Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Joint Meeting Between Rotary Club of Manila and Rotary Club of Forbes Park
23 April 2015 | Manila Polo Club
It is with great pleasure that I take part in this gathering to encourage Rotarians to take a more active role in finding solutions to the growing social, economic and development challenges caused by environmental degradation and disasters arising from natural hazards made stronger by climate change.
We are living in a world with finite resources and yet generations have lived over the centuries like there is no tomorrow.
Our natural environment has been compromised. Our biological diversity has been significantly reduced and the general health of our environment is conceded to the greed of some. 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.
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. We have seen many times the impact of natural hazard extremes and the prevalence of disaster risk, exacerbated by climate change. They kill thousands of families, wipe out cities and communities, and undo years of development gains.
The years from 2000 to 2011 saw 1.1 million people perish and another 2.7 billion individuals suffer due to disasters. Disasters caused 1.3 Trillion US dollars worth of economic damage worldwide.
Each year, five million lives are lost due to climate change and the health impacts of its chief driver — fossil fuels. The World Health Organization estimates direct damage costs to health alone at between 2 and 4 billion dollars each year by 2030.
As early as the late 1800s, science has been trying to give us dire warnings that industrial coal burning enhances the greenhouse gas effect. The warnings remained unheeded, notwithstanding the imperious voice of science.
In fact, the world’s actions of the past decades betrayed the fundamental merits of these warnings. The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change upheld this observation by concluding that “about half of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2011 have occurred in the last 40 years.”
The world will continue to get warmer and with this comes long lasting changes in our climate system. Ordinary people have limited understanding of this, until they are painfully introduced to their impacts via extremely harsh weather events, flooding, declining fish catch, water scarcity, declining agricultural harvests, exacerbating health issues, extinction of animal and plant species, displacement of people, and even the demise of low-lying areas, among others.
The Philippines is at the top of the list of the Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 – the latest list of countries most affected by weather-related disasters like storms, floods, and heat waves. The top 10 countries are all developing countries, underscoring the fact that the vast majority of these impacts are felt in developing countries because they are the least prepared to deal with the climate crisis.
We actually have numerous laws and policies that are focused on addressing environmental, climate change and disaster resilience 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 and disaster risk reduction as the “best in the world.” But it also noted that the challenge is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.
In the Senate, we are proposing to institutionalize within the government bureaucracy a Philippine Economic Environmental and Natural Resources Accounting (PEENRA) System, which will take into consideration the role of both natural and environmental resources and their impact on the country’s economy.
The objective of the PEENRA System is to incorporate both environmental and non-environmental economic inputs and outputs for policymakers to make responsive, relevant and effective laws, plans and programs necessary for national development.
We are also proposing amendments to the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act. At present, there are 113 areas in the country that have been declared as protected areas under the NIPAS. But only 13 have proceeded to be legislated as such.
The proposed amendments adopt the lessons learned from the implementation for the past years of the NIPAS Act. It integrates practical measures that strengthen the implementation of our country’s law on protected areas. If enacted, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas.
Laws, however, are just part of the equation, and their implementation through good governance could spell a big difference.
Solutions for climate and resource risks entail investing in water supply, sanitation, flood control, transport, roads, social and health services, and energy infrastructure that build resilience to climate variability.
Moreover, our laws and the circumstances that led to their passage must be appreciated by everyone. Effective enforcement emanates from everyone’s understanding and appreciation of responsibility and accountability.
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.
Yesterday, we celebrated Earth Day, and as I conclude my speech, 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. We 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 and build a sustainable, resilient and healthy nation.
 Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 (1992-2012), UNEP 2011
 Climate Vulnerability Monitor, 2nd Edition, DARA, 2012
 S. Kreft, D. Eckstein, L. Junghans, C. Kerestan and U. Hagen, Global Climate Risk Index 2015, Germanwatch, November 2014