following: 

Warming trend:

A. Observed warming trend in the Philippines from the 1950’s: average rate of about 0.1 C per decade warming.

B. Day time vs night time temperature: night time temperatures warming at a slightly higher rate at 0.15 C per decade.

C. Projections: continue to increase at a range from 0.9 C to 2.3 C by mid 21st century (2036-2065), and from 1.3 C to 4.1 C at the end of the 21st century (2070-2099). 

Rainfall: 

A. Some areas in western Luzon with increasing trends mainly before and after the rainy season of June - August

B. Increasing trends (more rainfall) in eastern Visayas and northeast Mindanao during the rainy season of December - February

C. Drying trends in Palawan to northern mainly in the months of March - August

D. Projections:

Drier tendency over central Mindanao

Tropical cyclones:

Small decrease in the number of tropical cyclones over the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR), small increase in “very strong” typhoons.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND FARM, MARINE RESOURCE YIELD

Two members of the National Panel of Technical Experts of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines namely, Dr. Felino Lansigan, professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños; and Dr. Laura David, physical oceanographer professor and director of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, echoed Dr. Cruz on the impact of climate change on food security.

As part of efforts to yield more crops, Lansigan said improved plant varieties resistant to or tolerant to climate stresses are now available to farmers, such as rice and corn varieties resistant to flooding, drought, and heat; and salinity-tolerant varieties.

Alternate wetting and drying technique resulting in a 40-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and adopting a planting calendar on when to plant what type of varieties/crops are also available options.

David, for her part, explained marine ecosystem protection and management should not be downplayed.

The simple planting of mangroves and protecting seagrass, for example, are vital climate change mitigating measures, she explained.

“Yung ating mangrove and seagrass na dapat alagaan because tatamaan sila ng climate change, sila din yung makakapagbaba nung climate change itself, kasi they sequester carbon. 

“Si seagrass, halos kapantay niya yung tropical forest [carbon] sequestration. Si mangroves, ang laki ng kinukupkop niyang carbon so ‘pag inalagaan mo siya, you also reduce that increase in temperature and all the cascading effects of climate change,” David explained.

David shared data published in 2011 showing oceanic mangroves can sequester over 2,000 carbon dioxide equivalent units (CO2eq) per hectare, while seagrass can sequester at least 500 CO2eq per hectare.

The same expanse of tropical forest can sequester over 600 CO2eq.

Lansigan and David also stressed the need to involve and empower communities and local government units for the above mentioned programs to succeed. 

The webinar is part of a series sponsored by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), Embassy of the Netherlands, and Climate Adaptation Summit 2021.

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