Legarda: Manage Our Environment Well Towards a Better Economy

July 30, 2013

Senator Loren Legarda today said that the country should work on improving the state of the environment to include the Philippines among the top 20 economies over the next four decades.

Citing a prediction of international bank HSBC, Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment, said that the Philippines would leapfrog 27 places to become the 16th largest economy in the world by 2050, driven by an increasing and productive population – up to 70% more people by 2050.

“However, if we do not manage our environment well, and make our urban and land use planning risk sensitive, this increase in population and economic activity would translate to an equivalent increase in exposure to disasters,” Legarda noted.

“Our environment and the ecosystem services it provides support human life and provide the basic materials for our economy, such as food, fuel and clean water. It also sequesters carbon emissions, regulates erosion and landslides and reduces floods,” she added.

Legarda said that air pollution affects the productivity of citizens as it poses threat to human health. Small particles inhaled can damage lung tissue, aggravate existing cardiovascular diseases and lung problems or even cause cancer.

“The air quality of our country is still dirty but gradually improving. In 2004 the total suspended particulates (TSP) in our air was 145 micrograms per cubic meter. By 2011 the TSP level was 99,” she noted.

Meanwhile, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, of the country’s total land area of about 30 million hectares, only 7.168 million hectares, or 24.27 percent, are forest covered. The ideal should be at least 12 million hectares or 48 percent of the total land area.

The past three decades have also seen the rapid decline of the Philippine coastal ecosystem, which also needs to improve — 70 percent of the mangroves and 20 percent of its sea-grass have been destroyed; nearly 90 percent of coral reefs are under threat; and biomass of coastal fish stocks now stand at only 10 percent.

“To improve the situation, we need to start looking at how existing initiatives like the National Greening Program and the Integrated Coastal Management Program can be implemented fully,” Legarda said.

The National Greening Program, which was officially launched in May 2011, aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land by 2016. For 2011, 89.6 million seedlings have been planted nationwide, while in 2012, a total of 125.6 million seedlings were planted.

“In parallel, we need to look at how sometimes a greener approach can be a more resilient approach. For example, instead of spending US$ 6.8 billion in drainage improvements, New York invested US$ 5.3 billion in green infrastructure – permeable pavements, more green areas, and other measures to address drainage capacity. Green infrastructure acts like a sponge – absorbing and regulating peak water flows,” Legarda said.

“We need to promote a new approach in dealing with climate change and disasters that would not only protect our environment, but would also reap development benefits. Let us pursue the path towards sustainable development so that we will be able to weather the many challenges of the fast changing environment,” Legarda concluded.