Helping Earth heal

Best Practices - Brian Poe Llamanzares - The Philippine Star

Last Saturday, a working paper written by Harvard and Northwestern University scholars revealed that a “one-degree Celsius increase in global temperature leads to a 12 percent decline in world gross domestic product (GDP).” It calculated that climate change-inflicted economic damage was “six times larger than previously thought, comparable to the economic damage caused by fighting a war domestically and permanently.” The Harvard author remarked, “There will still be some economic growth happening but by [2100] people may well be 50 percent poorer than they would’ve been if it wasn’t for climate change.”

Such discourse is particularly pertinent to our country. Studies from the 2019 Institute for Economics and Peace report to the 2022 World Risk Index, the chorus is clear: the Philippines takes the number one spot for the country most vulnerable to climate change.

Our perilous position is extremely exacerbated by China’s unlawful, deleterious and brazen conduct in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Apart from water cannon attacks and dangerous ship maneuvers, China’s criminal acts include the permanent annihilation of 2,000 hectares of coral reefs within Philippine territory. Coral reefs are “rainforests of the seas” and ours is the most diverse in the world. As comprehensively pointed out by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs “protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities and offer opportunities for recreation. They are also a source of food and new medicines. Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income and protection.” Its destruction is environmental and economic damage that is, in the words of many observers around the world, “innumerable and immeasurable.”

We are at a tipping point. The actions of all, both individual and institutional, matter. Every Filipino’s step towards sustainability is one substantial leap for humanity. If we can do it, then anyone can too. It helps to know that local and global initiatives, both big and small, exist to turn the tide.

UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) points out that “at least $52 billion is spent on biodiversity globally” but the annual financing necessary ranges from $150 billion to $440 billion. The great funding gap is the colossal challenge that BIOFIN seeks to close. I’m with BIOFIN on this; the problem is solvable! As BIOFIN notes, the gap we should mind is “between just 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent of global GDP.”

We should laud the Philippines’ signing and ratification of the treaty on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, more popularly known as the “UN High Seas Treaty” or the “Global Ocean Treaty.” It is the first international agreement intended to create ocean governance frameworks to protect the world’s high seas against heretofore rampant, unregulated and hazardous plastic pollution, overfishing and even mining. Apart from ensuring sustainability, the UN High Seas Treaty’s ratification reinforces our national security.

Another advancement is the Department of Finance (DOF)’s recent announcement, on May 18, 2024, of P1 billion for the People’s Survival Fund (PSF). PSF is a sustainable financing platform for climate adaptation projects by local government units and community organizations established under Republic Act No. (RA) 10174 or the “Climate Change Act of 2009.” With the able leadership of DOF Secretary Ralph Recto, who also heads the “Green Force” or the Inter-Agency Task Force on Sustainable Finance, we hope more sectors are capacitated to contribute to climate change adaptation and sustainability efforts.

Capacity-building and establishing clear accountability mechanisms for sustainability are necessary to make our own efforts sustainable and successful. For such reason, Senator Grace Poe voted in favor of “Extended Producer Responsibility Act of 2022” (EPRA) or Republic Act No. 11898 which enhances the gains from RA 9003 or the “Ecological Solid Waste Manage Act of 2000.” It requires, among others, large companies and “producers to be environmentally responsible through the life cycle of a product, especially its post-consumer or end-of-life stage” which finds tremendous importance in dealing with our problematic plastic waste situation. The Philippines has sadly been tagged as one of the top three biggest contributors to plastic waste worldwide. Proper implementation of EPRA is vital to transform the letter of the law not only as less littered trash in our seas, but also into conditions that make the world’s oceans healthier for all life.

Our Senate office believes Senate Bill No. 2450 filed on Sept. 25, 2023 or the “Blue Economy Act” will help too. Authored by Senators Angara, Estrada, Legarda, Poe, Revilla and Villanueva, once the bill is passed into law, it will ensure the safe use and development of marine wealth within the coastal and maritime domain of the country, exercise stewardship of the coasts and oceans and protect and conserve the health of marine and coastal ecosystems and habitats to promote the well-being, inclusive prosperity and security of present and future generations. It aims to close regulatory gaps, builds on all our existing efforts, synergizes activities across government agencies and introduces novel approaches including integrated marine and coastal management, marine spatial planning and blue financing.

Helping Earth heal itself for the habitability of humanity doesn’t have to be large scale or grand all the time. It can be small acts. It all adds up. It can even start with just good old fashioned “reduce, reuse and recycle.” I know that all that is needed is for us to keep on working towards sustainability. In doing so, together, we can help the Earth heal.

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