The Philippines is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. However, it has also been identified as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots due to biodiversity loss.
Aggravating the challenges posed on the country’s biological ecosystem are population growth, rapid urbanization, global warming and the global pandemic caused by Covid-19.
Biodiversity experts believe that maintaining a healthy ecology or strong biodiversity, is essential to human survival. Eventually, they believe it will lead to the path of sustainable growth and development
Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect benefits humans obtain from nature, Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) told the BusinessMirror in an e-mail interview on October 1.
Citing various studies, Lim, an international biodiversity expert, said different ecosystems provide different types of services.
More importantly, she cited the provisioning services that include the supply of food, water, fiber, wood and fuels.
“Different ecosystems provide different types of services. Forests and trees aid in healing damaged ecosystems and in providing livable conditions,” Lim said.
Importance of forests
In addition to producing tangible goods, Lim, a former director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said forests reduce the effects of noise, floods and droughts.
“They purify water, bind harmful substances; they maintain soil fertility and water quality; they aid in controlling erosion; they protect drinking water resources; and they can help with wastewater processing,” she said.
Besides reducing climate change, forests help in controlling infectious diseases.
At the same time, Lim said oceans and seas provide a different set of ecosystem services.
There is also an increasing body of research in the indirect impact of biodiversity on human health, proving that exposure to nature, including urban green space, parks and woods, have measurable good effects on mental and physiological health, she pointed out.
Threats to ecological services
The ecological services provided by forests, however, are threatened by deforestation, pollution and biodiversity loss.
Food production, Lim noted, impacts all ecosystems. Agriculture, the main economic driver, along with habitat loss, are recurring threats to biodiversity and remain the primary concern.
Population growth also places added pressure on natural resources.
“Some countries are experiencing a rapid increase in population, while some experience close to negative growth,” she said.
Many parts of the world are experiencing increased pressure in the consumption of food and resources due to the increasing population.
Climate change and biodiversity loss
Scientists and experts have time and again identified climate change as a major driver of biodiversity loss.
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), climate change has already adversely affected biodiversity at the species and ecosystem levels.
“Some species and ecosystems are demonstrating the capacity to adapt naturally. However, others show negative impacts under current levels of climate change,” Lim noted.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Programme said biodiversity-rich forests are likely to be less vulnerable to climate risks and impacts than degraded and/or fragmented forests and plantations dominated by a single or a few species.
However, the current regulating service of forests as carbon sinks may be lost entirely and turn land ecosystems into a net source of carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, in marine and coastal ecosystems, warmer temperatures lead to increased rates of coral bleaching or a decline in coral health, Lim noted, citing a 2010 Asian Development Bank study.
Climate change’s impact on agriculture
A study by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) states that changes in climatic patterns consequently alter the spatial distribution of agro-ecological zones, habitats, distribution patterns of plant diseases and pests, fish populations, and ocean circulation patterns that can significantly affect agriculture and food production.
The manifestation of identified climate change-induced hazards and risks to agriculture will vary due to differences in geographical and socioeconomic conditions across the region, according to the Searca study in 2013.
Lim noted that agrobiodiversity remains the main raw material for agroecosystems to cope with climate change as it contains the reservoir of traits for plant and animal breeders and farmers to select resilient, climate-ready germplasm, and produce new breeds, citing a study by Marambe and Silva.
Protected areas’ limited defense
Climate change is likely to result in biodiversity loss, forest degradation, and reduction, migration and extinction of species.
Citing a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report, Lim said protected areas indeed have a limited defense against climate change and they should be improved to withstand climate impacts.
“Climate change also adds to pressures of already vulnerable biodiversity hotspots. If there is a significant rise in sea level, all wetland and marine and coastal Asean Heritage Parks (AHPs) will be affected,” she explained.
According to WWF, Lim noted, species existing in about 60 percent of AHPs are vulnerable to climate change due to decreasing niche space, considering these AHPs are 1,000 meters above sea level.
AHPs in Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam have been previously affected by past cyclones.
Lim pointed out that endangered plants and animals are the most common components in almost all AHPs that are sensitive to climate change.
Biodiversity loss and climate change aggravate the threat of zoonic diseases, Lim said.
“The exposure to vectors is increased or altered by activities connected to deforestation, such as mining, hydroelectric projects, road construction, mineral exploitation and agriculture. [They] have a profound impact, not only on the biology of vectors or potential vector populations, but also on the exposure of both native populations in the area and migrant populations,” she explained.
Lim pointed out that land-use changes are also associated with the creation of road networks, further enhancing pressures on wildlife populations.
“A series of emerging infectious diseases, for example, severe acute respiratory syndrome, Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome, have been linked to wildlife use, trade and consumption,” she said.
How can mainstreaming biodiversity conservation help mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce, if not totally avoid yet another global pandemic?
Lim said that in many cases, different national government agencies work on climate change and biodiversity separately.
She pointed out that “convergence” among relevant stakeholders on both issues is necessary to comply with commitments to both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the CBD.
“Regionally, there is a recognition of the vulnerability of Asean to the impacts of climate change. But an understanding of biodiversity conservation as an effective mitigating measure against climate change impacts needs to be emphasized,” Lim said.
“Increased collaboration, sharing of expertise and public awareness on the interrelationship between climate change and biodiversity are crucial to addressing these twin issues,” she added.
According to Lim, there is already an increasing recognition that protected areas may buffer against the emergence of novel infectious diseases by avoiding drastic changes in host/reservoir abundance and distribution and reducing contact rates between humans, livestock and wildlife.
The current Covid-19 pandemic further emphasizes the fact that protected areas are at the forefront of preventing future disease outbreaks by maintaining ecosystem integrity, she said.