ACCORDING to an alarming recent study by Stanford University, we are living in the “early stages of the earth’s sixth mass extinction.” This means that since the 1500s, more than 300 terrestrial or land species have become extinct. The population of the remaining species “shows 25 percent average decline in abundance,” including the continuous loss of habitats and ecosystems.
In the Philippines, the patterns are equally dire as reported by the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities (PBCP). Over the past century, the Philippines has experienced rapid environmental degradation. Data from PBCP shows that a staggering 93 percent of our original forest cover in the 1900s has already been lost due to commercial exploitation, introduction of invasive alien species and population growth.
“We have very few forests left. And with the devastating impacts of climate change, we will continue to lose our forests and our ecosystems will be fiercely affected,” laments Maria Belinda de la Paz, Chief Operating Officer of Haribon Foundation, the pioneer environmental organization in the Philippines.
Against this backdrop, the world’s governments in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) made commitments in 2010 to adopt the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, the “most comprehensive” international agreement on biodiversity conservation. It is a ten-year action framework composed of 20 targets, known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
Meeting the 2020 biodiversity targets
The Strategic Plan offers a template for nations to come up with measurable targets towards halting the loss of biodiversity so that in 2020, ecosystems are resilient, benefiting human well-being and poverty reduction initiatives. It works by ensuring that biodiversity issues and importance are mainstreamed, pressures and threats are reduced, resources are used sustainably, capacities are enhanced and relevant policies are in place.
Anchored in the country’s national development plan, an updated Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) (2015-2028) now features specific targets, indicators and monitoring schemes according to the Aichi biodiversity targets.
The goals of the PBSAP encompass the CBD objectives stressing the importance of biodiversity conservation, its sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of resources.
The updating of this roadmap resulted in the structural reforms and threefold increase in the 2014 budget of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In the same year, the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board has integrated the mainstreaming of biodiversity in its revised Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Among the actions taken by the Philippines towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets include the increase in target forest cover from 23.9 percent (2003) to 52.6 percent (2006) of the total land area (Millennium Development Goals report for 2007).
Despite this, much of the data concerning forest increase in the Philippines includes single-species tree plantations, and does not discern the stark differences between plantation forest and forest ecosystems. Forest ecosystems fuel agriculture and growing communities with water via watersheds. They provide shelter for our unique wildlife, and livelihood and sustenance for indigenous peoples. Forests also protect communities from devastating calamity, such as landslides or floods. Haribon continues to work in incorporating these important attributes of forest in the Philippine laws, most especially though the Forest Resources Bill or FRB.
As a staunch advocate for environmental conservation, Haribon actively campaigns and supports programs and interventions geared towards the protection and restoration of the Philippine ecosystem. The recent Marine Key Biodiversity Areas or MKBA project supported by Haribon, for instance, has helped improve the management of 16 marine protected areas in Lanuza Bay, Surigao del Sur.
Through its Biodiversity on Wheels (BOW) program, Haribon has also brought biodiversity education to more than 40,000 school children to date in 13 communities all over the country. Raising awareness on the values of biodiversity and conservation is among the important targets of the first Aichi strategy goal.
Another main governmental response to the underlying causes of biodiversity loss is the establishment of various conservation tools and protected area systems in habitats known to hold significant biological resources. To promote sustainable use and benefits for communities, eco-tourism practices and fish farming in protected areas are also being observed.
Incentive systems for biodiversity-friendly and gender-sensitive livelihoods and alternative practices are sought to be in place as part of the campaign. On the other hand, perverse inducements that promote mining and extraction of associated biodiversity are to be re-examined and reduced.
“The best way of coping is ensuring that ecosystems are able to provide its life-saving services. Ecosystems are resilient. They can actually recover, if we only allow them to,” says de la Paz.
The ultimate decision-maker for biodiversity is the individual person. The small choices we make today add up to a large impact on tomorrow’s measure of resources. Caring for the environment now is a promise of a healthier future for generations to come.
The 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity takes place on December 4 to 17 in Cancun, Mexico.
Kitty Amante/Haribon Foundation