Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
National Protected Area Management Board Conference
13 July 2015 | Ace Hotel and Suites, Pasig City
It is with great pleasure that I take part in this gathering of frontliners in the management of our protected areas. Much is expected from all of you because your work is crucial to the survival of men and all species alike.
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is essential to all forms of life on Earth. The ecosystem that it helps function is where we obtain the products and services that we need in our daily lives.
The Philippines is very fortunate to be one of the 18 mega-biodiversity countries. But our country is also one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species threatened by overexploitation, habitat loss and pollution.
The increasing loss of biodiversity, particularly in Asia, is being attributed to development activities and land degradation, especially overgrazing and deforestation, as well as pollution, overfishing, hunting, infrastructure development, species invasion, land-use change, and the overuse of freshwater.
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.
These conditions present to us a rare scenario—the Philippines as both a top hotspot for biodiversity and a top hotspot for climate change vulnerability. As the ill effects of global warming, increased precipitation and extreme weather events adversely affect the high concentration of species found endemically in our country, we as humans, who are dependent on the flora and fauna that make up our natural ecosystems for livelihood and sustenance, are directly affected as well.
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. Therefore, the conservation of our protected areas is crucial in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
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.
However, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment estimated that 60% of global ecosystem services are degraded, reducing their ability to mitigate the impact of natural hazards. It found that climate change is among the most important direct drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem service changes.
Clearly, the conservation of our protected areas must be part of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. Protecting ecosystems – which involves rehabilitating our forests, cleaning our rivers, and stopping pollution, among other actions, need to be done as soon as today.
At the level of legislation, several proposed measures aimed at strengthening climate adaptation mechanisms and conserving biodiversity are pending in the Senate, among which the most relevant to our gathering today is the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Bill or ENIPAS, which has been approved on second reading.
We are pushing for the immediate passage of this measure because despite the enactment of the NIPAS Act in 1992, the protection of many protected areas exist only on paper. Many important ecosystems remain under-protected, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands and tropical forests. It is also lamentable that they are not provided with enough resources to handle threats such as poaching, polluting and wildlife conflict.
If the ENIPAS Bill is enacted into law, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas. The same will help conserve and protect representative samples of unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and habitat including cultural diversity, by declaring as national parks the remaining parcels of land under the NIPAS, thus, ensuring the sustainable use of our natural resources.
However, even if we have the legal mechanism to prevent biodiversity loss, our efforts would be wasted if people are unaware of the importance of conserving biodiversity and of the underlying threats to it.
This is the challenge to all members of the Protected Area Management Boards. Share your passion in caring for our protected areas to people in your respective communities, to your local government leaders, to tourists so that everyone is involved in conservation efforts. Allow them to appreciate the beauty of our protected areas, but at the same time make them understand that apathy and exploitation of our natural resources and protected areas could lead to dangerous consequences, such as loss of biological diversity, both for wildlife species and their habitat; occurrence of calamities such as flooding, soil erosion and landslides; and continued illegal and unsustainable resource utilization.
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.
The challenge is for all of us to make our environment cleaner, greener and safer for the future generations. If we do not act today, tomorrow may be too late.
Thank you and good morning.