“International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change”Conserving biodiversity amidst climate change”

February 1, 2011

It is with great pleasure that I take part in this event, the International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change, where we see partnership among various sectors of society at work.
I am aware of the enormous efforts made by all, especially by the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to make this important gathering happen.
A few decades back, man and nature used to be the best of friends. We used to savor the goodness that nature brings—the right warmth of sunshine that energizes our mornings, the occasional rain showers that bring excitement during summer days, the fresh air and clean water that invigorate our bodies, the green fields that allow us to de-stress and daydream, the fireflies that light the rich meadows during the night, the butterflies that fly from flower to flower to sip its rich nectar. These are just a few of nature’s wonders. Mother Nature took care of us because we also took care of her.
Today, however, our own environment has started turning into a foe that connives with natural hazards to reciprocate the kind of treatment that we give it. Pollution, illegal and excessive mining, logging and fishing activities, and deforestation–among many other abuses, have contributed to the degradation of our environment. These dangers that we bring upon nature ultimately affect us too. When disasters strike, our ailing environment will have no power to defend itself and would even intensify the risks in our communities.
The State of Biodiversity in the Philippines
The Philippines is blessed with rich biodiversity. With its high concentration of species per unit area compared to its neighboring marine biodiversity hotspots, our country has been hailed as the World’s Center of Marine Biodiversity – the epicentre of biodiversity and evolution.1 In fact, the Philippines is one of the eighteen (18) mega-biodiversity countries in the world.
However, while we boast of high levels of life forms in our country, the unfortunate reality is that we are also one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species that are endangered or threatened of extinction.
The mindset of an extractive and consumptive economics intends to destroy what took thousands of years to form. The rate of extraction and consumption is way, way faster than the rate at which the Earth can replenish her resources. This is consistent with the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, which revealed that humans have altered ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the past 50 years than in any period in history.
This is the unreported truth in our growth stories: for every percentage rise in our economic activity aimed at meeting our growing demands, hectares of wondrous and thriving biodiversity are extracted from our natural environment.
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.
The threat of climate change
Further endangering the precarious situation of our country’s biodiversity is the challenge that is climate change. Among the projected impacts of climate change is the loss of thousands of species as well as changes in natural ecosystems. 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 very plants and animals that make up our natural ecosystems for livelihood and sustenance are directly affected as well.
We cannot sit idly by as our fragile ecosystems are destroyed by unsustainable development practices and climate change. We must begin with addressing a more imminent issue – that of existing local and regional non-climate stresses our natural ecosystems are already facing. These stresses have more potential to be mitigated and managed more readily than climate change.
Protecting ecosystems
The 2009 Global Assessment Report of the United Nations found that in addition to the general decline of ecosystem services, we are also creating trade-offs between ecosystem services – mangroves have been destroyed to create shrimp ponds thereby increasing storm surge hazard, wetlands have been drained thereby increasing flood hazard, and deforestation has increased landslide hazard.
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, protecting ecosystems – which involves rehabilitating our forests, cleaning our rivers, and stopping pollution, among other actions, need to be done as soon as today.
Legislative Interventions
At the level of legislation, several proposed measures aimed at strengthening climate adaptation mechanisms and conserving biodiversity are pending in the Senate. I have filed Senate Bill 1353 or the Sustainable Forest Management Act, which mandates the development and adoption of a sustainable forest management strategy based on rational allocation of forestland uses and promotion of land use practices that increase productivity and conserve soil, water, and other forestland resources, as well as the protection of existing forest resources and conservation of biodiversity, rehabilitation or development of denuded areas to expand the forest resource base and promote food production activities. I have also filed Senate Bill 1370 or the Integrated Coastal Management Act which seeks to put in place a comprehensive framework that will promote the sustainable development of the coastal and marine environment and resources. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1369 or the National Land Use Act seeks to institutionalize a national land use policy to ensure a rational, holistic, and just allocation, utilization, management and development of the country’s land resources.
The Committee on Climate Change, which I chair, is also deliberating amendments to the Climate Change Act of 2009. To support local governments in undertaking climate adaptation programs and projects, especially in the areas of water resources management, land management, agriculture and fisheries, fragile ecosystems and integrated coastal zone management, we recognize the need to establish the People’s Survival Fund.
With the expertise of everyone in this hall, I encourage everybody to give your insights to further enhance these legislative measures.
The ground level work and the parallel environmental initiatives at the Senate may not get screaming headlines. But they represent big, determined steps for the Filipinos and the rich biodiversity we thrive in.
Today, I see before me an assembly of promising individuals—a congregation of people from different countries, from government, non-government, higher educational institutions, academe and research community, civil society and private sector who are all here to exchange knowledge and devise strategies. We must use this opportunity not just to gain knowledge from one another, but to transform that knowledge into concrete actions.
The minutes and the hours on the global environmental clock are ticking to sunset.
Let us all work together and forge a network of cooperation to reverse this.
Let us renew our friendship with nature and not wait for the time when its wrath reaches its peak.
Thank you and good day.