“Environment and its Impact on National Security” E-MNSA Lecture | 03 October 2020

October 5, 2020

Good morning to all of you. First of all, allow me to extend my gratitude to NDCP for inviting me to address you today on a very important aspect of national security: the environment.

This Executive Master in National Security Administration (E-MNSA) program takes place against the backdrop of global disruptions challenging our nation.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the prevailing climate crisis are both rooted in the abusive global economic system currently in place—a system that is reliant on unsustainable consumption and encroachment of natural resources.

Both of them do not respect national boundaries.

Both demand humanity to do more and to do better in advancing sustainable development and climate action.

Both are a consequence of how we treat our environment and the benefits we receive from our natural resources.


Part I. Covid-19 and biodiversity conservation

Experts from the World Health Organization say there is a high likelihood that Covid-19 came from the illegal wildlife trade in China and people eating various kinds of wildlife.

According to an online news portal, there is strong evidence that the virus originated in bats, a proposal based on the similarity of its genetic sequence to those of other known coronaviruses.

It goes on to say that researchers have identified the pangolin as a potential source of the virus, “also on the basis of a genetic comparison of coronaviruses taken from the animals and from humans infected in the outbreak and other findings. The sequences are 99% similar.”

Humans have cast pangolins as the latest villains in the animal kingdom.

But have you all seen a pangolin? A gentler mammal we will not find, its elongated scaly body simply curling up into a ball whenever it’s under attack, nearly defenseless against hunters coveting its scales that are dubiously believed to have medicinal uses.

Pangolin poaching has risen exponentially in the country in the past couple of years, apprehensions of traders even exceeding the records for 17 full years prior.  There are even restaurants already serving pangolin meat in Metro Manila and prices can be up to 14 thousand pesos per animal.

A study by the conservation group World Wide Fund showed that the illegal wildlife trade is worth around 20 billion US dollars per year. It is the fourth biggest illegal trade worldwide and has significantly contributed to a catastrophic decline in the populations of some species.

The Living Planet Index of the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London indicate that populations of thousands of animal species around the world have declined 60 percent on average since 1970.  Extinction rates are currently ten times faster than in previous extinction events and across animal and plant taxa, hundreds of times up to tens of thousands of times faster than the background extinction rate.

Moreover, a report last year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that one million species are at risk of extinction. They ranked the main factors as follows: changes in land and sea use; exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.  The intertwined web that sustains humans, plants and animals is at risk of unravelling in a matter of decades.

Despite all these,  humans continue to extract wildlife from forests at more than six times the sustainable rate.

Wildlife smuggling, trafficking, and poaching remain rampant across many Asian countries. Legal and illegal trade for wild animals are still operational across the globe.

The demise of one species may not be felt directly, but its intricate connection with other species in the wild will reverberate throughout the food chain.  Multiple extinctions will lead to ecosystem spasm, where chains of extinctions will leave the ecosystems we depend on gasping for life.

This ongoing public health crisis is only one of many that will beset us if we continue to ignore warnings of scientists.  If we continue on the path to a warming planet as we seem to be doing, we could use this crisis in three ways: as a test of our current coping mechanisms, as a drill for future crises and as a wake-up call to the connection of this public health crisis to the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems on which we all depend.


The tasks at hand

We have an opportunity to make the necessary shift to avoid similar events in the future. To start with, the international community should collectively step up its efforts toward successfully regulating the wildlife trade.

Once and for all, let us end the unsustainable use of wildlife animals for food or for their perceived medicinal value.

In line with this, we must recognize that overcoming threats like the COVID-19 will require functioning local ecosystems, local sufficiency of prime commodities, avoidance of mass hysteria and the ability to survive lockdowns.

On the international front, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other international cooperation and instrumentalities should:

First, reinforce the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on transformative change in wildlife conservation and management and in combating wildlife trafficking on all fronts.

CITES should be the primary legal framework for regulating international trade in species of wild animals and plants.

We must note, however, that  only through adequate and efficiently enforced national policies  can CITES really work.

Hence, member states, including the Philippines, should take decisive steps to ensure effective wildlife trade controls on all fronts.

Second, ensure an ambitious, meaningful, and inclusive post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Next year, the  Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 Vision of “living in harmony with nature.” That phrase sounds like a cliché until nature teaches us hard lessons such as the Covid-19.

Armed with the latest science enriched by indigenous knowledge systems, we must deepen our understanding of our ecosystems and what levels of change they can sustain.  We need to ensure equitable access and benefits associated with biodiversity.

And third, develop improved science-based standards, guidelines and recommendations on disease prevention, detection, and control.

We need to develop international policies on wildlife disease prevention, monitoring, and control that will enable governments to safeguard biodiversity and public and animal health worldwide.

This includes policy frameworks on disease risk management specifically catering to the interface among wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.

These measures will not only strengthen the international effort to tackle illegal wildlife trade and prevent public health crises, but also contribute to the sustainability of our planet.

At the end of the day, our generation must be accountable to the next ones for our actions, past and present. We must recognize that everything we do here will have an impact on the environment and biodiversity.

