By Tracy Cabrera
HINTING on the devastating effects of climate change as seen in the onslaught of super typhoons and global pandemics as well, environment groups are urging government to initiate programs for the restoration and conservation of existing forest cover—from rainforests to mangroves—while stressing that this should be at the core of the country’s disaster risk reduction plans.
In recent times and due to the adverse impact of climate change, conservationists have called for greater protection for forest areas and watersheds that serve as protection against floods and other adverse climate impacts following the onslaught of consecutive typhoons in the past few weeks, most recently typhoon Ulysses (international name Vamco).
According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB), southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, where a huge percentage of world’s forests are found, should now move towards addressing the threat posed by extreme climate changes that has caused the forming of monster storms and even pandemics and viral outbreaks brought about by pollution and other human activities that degrade and destroy nature.
“These ‘nature-based solutions’ are also ‘no-regrets’ adaptation measures that will bring benefits to communities across the country, with or without the occurrence of disasters,” points out Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the center based in Los Baños, Laguna.
“Aside from cushioning us from the impacts of climate change, the protection of these ecosystems provide advantages that are key to our survival: providing clean water, ensuring food security and regulating a host of diseases,” Lim adds.
Data from the latest Global Forest Resources Assessment report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization showed that the Philippines has a total forest cover of 7,014,156 hectares, or 23.4 percent of the country’s total area of 30 million ha, based on the land cover data in 2015.
State of Sierra Madre
Amid the widespread flooding in Luzon, attention was also directed at the state of the Sierra Madre mountain range, which stretches from Cagayan province in the north to the Quezon province in the south, which protects a large part of Luzon by serving as a buffer against strong storms that develop in the Pacific Ocean.
Sierra Madre’s diverse ecosystem, ranging from wetlands to pygmy forests and large dipterocarp forest areas, will not only break strong winds but will also absorb large amounts of rainfall—but only if they remain intact, Lim opined.
The Sierra Madre represents 40 percent of the country’s forest cover, but it remains heavily under threat of illegal logging, mining activities, and road construction and development, according to Forest Foundation Philippines.
Watersheds, such as the Upper Marikina River Basin, are also under threat of land conversation, illegal logging and quarrying, despite its protected status.
Confronted with the challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity loss, Lim noted that the business-as-usual framework by governments and the private sector is no longer acceptable.
“In as much as there is recognition of climate change as a driver of biodiversity loss, it must also be realized that conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is right at the core of climate action,” said the former head of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
While residents in the Philippines and other typhoon-weary countries in Southeast Asia continue to show resilience in the face of crises, more concrete action should be done to forward long-term solutions in the climate crisis, Lim enthused.
“(This resilience) must be matched with science-based policies and programs that embed biodiversity and nature-based solutions to short- and long-term climate action at all levels,” she further said.
Noting that deforestation caused massive flooding in Cagayan Valley due to Ulysses, transportation secretary Arthur Tugade had earlier said that planting trees would soon be mandatory for public transport cooperatives and individuals seeking franchises or licenses.
In a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte and other Cabinet officials, Tugade said a regional director of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) had suggested that members of cooperatives must plant 500 trees before being granted a franchise.
In conclusion, he disclosed that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) was closely coordinating with the DENR and local government units in identifying areas for reforestation.