Authors: Isabella L. Suarez and Vince Carlo Garcia
Researchers and Contributors: Lauri Myllyvirta, Hubert Thieriot, Ronja Borgmästars, Maria Cervero
External Reviewers: Imelda I. Valeroso, Engr. Jundy del Socorro, Aiza Cortes-Aguilar, PhD., Renzo R. Guinto, MD DrPH.
Editor: Desdemona Diwata S. Espina
The strengthened World Health Organization (WHO) Ambient Air Quality Guidelines provide a strong incentive for more ambitious clean air policies in the Philippines. The new WHO guidelines were revised to reflect the growing scientific understanding that air pollution is more dangerous to human health than originally estimated. The widened gap between the “safe levels” of air quality in 2021 WHO Guidelines and the Philippine National Ambient Air Quality Guideline Values means that allowable concentrations for pollutants, such as sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are dangerously high. For instance, the country’s actual observed levels of PM2.5, the most dangerous pollutant to human health, often average below the Philippine standard for the pollutant, but this annual standard is 5 times higher than the recommendation of the new WHO guidelines. Therefore, more ambitious standards for the pollutant should be implemented.
Air pollutant emissions from mobile, stationary, and area sources have increased since the implementation of the Clean Air Act (R.A. 8749) in 2000 and have worsened the air quality in the country. Meanwhile, the clean air standards and the policies that control emissions from each source have not kept up with international best practices, and some important clean air strategies included in the Act have not been sufficiently implemented.
This report provides the most detailed estimate of the health and economic impact of air pollution in the Philippines to date. According to the most recent scientific evidence, approximately 66,000 premature deaths every year are linked to PM2.5 and NO2 pollution in the country. Furthermore, the economic cost of air pollution amounts to PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 87.6 billion) annually. Such costs are equivalent to 23% of the country’s GDP in 2019. These deaths are often overlooked but are caused by air pollution-related health illnesses, disabilities, and even death, all of which increase healthcare costs, affect the well-being of the workforce, and ultimately result in loss of labor and productivity. If the new WHO guidelines were met, these annual air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by more than half while economic costs would be reduced to a third.