Emerging from the recent 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit, the Philippines joined the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and committed to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
More than 100 countries, including China, Russia, and Brazil, signed this Declaration as President Duterte pointed out that “sustainable and resilient agriculture and forestry are essential for commodity production and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” Latest estimates place the country’s forest cover at about seven million hectares, a level that shows a further depletion from the estimated national forest cover of 7.168 million hectares that was reported in the 2011 report of the Forest Management Bureau (FMB). This means that out of the country’s total land area of around 30 million hectares, the forest cover is only at 23 percent.
To appreciate the actual magnitude of forest cover loss, the barometer used by Global Forest Watch, a US-based monitor, is instructive. The country’s annual forest loss is estimated at some 7,700 hectares. This means that nearly 20 basketball courts, were lost every hour – and this adds up to an area roughly equivalent to Iloilo City within a year.
Another study shows that from 2013 to 2020, 72 percent of the tree cover loss occurred within natural forests and that this loss was equivalent to 276 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. While the Philippines’ level of greenhouse gas emissions is dwarfed by those of the world’s biggest polluters, the harm that it causes in terms of global warming that triggers natural disasters is significant.
The Forest Management Bureau has extensively analyzed the causes of deforestation and forestland degradation.
The key drivers that have been clearly identified include: a) forest products extraction and timber harvesting, including legal and illegal logging; timber poaching; fuel wood gathering and charcoal making; b) agricultural expansion, including kaingin, shifting cultivation, resettlement areas conversion of forestlands to oil palm and rubber plantation, and highland vegetable farming; and c) infrastructure expansion: transport and road construction; sawmills, furniture and processing plants; mining, hydropower and dam construction; and tourism facilities development.
This wide-ranging list clearly underlines the need for effective governance in light of deficient institutional capacities, weak law enforcement, corruption and collusion.
Three “green bills” that could bring about substantial and far-reaching reforms in the regulatory and governance framework await congressional enactment. These are: the National Land Use Act, the Sustainable Forest Management Act (SFMA); and the Alternative Minerals Management Act (AMMA).
The NLUA will delineate forest boundaries and end indiscriminate land conversion.
The SFMA could set clear criteria for allowing logging while providing areas for conservation management, and sustainable use.
The AMMA will ensure that extraction is not allowed in small-island ecosystems and in primary and secondary forest watersheds.
If and when these are finally enacted into law, the efficacy of the new policy framework that would be put in place depends on the quality of execution – and in the exercise of a firm political will by public officials who truly desire to foster sustainable development.