MANILA - The Philippines can learn something from the ongoing bushfires in Australia that can help address the climate change challenges facing the country, a local environment group said on Friday.
"The effects of climate change can be seen in the situation right now. Because the season is drier, there is less precipitation and the result is that the ecosystems, especially the bushlands in Australia, are more prone to small sparks of fires that could spread as quick as hell," Leon Dulce, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment national coordinator, said on ANC's Headstart.
One of the problems that emerged from the bushfires in Australia was the issue with underfunded fire protection services.
The same could be said of the Philippines where more than 200 towns still lack fire trucks that could respond to similar crisis.
Dulce said there are 2 million forests and grasslands in the Philippines that are prone to the effects of droughts, compounded by less precipitation and increased winds from extreme weather events that is "definitely a recipe for a meltdown across the Philippines."
He said there are not enough subsidies for government services to address or even prevent these problems.
"A lot of our watershed management institutions, down to the forest rangers in the hinterlands, are underfunded. Sometimes they do not even receive their wages almost a year prior. It's really a recipe for disaster if the government doesn't address the problem of climate change now," he added.
Kalikasan also noted that aside from forest rangers' wages, their lives are at stake too.
Forty-six environmental defenders were killed in 2019 because of environment-related issues.
"The problem is impunity. There is not enough precedence where perpetrators are being caught and prosecuted, being jailed. That's a precedence of more emboldened perpetrators of attacks against environmental defenders," he said.
Forest rangers, he said, work to protect over a million hectares of protected areas and important agricultural lands in the country.
'WE WILL BURN'
When asked what needs to be done, Dulce said it is mainly enforcement on the ground especially since illegal logging is deeply entrenched in the systems of corruption.
He said there are local dynasties backing illegal logging operations and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is still issuing or allowing permits of integrated forest management agreements which Dulce said is a misnomer because they do not manage the forests.
"But the problem is more pervasive than just our forests that's why since last year, we have been urging the Duterte government to declare a climate emergency where it recognizes the different aspects of the problem from mitigating emissions down to the adaptation of our communities to the impacts," he said.
In the Philippines, Dulce said many forest fires are mainly man-made.
"We're going to experience more naturally-induced fires as climate change worsens, as the impact worsens over the next 11 years. If we do not address the aspect of the problem where we can control it, which is the man-made aspect, then we will burn," he said.
Dulce believes the Philippines has good environmental policies but it is conflicting economic policies that are being prioritized.
"The perennial problem is the conflict of land use in the Philippines where we still have not delineated what are the boundaries for forest covers. And even if we have declared protected forest areas, there are a lot of Trojan horses for large scale mining projects, for agribusiness plantation that convert these forest areas into other short term economic uses, but in the long term you are actually eroding the capacity of our communities, of our ecosystems to adapt to the impacts of climate change," he explained.
"Mainly our problem is the hydro-meteorological risks--rainfall, typhoons--so we have to adapt our communities, our economy to those kinds of impacts. But even the extreme heat events increase temperature will also affect critical aspects of our landscape," he added.
He said marine and coastal ecosystems are also most vulnerable and prone to just a .5 degrees centigrade shift that can cause a lot of mass coral bleaching, the destruction to the core ecosystems that are the lifeline of the marine ecosystems.
"Imagine the impact of that to a country that is archipelagic, to a country that is primarily driven by agriculture and fisheries...our seas will also burn," he said.
Meanwhile, aside from forest protection, Dulce urged the public to contribute not only to tree planting but also to the drive focused on tree caring, noting that the rate of deforestation surpasses that of reforestation.
"There's an effort to encourage people to sort of adopt watersheds where they could not only volunteer to plant trees but to continually care for it, to guard for this watershed area," he said.
He meanwhile reiterated their call for a declaration of climate emergency.
"If Congress passes a declaration of climate emergency--which lists down exactly what are the urgent shifts in the energy sector, waste management, in our extractive economy like mining and agriculture, in our disaster risk reduction and management, and then you allot exactly the amount of money needed to finance these radical shifts in policies and programs--that would really jumpstart the process," said Dulce.