Protecting our biodiversity: A right step in the battle vs climate change

Published December 20, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin


The effects of climate change couldn’t be more glaring as the country woke up with the ravages of Typhoon Odette. In some parts of Visayas and Mindanao, communication lines were cut, roads were destroyed, houses tumbled down like sandcastles. And again, calls for help resonated and Filipinos responded with volunteerism, especially as Christmas Day approaches.

The might of Typhoon Odette may not be as powerful as Yolanda, but something is alarming. The frequency and severity of typhoons such as this one is becoming a “regular” occurrence. How does this connect to climate change? In a study by William Holden and Shawn Marshall called “Climate Change and Typhoons in the Philippines,” they wrote that there is a “strong scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and that this is contributing to stronger typhoons due to higher sea surface temperatures and higher subsurface sea temperatures.”

Stronger typhoons, such as what we witnessed with Odette, carry “more moisture, track differently, move faster, and will be aggravated by sea level rise.” The Philippines, the authors noted, with its large and rapidly growing population, is “vulnerable to stronger typhoons and this vulnerability is exacerbated by localized environmental degradation.” In short, we would face more Odette-type typhoons in the years to come.

But this scenario should not be faced with a defeatist attitude. The battle against climate change can’t be won in one swoop. It takes a holistic approach that starts with looking after our environmental assets. If we protect our environment – the trees, mangroves, our flora and fauna, or in short, our biodiversity – it also protects us from the effects of climate change.

One of the notable efforts for the environment came out of the Senate recently when Senator Cynthia A. Villar, chairperson of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, sought for a revised Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act to strengthen this two-decade law in order to “address the growing scale and sophistication of wildlife crimes.”

In the explanatory note of proposed bill, she said: “Strengthening wildlife protection is crucial to the Philippines, which is considered as one of the world’s 17 mega-diverse or biodiversity-rich countries, and collectively hosts two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and contain about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species.”

Villar related that the Philippines harbors one of the highest concentrations of unique wildlife species in the world. “We are a biodiversity hotspot with high levels of threats from habitat loss, invasive alien species, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation. Thus, this calls for us to take action on the protection of our wildlife because any damage or loss will cost too much for us.”

The proposed bill will have more “teeth” to combat illegal wildlife trade, which has become more rampant due to globalization. Villar noted that open borders and better transport infrastructure also permitted access of illegal wildlife trade syndicates to previously remote areas, while the internet gave unprecedented access to new markets.

So what’s the connection of protecting our biodiversity with climate change? This is just one of the many explanations: Once we protect the “homes” of our wildlife, we ensure that there are enough trees to absorb rainwater in the mountains, so that water wouldn’t need to flow in the lowlands. That lessens the destruction of property, and prevents the loss of lives.

We need all efforts to battle this catastrophe called climate change, and if a bill to save our wildlife and biodiversity is necessary to ensure that the next generation would be more protected, then all of us need to rally behind this right now.