Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Give a man a fishing business and he will overfish the oceans.

International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change
Message by
Hon. Naderev M. Saño
Climate Change Commission
February 1, 2011

At the onset, please allow me to thank the CHED and DENR for partnering with the Climate Change Commission on the occasion of this International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change.

Last year, the international community continued to reflect on the planetary crisis as many communities around the world confronted the impacts of climate change. The political debate was directed towards finding a global agreement at the Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. There was significant progress, not the least towards recognizing the importance of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change, also as Parties congregated in Nagoya, Japan for the Convention on Biodiversity Conference of Parties.

2010 was also the International Year of Biodiversity which provided an opportunity to stress the linkage between biodiversity and climate change and to encourage integration and convergence of the political agenda on both issues.

It goes without saying that climate change is the greatest challenge that humanity faces. When faced with a challenge, we attempt to find answers and I would view this Conference as one of those endeavors to find answers.

We all know biodiversity is the basic foundation of all life on Earth. Now, climate change is such a force that seriously threatens biodiversity at a scale that none of us have ever imagined. As climate change threatens the basic foundation of life on Earth, we need to come to terms with this challenge. I tell you now, it will be the end of the world as we know it.

The integrity of biodiversity is seriously compromised because of climate change and vice versa. Climate change threatens biodiversity. There is no question about this. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment stressed that climate change is likely to become the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss by the end of the century. It will be a vicious cycle of feedback loops- where biodiversity loss and climate change exacerbate each other.

The loss of biodiversity will have far-reaching impacts on all of us.  Food insecurity and loss of livelihood are only some of the horrors that we stand to face.  In many parts of the globe, these are already grim realities. Impacts on biodiversity will have repercussions on other development aspirations.

This International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change serves as a venue for us to address these challenges by sharing knowledge and information on the two-way interactions between biodiversity and climate change and for identifying strategies and actions to ensure adaptation to climate change focusing on the Asia Pacific Region.

This Conference is indeed timely in the face of the complex web of crises that we confront as a nation, as a global community. It is timely in the face of increasing resource scarcity, wide-spread poverty, and heightened risk to disasters.

We are likewise pleased to note that foremost experts from the Philippines and from around the region have joined us to grace this Conference, offering a comprehensive array of opportunities for discussions in all the important aspects that concern climate change and biodiversity. What we have right here today is an impressive assembly of biodiversity and climate change experts.

In no uncertain terms, climate change is upon us and is wreaking havoc of unimaginable proportions. The million dollar question is – will biodiversity, and consequently humankind, survive climate change?

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, recent changes in climate, such as warmer temperatures in certain regions, have already had significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. They have affected species distribution, population sizes, and the timing of reproduction or migration events, as well as the frequency of pest and disease outbreaks.

Consider these facts:  [statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature:]

  • 75% of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost;
  • Up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.50C; AND what’s alarming about this is that our best estimate is that only 5% of the total number of species are known to man. So, we will lose millions of species even before they are discovered.
  • 1/3 of reef-building corals around the world are threatened with extinction;
  • Every second, a parcel of rainforest the size of a football field disappears;
  • Over 350 million people suffer from severe water scarcity.

But let us not forget that even before the world started to warm up due to human activities, the loss of biodiversity has been escalating at a staggering pace.

On the degradation of habitat and extinction of the earth’s biota alone, the loss is considered unprecedented. Count in the loss from the introduction of invasive species, over-exploitation, pollution and changes in human population, incomes and lifestyles. Add to that the climate change crisis and you will find it definitely alarming if not downright frightful. Indeed, the factors that contribute to biodiversity loss are not only very compelling but also diverse. Talking about them would definitely consume much time and deny the others of a topic to speak about. 

To borrow the words of Shakespeare, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.” The saying goes: “Give a man a fish and he will be fed; teach a man how to fish and he will feed himself;” give a man a fishing business and he will overfish the oceans.

In the face of climate change, it is worthwhile to highlight a few principles:

1)      Non-climate stressors have caused much of biodiversity loss. Even before the advent of climate change, human activities have resulted in massive loss of species, genetic and ecosystems biodiversity.
2)      To save biodiversity, protecting it is not enough. It is no longer enough to just continue with our baseline environmental protection. There will be no sense talking about saving biodiversity without a serious global commitment to cut CO2 emissions. It is pointless to talk about adaptation if the world’s industrialized countries do not own up to the responsibility and pursue drastic mitigation actions.
3)      Protecting biodiversity and protecting the interests of human communities are two sides of the same coin. Biodiversity conservation is usually perceived as constraining community economic growth. This is simply untrue. They simply cannot be pursued isolated from each other. Our local communities desperately want to be instruments of sustainability and my own experience with fisherfolk, farmers, indigenous communities, and rural women tells me that they have a very deep kinship with nature and that the people who understand biodiversity the most are those who depend on nature to survive. They can be the most committed to sustainability.
4)      Any discussion of biodiversity loss cannot be divorced from issues of development, social justice, equity, development, economics, human rights, gender, even colonialism or capitalism. As such both climate change and biodiversity issues are profoundly intertwined with all these other issues.

Allow me also to take this opportunity to highlight what the Philippines has done to respond to the climate change challenge, particularly in the context of reducing risk from the adverse impacts of climate change.

In 2009, through the stewardship of Senator Loren Legarda, the Philippine Congress enacted Republic Act 9729 which established the policy framework for climate change in the Philippines, created the Climate Change Commission, and mandated institutions to craft the NFSCC and the NCCAP, which are essentially our nation’s blueprint for survival, which are being formulated together with a broad range of stakeholders. All of these are being pursued with a firm focus on ensuring climate change adaptation for our community.

We are elated to note that there is a rapidly growing climate change constituency in our country. In fact, the kind of support that climate change advocacy has generated in our country is unprecedented. We also recognize the strong support and active involvement of the government, under the leadership of President Aquino, to our efforts to craft our climate change national roadmap and to contribute in the global effort to fight climate change. 

Finally, I wish to underscore our role as stewards of biodiversity, especially in the light of the climate change crisis.  The story of Noah’s ark is a story of stewardship. It can be recalled that God commanded Noah to take at least two of every living species into the Ark in order to spare them from the great flood. [To paraphrase Al Gore as he wrote in one of his books,] This commandment, in our more modern era, can be translated as : Thou shall protect biodiversity. In the face of a modern global catastrophe, one caused by humans, we can find new and meaningful relevance to this commandment. When Noah heeded God’s commandment to protect biodiversity, after the floods, God made a new covenant and affirmed His commitment to humankind. This covenant had a second part – a promise not only for Noah but to all living creatures – that God will never again destroy the earth by floods – and we are reminded of this promise every time we see a rainbow.

I believe that the proverbial rainbow has a lot to do with what this Conference is all about – a collective commitment to protect biodiversity. This collective commitment would at the least pay homage to the heroism of Leonard Co, Dan Lagunzad, and Gerry Ortega, who have all dedicated their lives to protecting our natural heritage.

Archimedes once said, ‘with a lever long enough, I can move the world.” In this case, our collective commitment is the lever and if it is long enough, we can move the world.

On behalf of the Climate Change Commission, I congratulate the CHED and DENR our warmest congratulations for this Conference – a rainbow-reminder of our promise to protect biodiversity, especially in the face of climate change.

With this, I wish you all a fruitful and successful conference.

Maraming salamat po at magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.

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