Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Wednesday called for stronger cooperation among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in protecting the region’s environment and natural resources for the sake of its more than 600 million residents.
“As we go through our meetings, let us not lose sight of the fact that we protect the environment and conserve our natural resources, not for their own sake, but for our people to live better lives in harmony with nature,” Cimatu said as he welcomed the delegates to the 28th meeting of the Asean Senior Officials of the Environment (ASOEN) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City.
The meeting runs from July 23 to 29.
“We cannot protect the environment and not protect life. Let us give our children a world better than we found and what we have,” he added.
The Asean collectively comprises the seventh largest economy in the world, which Cimatu said “exerts considerable challenges in providing clean air, clean water and ecological management of solid waste.”
As a result largely of population pressures, the 10 countries comprising the Asean now face common problems on air and water quality, ecological management of solid waste, forest degradation, reduced water supply and biodiversity loss, among other environmental issues, Cimatu said.
“Like haze and forest fires and illegal trading in wildlife, they do not stop at national borders,” the environment chief pointed out. “We share the air that we breathe, the seas around us, our forests, and the animals that travel across our countries,” he said.
Cimatu also cited the population pressures putting to test the sustainable use of the region’s rich natural resources.
The region’s environmental problems, which transcend political and territorial boundaries can best be solved, he said, through cooperation, sharing of experiences and expertise, and joint efforts between and among ASEAN member-states.
“The Asean, therefore, is vital in resolving environmental concerns, which have grown in magnitude and complexity over time, to include biodiversity loss, sustainable cities, chemical and waste, water resources, coastal and marine resources, climate change and haze pollution,” he stressed.
At the same time, Cimatu underscored the need for Asean member countries to work together in coping with climate change, which he described as the “most pervasive of all the environmental problems in the region.”
He cited the environmental group Germanwatch’s Global Long-Term Climate Risk Index that named four ASEAN members — Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines — as among the 10 countries in the world most affected by extreme weather events from 1995 to 2014.
“This underscores the urgency of the situation we face,” Cimatu said.
Although it represents a mere 3 percent of the world’s land area, the Asean is home to 18 percent of all known plant and animal species on Earth that are unique to the region and cannot be found anywhere else.
The Asean also accounts for one-third of the planet’s coral reefs and 35 percent of all mangroves. The region’s forest cover is 48 percent of its land area.
The ASOEN meeting is in preparation for the high-level Asean Ministers’ Meeting on the Environment to be held in the country in September, as part of the Philippines’ chairmanship and hosting of the Asean Summit this year, which coincides with the 50th founding anniversary of the regional intergovernmental organization.