There’s more sobering news on the state of the country’s environment, according to an environment official during Monday’s celebration of Earth Day: The Philippines has the second-lowest forest cover in Southeast Asia and its biodiversity is among the most threatened in the world; despite the country having one of the most extensive coral reef areas in the world, only 2 percent of them remain in excellent condition.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officer-in-charge and Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio made this assessment in his Earth Day address on Monday, even as he assured the public that the government was working to reverse the country’s environmental degradation.
“Our forests have dwindled in the past 100 years [from 30 million hectares] to only 7.2 million, or 24 percent of our land area,” Ignacio said, adding that it has resulted in the country having the second-lowest forest cover in Southeast Asia.
“Our coastal and marine areas are equally problematic,” the DENR official said. “We have one of the most extensive coral reef areas in the world [but] 40 percent of these are in poor condition and only 2 percent are still in excellent condition.”
Ignacio noted that while the country’s biodiversity is considered one of the richest in the world, it is also among the most threatened.
As for major urban centers, particularly Metro Manila, the official said air pollution was a common problem while bodies of water in these areas remained unfit for human activity.
Ignacio said such environmental deterioration had resulted in a degraded ecosystem, poor health, scarcity in natural resources, poverty, unmitigated flooding, as well as death and destruction with the onset of climate change.
On road to recovery
Speaking at Earth Day rites at Quezon Memorial Circle, the environment official also apologized to the public for the government’s inability to fully deliver on the Filipinos’ constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology, but added that [the country] was “now on the road to recovering the environment we have lost.”
Ignacio cited several measures being undertaken by the government to heal the environment, among them the total log ban in all natural forests and the national greening program, a reforestation effort aimed at planting 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million ha within six years.
“We will plant more trees in six years than what we [have] planted the past 50 years,” Ignacio said. “If we do not do this, it will take us 240 years to reforest our country,” he added.
Among the initiatives of the national greening program are the reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the absorption of runoff water and the distribution of geo-hazard maps to all communities to mitigate the loss of lives and property during extreme weather events triggered by climate change, Ignacio said.
He added that such government initiatives had earned the country a high ranking as a strong environmental performer in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index Report of Yale and Columbia Universities. The Philippines ranked 42 out of 132 countries and outperformed South Korea, Australia, Singapore and the United States, Ignacio said.
To highlight the theme, “Earth Day Everyday, Everywhere for Everyone,” the DENR and the Earth Day Network Philippines Inc. (EDNPI) yesterday launched the Mini(mize) Carbon Olympics among 32 high schools and 15 colleges and universities in the National Capital Region in a yearlong competition to showcase the best practices to reduce carbon emission.
“The [schools] would basically be competing with themselves on improving existing environmentally sound practices as a way of addressing climate change,” said EDNPI executive director Voltaire Alferez. During the activity set to start in June, the schools will be taught how to “audit” greenhouse gas emissions and their energy consumption, he added.
Alferez said among these practices were energy efficiency measures that may be as simple as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED lights, as well as good solid waste management, greening initiatives and efforts to reduce energy consumption.
Yesterday morning’s Earth Day celebration officially started with a “walk for nature” activity participated in by hundreds of environmentalists, including government officials and members of nongovernmental organizations, who walked around the Elliptical Road before gathering at Quezon Memorial Circle for the ceremonies.
Meanwhile, reelectionist senatorial candidate Sen. Loren Legarda promised to embark on an “Oplan Linis” operation immediately after the May 13 election, to remove and recycle her campaign materials all over the country.
“All over the country, all campaign plastics, tarpaulins, reusable calendars, pins and ballers, will be collected and recycled,” the senator added.
Legarda, a proponent of several environmental legislation, and chair of the Senate committee on climate change, called for the Earth Day-themed press conference to promote environmental protection as a “gut issue.”
“Environmental issues are hunger and food scarcity issues,” she said, adding that the most victimized by “climate injustice” were the poor and marginalized.
The senator also announced plans to furnish local government units with geo-hazard maps, and to legislate community-based disaster risk reduction and eco-tourism through the establishment of “living ecological museums.” With a report from Jaymee T. Gamil