Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
2nd National Protected Area Conference
Sustaining Ecosystem Services and Benefits from Protected Areas
26 April 2016 | Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, Pasig City
A few days ago, on Earth Day, the Philippines and 174 other nations signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Philippine delegation was headed by no less than our Environment Secretary, Ramon Paje, who signed the Agreement and delivered the Philippine Statement on behalf of the President; and I, as co-head of delegation, expressed the Philippines’ commitment to ensuring the early entry into force of the Agreement by aiming for Philippine ratification within the year.
I am pleased to be here today with the frontliners in the management of our protected areas because you have an important role in keeping our commitments in this Agreement.
In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis said, “a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”
If we look around us, we see truth in the Pope’s words.
Filipinos are very fortunate to be living in a country that is considered a mega-biodiversity country. But development activities, land degradation, overgrazing and deforestation, pollution, overfishing, hunting, infrastructure development, land-use change, and the overuse of freshwater, have pushed ecosystems to the limit and our country has become one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species threatened with extinction.
Further endangering the precarious situation of our country’s biodiversity is the challenge of climate change. Among the projected impacts of climate change is the loss of thousands of species as well as changes in the natural ecosystem.
The rise in average global temperatures will render many species unable to adapt quickly enough to these new conditions or to move to regions more suitable for their survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that with a 1.5 to 2.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature in a span of 50-100 years, 30% of species would be at risk of extinction.
Moreover, the decline of our ecosystems has been found as one of the underlying drivers of disaster risks and poverty, in the context of climate change, thereby affecting humans as well.
Humans have been given the vital role as stewards of the Earth. Most of you here are those who have been faithful to this responsibility, being the managers of our protected areas. But we all know that in order to keep our planet healthy, livable and sustainable, all of us must work together, otherwise, our children will be left with nothing.
Statistics collated by the UN show that:
· Around 1.6 billion people, including 70 million indigenous people, depend on forests for their livelihood
· 2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, but 52 percent of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation
· As of 2008, land degradation affected 1.5 billion people globally
· Due to drought and desertification each year 12 million hectares are lost or 23 hectares per minute. Around 20 million tons of grain could have been grown on this land.
· 74 percent of the poor are directly affected by land degradation globally
· Fish provide 20 percent of animal protein to about 3 billion people
· Over 80 percent of the human diet is provided by plants
These facts only show that we cannot afford to go business as usual because environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are threats to our own survival.
In 2015, nations adopted three important interlocking agreements—the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction—that would save our planet and all species from destruction and death, depending on the level of action we take today.
The protection of our ecosystems and biodiversity is one of the 17 SDGs. Nations are called to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.
In order to achieve this goal, as well as the 16 other SDGs, we must also take urgent climate action and build the resilience of our communities from natural hazards.
A single typhoon or earthquake can undo years of development if we do not prepare and reduce disaster risks. The Sendai Framework for DRR calls for ecosystem-based approaches to reducing disaster risk.
Studies show that every dollar invested in ecosystem-based disaster and climate change adaptation means saving up to 20 dollars from mitigating and even avoiding the consequences of disasters.
Protected areas can help protect vulnerable communities and reduce the impact of natural hazards. Mangrove forests serve as buffer against storm surge and tsunami. For climate change mitigation, terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems serve as major carbon stores and sinks as they reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy production and land use change.
The United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) estimates that 312 gigatonnes of carbon or 15% of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock are stored in protected areas. This means that urgent climate action is needed in achieving the SDGs.
As a long-time environmental advocate, I know how hard it is to convince people to protect our environment and natural resources. People do not completely understand the importance of these resources unless they are directly affected by the effects of its degradation or realize what they will lose if they remain indifferent.
On this note, I am glad that we are launching today the Guidebook to Protected Areas in the Philippines.
This guidebook by the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR is a showcase of our country’s natural wealth. Not only does this remind us of the natural blessings that our country is endowed with, but it also urges us to veer away from the path of apathy, to act responsibly now before it is too late.
In closing, I wish to encourage all of you to never get tired of doing what is good for our planet. We are confronted with the task of protecting our country’s unique, and at the same time endangered, biodiversity. Pursuing a kind of development that has genuine regard for the state of our natural wealth has never become more crucial than today.
There will be many more challenges that will come and many people who will disregard our advocacy, but as Pope Francis said, “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
But we need to start the work now because if we do not act today,tomorrow may be too late.
Let us use this conference as a venue not only to gain knowledge from one another, but also to transform that knowledge into concrete actions.
 Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home
 Facts and figures: Goal 15 – Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss