The cost of neglecting air quality is costing the Philippines a whopping $87.6 billion in losses a year, notwithstanding the enactment of the Philippine Clean Air Act two decades ago, a recent study has revealed.
The result of the study, entitled Aiming Higher: Benchmarking the Philippine Clean Air Act by the Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and the Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), was presented during a webinar, which also bared that polluted air has contributed to at least 15 percent more Covid-19 deaths and illnesses on top of other medical impacts.
In her presentation, Isabela Suarez, an analyst at CREA and a co-author of the report said air pollution costs the Philippines P4.5 trillion every year, which in 2019 represented 23 percent of the GDP.
“Neglecting air pollution comes with a heavy bill in the form of increased health care and welfare costs, as well as loss of labor and economic productivity,” she said.
The report found that air pollution in the country is responsible for 66,000 premature deaths every year.
“If this does not spell out how urgent the situation is, it’s hard to imagine what else can spur the government to truly implement the country’s Clean Air Act. Our findings show the degree to which Filipino’s long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of developing illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer and stroke, as well as comorbidities to Covid-19,” Vince Carlo Garcia, a research analyst at ICSC and another coauthor of the report said for his part.
In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its recommended “safe levels” of air pollution based on growing scientific evidence that air pollution is more dangerous to human health than previously estimated.
According to the report, if the WHO guidelines were met, the country’s annual air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by more than half while economic costs would be reduced to a third.
A reactor to the webinar, Jundy del Soccorro of the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) said the “first step to finding a solution is acknowledging the problem, [which is why] we need all the data and expertise from academe and government agencies.”
The del Soccorro cited the initiatives the agency is pursuing in line with the Clean Air Act, including a project to gather data from industrial sources in real time.
Del Soccorro said a total of 70 firms in the Philippines already have existing continuous emissions monitoring systems, 35 percent of which are now connected to their Air Quality Network Operation Center.
The project aims to reach 100 percent completion by 2022. Suarez noted, however “the initiative can reach its full potential if more stringent emission standards are enacted so emissions from these sources are kept at a minimum.”
During the webinar, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, principal author of the Clean Air Act, expressed frustration over the Executive branch of government’s “inaction.”
Legarda said, “Millions of premature deaths around the world have been attributed to poor air quality and millions more are exposed to higher levels of pollution from a growing number of pollution sources.
Some of the pollutants also contribute to climate change.” Legarda said it was unacceptable that the country is missing “by more than 200 percent what is deemed to be safe” in accordance to the WHO’s new guidelines.
“The adverse impacts of climate change and poor air quality do not recognize political colors. It is incumbent upon us to come together and take leadership in the effort to promote the health of the environment and of our people,” Legarda said.
Legarda urged the passage of a “Joint Resolution of Congress…to constitute the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Clean Air Act” to speed up the implementation of the law.
The Aim Higher report showed sources of mobile, stationary, and area emissions have increased since the year 2000 but the policies that control emissions from each source have not kept up. The authors emphasized the full implementation of the Clean Air Act should be prioritized, especially as many of the solutions to air pollution have climate co-benefits.
“Meeting the fully protective WHO Guidelines will take time but every improvement in air quality matters so we need to ensure that air pollution and emissions reductions are tied to well-defined, time-bound targets and milestones,” said Suarez.
Among the DENR-EMB’s wish list for tackling air pollution decisively are the improved provision of budgetary support to improve the agency’s capacity to monitor outdoor and source pollution, and the prioritization of targeted initiatives with air pollution reduction benefits under the Build, Build, Build.