Environmental issues in the Philippines

The Philippines’ evident risk to natural disasters is due to its location. Being a country that lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is prone to earthquake and volcanic eruptions. In addition, the country is surrounded by large bodies of water and faces the Pacific Ocean where 60% of the world’s typhoons are made. One of the most devastating typhoons that hit the Philippines in 2013 was Typhoon Haiyan, or “Yolanda”, that killed over 10,000 people and destroyed over a trillion pesos worth of properties and damage to various sectors. Other environmental problems that the country is facing include pollution, illegal mining and logging, deforestation, dynamite fishing, landslides, coastal erosion, wildlife extinction, global warming and climate change.

Biodiversity of the Philippines

Main environments
The Philippines consists of an archipelago of 7,107 islands, with a total area of approximately 300,439 km2. The islands stretch from north to south for 1,800 km, and from east to west for more than 1,100 km. They are divided into three groups:

the Visayas,
The climate is humid tropical, with monsoons in summer in the west.

Most of the mountainous islands were covered with tropical forests and volcanic origin as evidenced by frequent earthquakes and about twenty active volcanoes such as Pinatubo. Today, the forest cover is only 25.89%. Philippines’ wet forests form an ecological region identified by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as part of the “Global 200” list, which is considered to be an outstanding biological and conservation priority.

This country is not only classified as a megadiverse country but in itself forms one of the 34 hotspots of biodiversity, due in part to the immense human pressure that supports the archipelago.

Fauna and flora
There are more than 60 endemic plant species from Borneo in the southern islands of Mindoro, Palawan and Mindanao. Some plants identified as originating from Celebes and Maluku are very widely distributed in the Philippines: mainly ferns, orchids and dipterocarp, the national tree, also called narra, up to 35 meters high, abundant in the primary forests of the archipelago.

In 2015, the threatened species were: 39 mammal species, 77 fish species, and 239 plant species.

Protected territories
According to the World Bank, in 2012 Marine Protected Areas represent about 2.5% of the territory’s waters.

Impacts on natural environments
The Philippines is the 12 th most populous country in the world, with 102,815,800 inhabitants in 2016. The population, which has increased by more than 3 in 50 years, has therefore significant pressure on the environment and resources, with a per capita pressure that remains low compared to other more developed countries.

Human activities

The country is the 8 th world producer of rice. Other crops include corn, sugar cane, coconut, abaca, pineapple, banana and rubber.

In 2010, agriculture contributes about 62% of the country’s methane emissions.

Hunting, fishing and poaching
The Philippine cockatoo, a poaching victim, is a critically endangered bird. The Palawan turtle is also threatened by poachers.

The country is equipped with 247 airports, 213,000 km of roads and 995 km of railways in 2013. In 2010, the rate of equipment in motor vehicles was about 3%.

Pressure on non-renewable resources
Natural resources are oil, nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt, copper. The Philippines ‘ copper, gold and zinc reserves are among the largest in the world.

The country has 41 nickel mines and is the world’s largest producer of ore. Mining groups have long been accused by environmental movements of polluting rivers, rice paddies (“where nothing else grows”. ), Aquaculture sites and waterfalls.


Water pollution
Although water resources have become scarce in some regions and seasons, the Philippines as a whole has more than enough surface and groundwater. However, neglecting to have a coherent environmental policy has led to the contamination of 58% of the groundwater in the Philippines. The main source of pollution is untreated domestic and industrial wastewater. Only one third of Philippine river systems are considered suitable for public water supply.

It is estimated that in 2025, water availability will be marginal in most major cities and in 8 of the 19 major river basins. Besides severe health concerns, water pollution also leads to problems in the fishing and tourism industries. The national government recognized the problem and since 2004 has sought to introduce sustainable water resources development management.

Only 5% of the total population is connected to a sewer network. The vast majority uses flush toilets connected to septic tanks. Since sludge treatment and disposal facilities are rare, most effluents are discharged without treatment. According to the Asian Development Bank, the Pasig River is one of the world’s most polluted rivers. In March 2008, Manila Water announced that a wastewater treatment plant will be constructed in Taguig. The first Philippine constructed wetland serving about 700 households was completed in 2006 in a peri-urban area of Bayawan City which has been used to resettle families that lived along the coast in informal settlements and had no access to safe water supply and sanitation facilities.

Over the course of the 20th century the forest cover of the Philippines dropped from 70 percent down to 20 percent. In total, 46 species are endangered, and 4 were already eradicated completely. 3.2 percent of total rainforest has been left. Based on an analysis of land use pattern maps and a road map an estimated 9.8 million ha of forests were lost in the Philippines from 1934 to 1988. Illegal logging occurs in the Philippines and intensify flood damage in some areas.

