Press Release
March 13, 2017

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Charting Our Resilient Future:
The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Approaches
A Multi-stakeholder Forum
13 March 2017 | EDSA Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City

Our biodiversity and the ecosystems that it helps function are essential to all forms of life on Earth.

The Philippines is very fortunate because not only is it one of the megadiverse countries, but it is also the center of the center of biodiversity, as proven in various expeditions where scientists and researchers have been able to discover new and endemic species in the country.

In 2015, Terry Gosliner of the California Academy of Sciences led an expedition on the Verde Island Passage and discovered more than a hundred species that are likely new to science.[1]

Gosliner said, "The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species--it's one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth."[2]

Meanwhile, following an expedition in the mountains of northeast Mindanao in 2016, Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute said, "The terrestrial biodiversity of the Philippines is amazing, and this part of Mindanao is the center of the center of that diversity."[3]

Brown's team discovered a total of 126 species, including 40 frogs, 49 lizards, 35 snakes, a freshwater turtle and a crocodile.[4]

We have an abundance of natural resources. But all this wealth is at great risk.

Development activities, land degradation, overgrazing and deforestation, pollution, overfishing, hunting, land-use change, and the overuse of freshwater, have pushed ecosystems to the limit. Our country has become one of the world's top biodiversity hotspots, with a large number of species threatened with extinction.

In his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis said, "a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves."[5]

If we look around us, we see truth in these words.

Biodiversity is the web of life. But the development around us has caused many to think we can live on our own and disconnect from the web, forgetting that biodiversity feeds and heals, provides us air and water, and is a source of livelihood and recreation.

Further endangering the precarious situation of our country's biodiversity is the challenge of climate change. Among the projected impacts of climate change is the loss of thousands of species, along with significant changes in the natural ecosystem.

The rise in average global temperatures will render many species unable to adapt quickly enough to these new conditions or to move to regions more suitable for their survival. A 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature in the next 50-100 years would render 30% of species at risk of extinction.[6]

Moreover, the decline of our ecosystems has been found as one of the underlying drivers of disaster risks and poverty, in the context of climate change.

As the ill effects of global warming, increased precipitation and extreme weather events adversely affect the high concentration of species found endemically in our country, we as humans, who are dependent on the flora and fauna that make up our natural ecosystems for livelihood and sustenance, are directly affected as well.

Statistics collated by the UN show that:[7]

  • Around 1.6 billion people, including 70 million indigenous people, depend on forests for their livelihood;

  • 2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, but 52 percent of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation;

  • As of 2008, land degradation affected 1.5 billion people globally;

  • Due to drought and desertification each year 12 million hectares are lost, or 23 hectares per minute. Around 20 million tons of grain could have been grown on this area of land;

  • 74 percent of the poor are directly affected by land degradation globally.

These facts show that we cannot afford to go business as usual because environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are threats to our own survival.

In 2015, nations adopted three important interlocking agreements--the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction--that would save our planet and all species from destruction and death, depending on the level of action we take today.

The protection of our ecosystems and biodiversity is one of the 17 SDGs. Nations are called to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.

The Sendai Framework for DRR calls for ecosystem-based approaches to reducing disaster risk. Studies show that every dollar invested in ecosystem-based disaster and climate change adaptation means saving up to 20 dollars from mitigating and even avoiding the consequences of disasters.[8]

Moreover, protected areas can help protect vulnerable communities and reduce the impact of natural hazards. Mangrove forests serve as buffer against storm surge and tsunami.

For climate change mitigation, terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems serve as major carbon stores and sinks as they reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy production and land use change.

The United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) estimates that 312 gigatonnes of carbon or 15% of the world's terrestrial carbon stock are stored in protected areas.

However, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment estimated that 60% of global ecosystem services are degraded, reducing their ability to mitigate the impact of natural hazards.

In order to achieve the SDGs, we must take urgent climate action and build the resilience of our communities from natural hazards.

Faithful compliance with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act and the Climate Change Law is crucial here. Access to the People's Survival Fund is likewise important to support local climate adaptation activities, such as in the areas of land and water resources management, agriculture and fisheries, health, infrastructure development, and natural ecosystems preservation.

Our ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change would also signal more opportunities to strengthen our climate resilience efforts.

We are also working on several environmental bills in the Senate including the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Bill or ENIPAS. Under this measure, local communities and other stakeholders will have the legal basis and incentive to participate in the management and protection of the areas. Representative samples of unique, rare and threatened species of plants and animals and habitat including cultural diversity, will be better protected, by declaring as national parks the remaining parcels of land under the NIPAS.

As a long-time environmental advocate, I know how hard it is to convince people to protect our environment and natural resources. People do not completely understand the importance of these resources unless they are directly affected by the effects of its degradation or realize what they will lose if they remain indifferent.

But this gathering today fuels my optimism that we can still be faithful to our duty as stewards of the Earth.

We are confronted with the task of protecting our country's unique, and at the same time endangered, biodiversity. Pursuing a kind of development that has genuine regard for the state of our natural wealth has never become more crucial than today. In order to keep our planet healthy, livable and sustainable, all of us must work together, otherwise, our children will be left with nothing.

Let us use this forum as a venue not only to gain knowledge from one another, but also to transform that knowledge into concrete action.

Thank you.***


[1] Scientists discover more than 100 new marine species in the Philippines during California Academy of Sciences expedition, June 2015, California Academy of Sciences

[2] Ibid.

[3] On Philippine isle torn by environmental destruction, research pinpoints 'bull's-eye' of biodiversity, October 2016, The University of Kansas

[4] Ibid.

[5] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si', of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home

[6] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[7] Facts and figures: Goal 15 - Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

[8] Analysis by Swiss Re. Sendai's role in ecosystems underlined at COP21

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