Environmental advocates, experts, and leaders at the 2016 Green SONA in Silliman University (Photo taken from Rappler)

Environmental advocates, experts, and leaders at the 2016 Green SONA in Silliman University (Photo taken from Rappler)

Over 300 civic leaders and environmentalists from all over the country urged the government in a multi-sectoral gathering to adopt a number of measures designed to help the environment and mitigate climate change.

They made the call during the recent “Green SONA,” or State of Nature Assessment forum, organized in Dumaguete City by various groups, led by Green Convergence in partnership with Silliman University. The SONA, with “The Philippines’ Contribution to Climate Change: Carbon Sources and Sinks” as theme, tackled various issues concerning the environment, agriculture, forest, energy and waste.

In the same gathering, the Green SONA participants urged the Duterte government to, among other things, intensify its reforestation program, promote more renewable energy projects and implement a ban on incineration projects and genetically modified (GMO) crops.

The forum at the same time allowed resource speakers from the government, led by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, to explain key government programs and projects, especially those affecting the environment and agriculture.

Pinol bared the government plans and programs after another participant, Elenita Dano, Asia Director of Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, disclosed that improper farming practices aggravate adverse effects related to El Nino and La Nina.

To address this particular concern in agriculture, the participants called for the shift to agro-ecology and organic agriculture that allow small-scale farmers to play a central role in effectively sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil. They also appealed for a ban on the use of GMO crops.

In response, Pinol promised to implement policy reforms aimed at assuring the country’s food security. “We need food sufficiency in this country. Rice, corn, livestock, poultry, and fish,” Secretary Pinol stressed. The reforms included the reintroduction in schools of basic agriculture subjects.

“Hopefully, with the continuous dialogue, we will arrive with what we need as a country,” Dr. Angelina Galang, president of Green Convergence, said during the forum. Green Convergence is a coalition of networks and individuals working for sustainable development.

Vicky Lopez, executive director of Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya, presented the findings of her research which showed that although the Philippines has made significant gains in its various reforestation programs, we are, as a country, a net carbon source, based on our land use changes, agricultural and waste practices and fossil fuel use.

In the same gathering, Belinda de la Paz, executive director of Haribon Foundation, disclosed that the country’s prevailing forest cover has dwindled to around 20 percent, which is inadequate in sustaining a healthy biodiversity. “When we lose our forests, we lose our biodiversity,” de la Paz noted.

In response, the participants likewise urged the government to enhance the country’s forest cover to the ideal level of 54 percent. They also endorsed the passage of the National Land Use Act, as well as the proposed bills on Forest Resource and the National Integrated Protected Area System in the 17th Congress.

Green SONA participants further see a need to shift to renewable energy in order to mitigate the devastating hazards associated with climate change. According to Reuben Muni, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, the Philippines actually has sufficient renewable energy capacity, “but only 10 percent of this potential energy (from renewables) is utilized.” A resolution was proposed to accelerate use of renewable energy to 100 percent by 2030 and to create laws on incentivizing efficiency and conservation on both energy supply and demand.

Improper solid waste disposal also contributed to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a sign of production and consumption inefficiency. According to Paeng Lopez, director of HealthCare without Harm, the Philippines has adequate laws on waste management, such as Republic Act No. (RA) 9003 (otherwise known as the Solid Waste Management Act), but these laws are not strictly implemented. Thus, the Green SONA participants called for the proper enforcement of RA 9003, on top of the ban on the waste-to-energy incineration projects, as mandated by the country’s Clean Air Act.

Together with other pro-environment organizations, Green Convergence holds the Green SONA as an annual gathering to discuss the state of the Philippine environment and at the same time present recommendations to government and other concerned sectors. The gathering also includes other pro-environment groups, members of the academe, church, and private sector.

“If you’re going to learn one thing, each one of us has a role to play. Kung gusto talaga natin ng pagbabago, we need to want to really change,” says Paeng Lopez.