UNDP urges more investments in environmental R&D
(The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The economic and ecological potential of the Philippines’ indigenous plant species remains untapped as a majority of its flora have yet to be discovered and studied, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has said.

There is huge potential in the country’s indigenous plants, with UNDP placing a net present sustainable bioprospecting value of forests here at approximately $36 million annually.

However, there is a dire need for the government to allocate more funds into environmental research and development to buttress its conservation of native trees and their protection from deforestation.

Biodiversity, when managed effectively, entails significant national economic growth, according to the UNDP. More than half of the country continues to depend on natural resources for livelihood.

Protecting these natural resources on all fronts – including R&D on native trees for better understanding and appreciation – is thus highly imperative.

Native trees are species naturally found in specific regions. Trees native to a country attract more fauna, including birds and insects. A lot of knowledge on native trees comes from indigenous communities, who use these plants for various purposes including medicinal.

There is, however, a threat to the existence of native trees, as urbanization and rapid deforestation continue despite calls from various environmental groups here and abroad.

A 2011 study by Conservation International placed the Philippines as one of the most threatened forest hotspots in the world, with only seven percent remaining of its original habitat. The country has lost more than 90 percent of its original forest habitat, which is home to more than a thousand endemic species.

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that around 99 plant species are critically endangered, 187 are endangered, 176 are vulnerable and 64 are threatened.

“Most of our natural resources, especially native trees, remain untapped. We have a lot of unknown flora that are lost to rapid deforestation and illegal logging,” Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) Philippines project manager Anabelle Plantilla said. “These trees can have properties useful for various industries, yet we are not able to study them because by the time research institutions get funding, the species are wiped out.”

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, owning two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity. The country ranks fifth in the world in terms of numbers of plant species, housing five percent of the world’s flora.

“Additional funding for research focused on native trees is badly needed. We want to put more importance on the need for more funding directed towards the conservation of our local biodiversity,” Plantilla said.

With a P27.14-billion budget for the year, the DENR has allotted at least P6 billion for its flagship forest protection program, the Enhanced National Greening Program. Despite this, the Philippines still lags in terms of environmental research in the world.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics, only 0.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is dedicated to research and development, and an even smaller amount is allotted to research on the environment.

The UNESCO recommends that at least one percent of GDP should go to environmental research and development.

BIOFIN, a project implemented by UNDP across 36 countries to address biodiversity finance gaps, supports this recommendation, as investments in R&D could lead to better management of natural resources, including native trees, which are prone to rapid deforestation.

Restoration is a main action in the forestry sector under the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP), the country’s roadmap for biodiversity conservation. Based on the costing done by BIOFIN, the investment need for reforestation in the Philippines is at P57 billion from 2015 to 2028.

Together with coral reef restoration, implementation of green sanitation technology, vulnerability assessment, rehabilitating areas infested with invasive alien species, and mainstreaming of PBSAP into local and national plans, the prospective returns include carbon sequestration worth P453 billion; food security for at least 1.3 million fishers and their families; and reef fisheries, tourism, and willingness to pay for biodiversity associated with coral reefs worth P200 billion a year.

“We should invest in our native trees, in our biodiversity, we have so much yet we take it for granted,” Plantilla stressed. “We’re missing a lot by not paying attention to our native species and to our forests. If we continue to damage and exploit our natural resources, there will be grave consequences not only to our environment, but also to our economy.”

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