We have ignored the laws of nature to our peril.  It is time to heed her warnings:  do not eat what is not intended for human consumption, do not trade what should not be traded.  We must relearn to coexist with animals, and their habitats.

We have many laws in place already but we need to treat them as measures for survival rather than mere obstacles to the relentless pursuit of an economic future that will be mired in new dangers. We will not survive this and other coming changes unless we value the intricate inter-relationships of all life on earth, unless we see that the rules of the game have changed and we need a fundamental shift in the way we live.


Part II. The Climate Emergency

Let me now go to another urgent global concern.

For over 30 years now, the science has been crystal clear but leaders all over the world chose to look away.

We are now in a climate emergency. And we no longer have the luxury of time.

The latest climate science warned that we only have a decade left before the window of opportunity for achieving the 1.5°C long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement closes.

The 1.5°C goal is the global warming threshold that will enable vulnerable developing countries like ours to survive and thrive.

Global warming beyond 1.5 will disrupt basic social and economic activities. It will transform human life as we know it.


GCA: Adapt Our World

In 2018, I accepted the invitation to be a Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), which is a gathering of climate advocates and world leaders pushing to accelerate climate change adaptation.

The GCA is jointly led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, philanthropist Bill Gates, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, and is co-managed by the Global Center on Adaptation and the World Resources Institute.

The GCA aims to inspire heads of state, government officials, community leaders, business executives, investors, and other actors to prepare for and respond—to adapt to the disruptive effects of climate change with urgency, determination, and foresight.

Our call is to ‘Adapt Our World’. This is our mission: to tip the balance in favor of continued growth and more widely shared prosperity, even in a rapidly warming world.

Adaptation means preparing for and responding to the disruptive effects of climate change. It means doing everything we can to protect people’s lives and livelihoods from the impacts of our changing environment, as well as creating and spreading solutions to make communities, homes, businesses, farms, and infrastructure stronger and better equipped to deal with increasing challenges.

The GCA flagship report titled “Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience” entailed careful study of data and good practices across many countries and reveals to us the costs of climate change on people and the global economy now and in the near future, such as:

▪ Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields by up to 30 percent by 2050, affecting the 500 million small farms around the world the most;

▪ The number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050;

▪ Rising seas and greater storm surges could force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with a total cost to coastal urban areas of more than one trillion US dollars each year by 2050; and that

▪ Climate change could push more than 100 million people within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030.

Considering all these, the report provides three imperatives on why we should accelerate climate change adaptation.

First, it is a human imperative because the climate crisis exacerbates existing inequities by widening the gap between people with wealth and people living in poverty. The crisis also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who, in most parts of the world, have little voice in decisions that affect their lives.

Second, it is an environmental imperative because the climate crisis is accelerating the loss of natural assets. One in four species is facing extinction, about a quarter of all ice-free land is now subject to degradation, and ocean temperatures and acidity are rising.

The natural environment is humanity’s first line of defense against floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes. A thriving natural environment is fundamental to adaptation in every human enterprise. There is still time to protect and work with nature to build resilience and reduce climate risks at all scales, but the window is closing.

And third, it is an economic imperative because adaptation is in our strong economic self-interest. The report found out that investing 1.8 trillion US dollars globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate 7.1 trillion US dollars in total net benefits.

The five areas considered for this estimate are early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture crop production, global mangrove protection, and investments in making water resources more resilient.

In other words, failing to seize the economic benefits of climate adaptation with high-return investments would undermine trillions of dollars in potential growth and prosperity.

The full report, which my office will gladly circulate, provides a more in-depth coverage of why and how we should accelerate adaptation. But the message of the report cannot be any clearer: We must seize the opportunity to adapt for the benefit of our people, environment, and economy.


Legislative milestones

Adaptation is nothing new for us. Together with climate change mitigation, they have become buzzwords, having been said too many times, in too many occasions, for far too long. But translating these buzzwords into results—to actually enable our leaders and citizens to initiate and sustain climate action—remains a challenge.

We have several landmark laws on environment and climate change, including: the Clean Air Act (RA 8749); the Clean Water Act (RA 9275); the Environmental Awareness Education Act (RA 9512); the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (RA 9174); the Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513); the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003); the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (RA 11038); the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121); and the Climate Change Act (RA 9729) creating the Climate Change Commission, and its amendatory law (RA 10174), which created the pioneering local climate finance mechanism called People’s Survival Fund (PSF). I had the privilege of being principal author and/or sponsor of these laws.

I also chaired three Committees in the Senate, among others, namely: the Committee on Foreign Relations, which facilitated the Senate concurrence on the President’s ratification of the Paris Agreement; the Committee on Climate Change, which I sought the creation of; and the Committee on Finance, during which I endeavored to transform our national budget into a climate budget by enshrining provisions on adaptation and mitigation, as a way of supporting our goal to build climate resilience.

We also led groundbreaking action in the Philippine Senate to impose taxes on coal which would be comparable with rates in other neighboring countries. For decades, coal importation here had enjoyed minimal taxes at 10 pesos or 20 US centavos per metric ton. There was stiff opposition, but we were able to increase the taxes to 50, 100, and 150 pesos for the next three years.

