State of PH environment: Good conservation efforts, bad air quality

Pia Ranada

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State of PH environment: Good conservation efforts, bad air quality
The capital's air quality is dirtier, while endangered species are bouncing back and reforestation rates go up

MANILA, Philippines – It’s good news for endangered animals and bad news for the capital’s air quality. 

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on Tuesday, April 21, updated the public on the state of the Philippine environment, a rundown of achievements and failures of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the last 5 years.

It was given a day before the global celebration of Earth Day, delivered to an audience of government officials, civil society groups, and students in Quezon City.

Paje emphasized the growing impact of climate change to the Philippine environment and communities, citing the example of recent strong typhoons.

“Climate change is now a part of our lives. It is real, it is happening, and it is now the new normal,” Paje said.

Here is a rundown of updates in Paje’s report:

1. Reforestation

The National Greening Program (NGP), the government’s reforestation program and most well-funded environmental initiative, has so far planted trees in 1,005,013 hectares of land. This is 12% above the target for 2014, said Paje.

The NGP aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares by 2016. With the current accomplishment rate, the DENR has to plant trees in around 500,000 more hectares. But the NGP has gone under fire for misreporting of accomplishment and allegations of corruption.

2. Fight against illegal logging

From 31 illegal logging hotspots in 2014, the number was reduced to 23 in 2015. The Aquino administration, in 2011, began with 197 hotspots. The remaining hotspots are in the “recidivist” areas of Agusan and Surigao in Mindanao and Isabela in Luzon.

UPDATE. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje updates the public on accomplishments of his department on April 21, 2015. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

Around 3.5 million board feet of illegally cut wood were also confiscated since 2014, bringing the total number of confiscated wood to 29 million board feet.

The government filed 211 cases against persons suspected of involvement in illegal logging operations. The cases led to the conviction of 11 more persons since 2014. This recent accomplishment brings the number of convicted persons since 2011 to 197.

The country is also on track in reversing the trend of deforestation, in which the number of forested lands is less than the number of denuded areas. Paje said that this year, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of forested land will overtake the number of denuded land. The DENR projects that by 2015, forested land will number 8.14 million hectares to the 7.66 million hectares of denuded area.

3. Fight against illegal wildlife trade

From 2010 to 2014, there were 144 confiscations of illegally-traded wildlife. Seventy-two cases were also filed in court against illegal wildlife traders.

4. Protecting endangered species

There were also 10 more sightings of the rare and critically-endangered Philippine Eagle by conservation groups partnering with the government. Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) chief Theresa Mundita Lim says this is an indication of an increase in population. 

The population of the Philippine tamaraw, also endangered, has risen to 382 from 274. 

In one year, the number of nesting sites for the endangered Pawikan sea turtles increased, from 14,035 to 17,593. Lim said this points to successful conservation efforts because intact nesting sites mean the Pawikan are regularly returning to lay their eggs. 

5. Promoting protected areas

The previous year also saw the declaration of Mt Hamiguitan in Davao as the Philippines’ latest UNESCO World Heritage Site, thereby increasing awareness and funding for the protected area.

6. Assessing hazards

The DENR has completed the geohazards assessment and mapping for all 1,634 cities and towns in the country.The maps, supposed to indicate areas prone to landslides and floods, are at a scale of 1:10,000. Paje said this scale depicts an area down to the village level. The DENR is now printing the maps for distribution to local governments.

7. Delineating boundaries

The National Cadastral Survey – which delineates the boundaries of all cities and towns – is now 91% complete. The DENR has surveyed 1,493 cities and towns. The agency is currently surveying 141 more cities and towns, 97 of which are in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Paje said the survey will be completed this year.

8. Fight against air pollution

Despite efforts, the air quality in Metro Manila remains poor. The megacity’s air quality has plateaued at 125 micrograms per normal cubic meter (µg/Ncm) for Total Suspended Particulates – an indicator of dirty air. (READ: Gov’t rolls out Metro Manilaair monitoring portal)

This is still way above the international standard of 90 µg/Ncm. However, the current state of affairs is an improvement of the air quality in 2010 at 166 µg/Ncm.

To improve air quality, the DENR is facilitating a shift in fuel used by cars which are responsible for 80% of air pollution in Metro Manila. The agency is promoting a shift from Euro 2 fuel to Euro 4 fuel. Euro 4 has 10 times less sulfur content than Euro 2, making cars that use it less likely to spew smog.


Philippine Eagle image from Shutterstock

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.