Biodiversity protection critical to address the climate crisis

Quezon City—Biodiversity protection is a major weapon against climate change, advocates said during the first episode of youth-led climate webcast Stories for Better Reality entitled “Biodiversity and Climate Change: Anong Konek?”

Stories for a Better Reality is a collaboration between the Climate Change Commission and The Climate Reality Project Philippines Youth Cluster with support from the Department of Education, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the National Youth Commission; and youth groups Kids for Kids and Wavefarers.

 In observance of the International Day for Biological Diversity, the inaugural episode centered on the importance of protecting and restoring our biodiversity and its role in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Protecting the Earth’s land and water forms

“The more species we protect, the better natural spaces we have, the more climate-resilient we get,” Jamie Dichaves, the Campaign Lead of 30×30 Southeast Asia Coalition, said.

The 30×30 Coalition is a group that is pushing governments in Southeast Asia to join the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, an intergovernmental group that champions the protection of 30% of the Earth’s land and ocean by 2030 to help slow the alarming loss of biodiversity and fight the global climate crisis.

Dichaves noted that the Philippines recorded 15.4% of land and 1.42% of marine waters under protected areas. She said that the country needs more land and water protected given the overwhelming scientific and economic data that protecting 30% globally would (1) reduce the extinction risk of nearly 9 out of 10 threatened terrestrial species, (2) support 30 million jobs and adding 650,000 more, (3) add USD500 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) in ecotourism and sustainable fisheries, and (4) push for inclusion and leadership of indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs).

Abigail Kitma, an Ibaloy-Igorot from Baguio City, highlighted the need to include IPLCs in biodiversity management planning and policymaking, noting that their traditional knowledge is vital in protecting wildlife and resources.

Kitma, who is also currently the Chairperson of the UN Youth Advisory Board, pointed out that the indigenous practices and culture are reflective of nature; thus, revealing a template of answers and solutions to various climate and environmental problems.

Protecting biodiversity also helps in disaster risk reduction and management. “During the Typhoon Odette, the ones with fewer human casualties are places with an intact natural ecosystem. One with thicker forests and with intact mangrove systems,” Dichaves recalled. 

The impacts of climate change on biodiversity

While biodiversity plays a huge role in climate change adaptation and mitigation, it bears the brunt of climate change impacts. 

For one, Dichaves mentioned how the rising sea level disturbs the nesting and hatching season of marine turtles and how the rising global temperature disrupts their species population. 

“Their sex is determined by the incubation temperature. The warmer the temperature, the more female [turtles] are hatched. Dahil napupunta sa summer yung nesting and hatching season, mas mainit yung incubation, more yung female marine turtle population. So paano magkakaroon ng mas marami pang pawikan in the future, kung konti na lang yung mga male na pwede sila makipagmate,” Dichaves explained while pointing that the nesting season shifted to months of October to November and the hatching period to June or July.

Marine turtles nest their eggs on the same beach they were previously hatched. “Noon, yung temperature at sea level ay sakto pa para makasurvive sila. Pero now, wala nang assurance kasi tumaas na yung level ng tubig, pwedeng ma-washout yung eggs,” she further explained. 

Kitma, on the other hand, shared that prolonged drought lessens irrigation affecting the soil biodiversity, which pushes farming communities to utilize hybrid varieties and more agricultural input resulting in reduced soil quality. 

“This makes the land less feasible for the original species that were planted there,” she added. 

Anson Tagtag, the Officer-in-Charge Division Chief of Caves and Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau, also shared the adverse effects of drought on amphibians, especially those inhabiting the forests. 

“Prolonged drought makes forests vulnerable to fire. This affects not only the forest covers, pati yung mga animals na naninirahan dun,” Tagtag said.

Priorities for the next administration in terms of biodiversity protection

When it comes to what the next administration should prioritize in terms of biodiversity protection, Kitma noted that it should consider passing legislation critical to the conservation of natural resources and the protection of its stewards. 

These critical bills, Kitma said, include National Land Use Act, institutionalizing a just and ethical plan of using the country’s land and water resources; Sustainable Forest Management Act, ensuring the sustainability of Philippine forests for the next generation; Indigenous Communities Conserved Territories and Areas Bill, promoting the rights of IPLCs in conserving and caring for the biodiversity within their ancestral domains; and Alternative Minerals Management Bill, protecting the environment and promotes the welfare of people with alternative minerals regime.

For Tagtag, the next administration must also strengthen the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act to abate the increasing illegal trade of wildlife in the country. He said the government must also enact a National Wetland Policy to clarify action points on swamps, marshes, fens, and estuaries, among others. “Ang tingin kasi natin sa wetlands ay wasteland. Hindi sila nire-recognize as special ecosystem. Pero importante sila lalo na sa disaster risk reduction initiatives lalo na sa usapin ng flooding,” he said.

For Dichaves, the next administration must pass pending bills on shark conservation, regulation of single-use plastics, and extended producer responsibility.

She also emphasized that the country needs a whole-of-society approach to effectively manage and secure biodiversity and sustain a healthy ecosystem.

“As long as the government listens to the collaborative efforts that the different groups are putting out, then it will be okay,” Dichaves said. 

Tagtag agreed, saying that the government shall closely work with local government units (LGUs) to harmonize and streamline environmental projects. He noted that with the imminent implementation of the Mandanas ruling, LGUs will gain more financial capability to account for more responsibilities in managing their resources, including the environment.

“DENR, DA (Department of Agriculture), DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) are joining discussions to formulate joint policies on cross-cutting concerns that affect the environment, agriculture, and local development planning process,” Tagtag added.