These tax rates are four times lower that what I had originally wanted, but to break the wall against dirty energy that could not be penetrated on for the longest times was, for us, already a monumental feat.

I mention all of this because conveying what the climate crisis is, is the easy part; enabling people to take action is the hard part. But even doing the easier part is in itself already frustrating, especially when dealing with people who consider the crisis only as a conceptual or emergent environmental issue, without current real-life impacts on humanity and our planet.

When Typhoon Yolanda brought devastation to many communities, people began to understand how big of a threat the climate crisis is. Although it was much unfortunate that it took tremendous loss of lives, properties, and resources, there was a sudden urgency to put systems and policies in place to address its impacts.

We have learned a lot since then. We have integrated the climate perspective into our development planning and budgeting processes and have supported our own measures to combat its impacts.

But in light of the intensifying impacts of this climate crisis we are in, we are required to do more.


Impacts of climate change

The Philippines, in the 2020 Global Climate Risk Index by the Germanwatch, ranks fourth among countries most affected by climate change from 1999 to 2018. Within these two decades, the country lost an annual average of 0.5% of its GDP due to climate change impacts.

Moreover, according to PAGASA, the observed temperature in the country is projected to increase by as much as 0.9°C to 2.3°C by 2050, entailing drastic changes in weather patterns, increase in frequency, intensity and duration of floods, and increase in frequency and intensity of droughts.

Major rainfall changes in patterns and distribution suggest a decrease in rainfall by 2020 in most parts of the country except Luzon, and an increase in the number of days with heavy rainfall by year 2020 and 2050.

Sea level rise in the country is projected to be at 60 centimeters or three times the global average of 19 centimeters, with about 60 percent of our local government units at risk of storm surges, flashfloods, and saltwater intrusion.

Despite this bleak scenario, I remain positive that the Philippines can exercise leadership on adaptation and be regarded as model of resilience.


The tasks at hand

While we already have the policies in place to enhance the adaptive capacities of our local communities, we must also address the gaps in local data and science on climate risks and hazards to guide local action.

The Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAPs) of our LGUs must be quality assured and enhanced to become science-based and risk-informed, so they can be more responsive to the prevailing and emerging needs of our local communities for climate change adaptation.

We must also continue allocating financial resources for adaptation interventions, such as improved water management, promotion of sustainable livelihoods, establishment of “early warning-early action” systems, formulation of evacuation and contingency plans, and resettlement of populations at risk.

And we must sustain our call for climate justice — to demand from the developed countries their fair share in addressing this climate crisis and for them to honor their commitments on climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building for us developing countries to meet the costs of adaptation.


Part III. Redefining Development: The Global Reset

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the sobering reality that the world is not as advanced, prosperous and as resilient as we think. We have realized that our societies and economic systems are fragile, and that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable.

We need to value the intricate interrelationships of all life on earth, and we need a fundamental shift in the way we live. Returning to normal is not an option.

The only fitting response to this pandemic and climate emergency is to change our ways, a reset — from our way of thinking and living, to our way of pursuing development.

At the Second Session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in 2009, I made the same call to leaders of all nations.

Through the centuries since the industrial revolution, Mother Earth has been at the mercy of human’s insatiable desires for material wealth and economic progress.

Yet our ways of thinking and pursuing development have depleted our social, cultural and natural wealth.

Sadly, we must admit, our so-called development has made the poor more vulnerable, has placed some cultures at risk of extinction, and has pushed ecosystems services beyond repair.

Contemporary development practices have been irresponsible since they have allowed disaster risks to grow, to spread, and to prevail until today.

Urban poverty, weak governance, ecosystems decline, vulnerable rural livelihoods, turbo-charged by climate change, have altogether created enormous risks in our cities and communities and have put the poor in greater peril.

These risks will constantly challenge our human capacity to cope, imperil all development gains, and keep the Sustainable Development Goals even more elusive.

We are in a vicious cycle of economic boom and bust, with the peoples and environment at the receiving end of a failing model of economic development. We cannot continue using Mother Earth as collateral in our economic games of chance.

Today’s state of socio-economic affairs should not be business-as-usual. It is high time for the world to slow down these contemporary development practices.

We come to ask ourselves: What is the true meaning of a nation’s wealth? How then can we develop our societies without compromising our environment and the welfare of generations to come?  How can we advance our socio-economic standards without putting the poor at greater risk?

The real answer lies deep within us.

It is high time to re-think development and for a more holistic development philosophy to emerge and to prevail.

— the kind of development that transcends economic capital measures such as GDP;

— the kind of development that has regard for social, cultural and natural capital of countries;  and

— the kind of development that is founded on sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, ecosystems protection, cultural resilience, and good governance.

In closing, I urge all of you to challenge development norms toward a “better normal.”

Let’s uphold the ecological, environmental, and climate lawsof our land.

Let’s us unite for global and local climate action — for everybody’s action matters.

Let’s unite for our collective mission of ensuring a more secure, more equitable, and more sustainable future for the country.

Thank you very much.