Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) Assembly Meeting
September 30, 2014 – EDSA Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City
At the outset, allow me to thank and congratulate the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions Working Group on Environmental Auditing (INTOSAI-WGEA) for convening this very important meeting.
We are living in a world with finite resources and yet generations have lived over the centuries like there is notomorrow.
Our natural environment has been compromised. We all need to acknowledge and embrace this reality. Our biological diversity has been significantly reduced and the general health of our environment is conceded to the greed of some. We cannot keep a blind eye to this.
Our ecosystems have been altered more rapidly in the name of development; but the poor have remained poor and their numbers are increasing notwithstanding the emergence of megacities and the increasing “GDPs” of nations. This only underscores the need to establish accountability for environmental issues. Let me highlight some issues.
In the 24 ecosystem services examined during the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment between 2001-2005, 15 or approximately 60 percent were degraded or used unsustainably. Many of these are irrevocable, thus future generations may no longer benefit from these ecosystems.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) outlines how the environment has drastically changed in a span of 20 years since 1992 when the first United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or the Rio Earth Summit, was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
- Half of the seven billion human population live in urban areas and account for 75 percent of global energy consumption as well as 80 percent of global carbon emissions.
- The global use of natural resource materials—primarily biomass, fossil fuels, ores and industrial minerals, and construction minerals—has already increased from 42 to almost 60 billion tons annually.
- The primary forest area has decreased by 300 million hectares since 1990 and the continued conversion of forests into agricultural land and other uses results in biodiversity loss and further contributes to global warming. Deforestation has also caused a 30 percent decline in biodiversity in the tropics.
- The increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the air has been causing oceans to become more acidic, threatening marine organisms and ecosystems, which, in turn, gravely affect fishing, tourism and other marine-related human activities.
- The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere has caused the increasing melting rate of glaciers, which not only influences sea level rise but also affects the water resources of one-sixth of the world’s population.
- Global fish stocks continue to decline as the proportion of fully exploited fish stocks increased by 13 percent, while overexploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased by 33 percent since 1992. These numbers highlight the need for better management of marine environment.
The effects of our exploitative activities are evident in the increased frequency and volume of natural hazards that turn into disasters and that cause disruptions in our lives, and even loss of lives.
The irony here is that, the things we want to gain and develop through the use of ecosystem services, are the very same things we lose due to exploitation and unsustainable use of our natural resources.
In the global effort to address environmental issues, numerous international instruments were passed such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
We also have other multilateral environmental agreements like the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, the Basel Convention on transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, and the Stockholm Convention on persistent and organic pollutants.
At the local level, numerous laws have also been introduced not just to demand accountability for environmental issues but to also provide impetus to incorporate environmental concerns into planning and policy making.
The presence of these international agreements and local laws, however, does not automatically guarantee results. This is the value that your organization brings.
The Philippines has numerous laws and policies that are focused on addressing environmental and disaster resiliency issues. Among these are the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, Marine Pollution Control Law, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, the Act Creating the People’s Survival Fund, among many others. These laws, however, do not guarantee effective action.
The UN has lauded the country’s laws on climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) as the “best in the world.” However, the UN also noted that the challenge is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.
It has been 13 years since the Solid Waste Management Act was enacted, but the National Economic and Development Authority noted that in 2012, only nine out of 17 local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila have submitted a solid waste management plan, and only 414 of 1,610 LGUs nationwide, or only 25.7%, have complied with the national plan.
The state of the Philippine environment continues to be on the decline as illustrated by estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization that forest area in the country has declined from 12 million hectares in 1960 to only about 5.7 million hectares. The UNEP World Atlas of Coral Reefs also reports that 97 percent of reefs in the Philippines are under threat.
Holding government, businesses, and the public at large to greater accountability for their actions is expected; but more than that, we need for these laws and the circumstances that led to their passage, to be appreciated by everyone. Effective enforcement emanates from everyone’s understanding and appreciation of responsibility and accountability.
It is in this light that I proposed in the Senate for an environmental audit covering the performance of relevant national agencies and local government units in relation to their enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and compliance guidelines to identify where implementation can be supported and how to remove barriers to implementation.
I laud the Commission on Audit (COA), under the leadership of its Chair Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan, for taking on this enormous task of ensuring accountability and judicious use of government and public resources in the Philippines. After all, is not the natural wealth of our countries the ultimate public resource? Without the critical and essential role of the COA and all of you, as state auditors from all over the world, the job of protecting and restoring the environment cannot be done.
The COA has done an assessment of disaster risk reduction and management practices in the Philippines in light of the tragedy brought by Supertyphoon Yolanda. We need to do more in the area of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. The level of disaster preparedness at the local level has improved, but much more needs to be done in the area of response and recovery efforts. We also have to adopt a “preventive” mindset by ensuring that building standards are strictly enforced so that we are able to build better infrastructure and housing even before disasters strike.
You have a key role in making this happen. Somebody needs to look at these issues with an objective lens and with a keen eye for details. You need to train your skills on environmental matters as these affect the financial statements of government, businesses and even private individuals.
The International Auditing Practices Committee defines environmental matters in a financial audit as “initiatives to prevent, abate or remedy damage to the environment to deal with the conservation of renewable or non-renewable resources.” These also include consequences of violating environmental laws and regulations, including environmental damage.
In the Philippines, a 1997 Executive Order institutionalized the Philippine Economic-Environmental and Natural Resources Accounting (PEENRA) System as a strategy to effectively integrate environmental concerns in socio-economic policy and decision-making.
In 2003, the Committee on Science and Technology of UNESCO Philippines, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, initiated an audit of the Philippine environment. For purposes of cross-validation, they sent out 5,000 survey forms to three groups of respondents—all the DENR regional, provincial, and municipal directors; provincial governors, city mayors, municipal mayors; and the members of the three largest women’s organizations of the Philippines.
The audit revealed continued practices of excessive mining, illegal logging, overfishing and marine poaching in some areas in the country; but also gathered efforts to preserve the environment and resuscitate ailing ecosystems.
Environmental audit here in the Philippines and in other nations is a vital step in achieving our sustainable development goals. We need an audit not merely to know how well or how bad we are doing. We need to audit to exact accountabilities and to establish environmental stewardship as a way of life.
Protecting our environment is not the duty of the government alone. It is everyone’s responsibility. It is thus important to put communities at the heart of relevant programs and policies and gather collective action that is rooted in a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility.
In closing, I wish to impart this message: We all live in one Earth. Climate change is now in our midst and it imparts to us the lesson that we do not own the planet, but are mere dwellers and stewards of its resources.
Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future. We must take hold of the opportunity to responsibly manage our environment.
We are truly fortunate to have so many dedicated and knowledgeable individuals here today who are willing to help and lead in efforts to rebuild a sustainable, resilient and healthy planet.
Thank you for sharing your expertise, time and passion for this noble cause. Good morning to all.***
 Ecosystems and Human Well-being, Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, 2005
 Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012), UNEP 2011
 NEDA, 2012
 Disaster Management Practices in the Philippines: An Assessment, COA, 2014