According to scholar Jessica Mathews, short-sighted policies by the Filipino government have contributed to the high rate of deforestation:

The government regularly granted logging concessions of less than ten years. Since it takes 30–35 years for a second-growth forest to mature, loggers had no incentive to replant. Compounding the error, flat royalties encouraged the loggers to remove only the most valuable species. A horrendous 40 percent of the harvestable lumber never left the forests but, having been damaged in the logging, rotted or was burned in place. The unsurprising result of these and related policies is that out of 17 million hectares of closed forests that flourished early in the century only 1.2 million remain today.

Air Pollution
Due to industrial waste and automobiles, Manila suffers from air pollution, affecting 98% of the population. Annually, the air pollution causes more than 4,000 deaths. Ermita is Manila’s most air polluted district due to open dump sites and industrial waste. According to a report in 2003, The Pasig River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world with 150 tons of domestic waste and 75 tons of industrial waste dumped daily.

Climate Change
One of the most pressing environmental issues impacting the Philippines is climate change. As an island country located in the Southeast Asia Pacific region, the Philippines is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Some of these impacts include increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, sea level rise, extreme rainfall, global warming, resource shortages, and environmental degradation. All of these impacts together have greatly affected the Philippines’ agriculture, energy, water, infrastructure, human health, and coastal ecosystems and they are projected to continue having devastating damages to the economy and society of the Philippines.

CO2 emissions increased 8-fold in 50 years from 1960 to 2010.

Impacts of global warming

Climate History
Due to its geographical location, climate, and topography, the Philippines is ranked third on the World Risk Index for highest disaster risk and exposure to natural disasters. 16 of its provinces, including Manila, Benguet, and Batanes, are included in the top 50 most vulnerable places in Southeast Asia, with Manila being ranked 7th. Four cities in the Philippines, Manila, San Jose, Roxas, and Cotaboato, are included in the top 10 cities most vulnerable to sea level rise in the East Asia and Pacific region. The country is consistently at risk from severe natural hazards including typhoons, floods, landslides, and drought. It is located within a region that experiences the highest rate of typhoons in the world, averaging 20 typhoons annually, with about 7-9 that actually make landfall. In 2009, the Philippines had the third highest number of casualties from natural disasters with the second most victims.

Climate change has had and will continue to have drastic effects on the climate of the Philippines. From 1951-2010, the Philippines saw its average temperature rise by 0.65 degrees Celsius, with fewer recorded cold nights and more hot days. Since the 1970s, the number of typhoons during the El Niño season has increased. The Philippines has not only seen 0.15 meters of sea level rise since 1940, but also seen 0.6 to 1 degree Celsius increase in sea surface temperatures since 1910, and 0.09 degree c increase in ocean temperatures since 1950. During the time period from 1990 to 2006, the Philippines experienced a number of record-breaking weather events, including the strongest typhoon (wind speeds), the most destructive typhoons (damages), the deadliest storm (casualties), and the typhoon with the highest 24 hour rainfall on record.

Super Typhoon Haiyan
At 04:40 on November 8th, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known freaking locally as “Yolanda”, made landfall in the Philippines in the Guigan municipality. The category 5 typhoon continued to travel west, making landfall in several municipalities, and ultimately devastated enormous stretches of the Philippines islands of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, and the Visaya archipelago. Tied for being the strongest landfalling tropical typhoon on record, Typhoon Haiyan had wind speeds of over 300 km/h (almost 190 mph) which triggered major storm surges that wreaked havoc on many places in the country. Leaving over 6,300 dead, 28,688 injured, and 1062 missing, Typhoon Haiyan is the deadliest typhoon on record in the Philippines. More than 16 million people were affected by the storm, suffering from the storm surge, flash floods, landslides, and extreme winds and rainfall that took lives, destroyed homes, and devastated many. Typhoon Haiyan crucially damaged over 1.1 million houses across the country and displaced over 4.1 million people. According to the NDRRMC, the storm cost the Philippines about 3.64 billion US dollars.

Future Projections
Future projections for the current trajectory of climate change predict that global warming is likely to exceed 3degrees Celsius, potentially 4degrees, by 2060. Specifically in the Philippines, average temperatures are “virtually certain” to see an increase of 1.8 to 2.2 degrees Celsius. This temperature increase will stratify the local climate and cause the wet and dry seasons to be wetter and drier, respectively. Most areas in the Philippines will see reduced rainfall from March to May, while Luzon and Visayas will see increased heavy rainfall. There will also be an increase in: the number of days that exceed 35degree C; that have less than 2.5 mm of rainfall; and that have more than 300mm of rainfall. Additionally, climate change will continue to increase the intensity of typhoons and tropical storms. Sea levels around the Philippines are projected to rise 0.48 to 0.65 meters by 2100, which exceeds the global average for rates of sea level rise. Combined with sea level rise, this stratification into more extreme seasons and climates increases the frequency and severity of storm surge, floods, landslides, and droughts. These exacerbate risks to agriculture, energy, water, infrastructure, human health, and coastal ecosystems.

Vulnerabilities of different sectors

Agriculture is one of the Philippines’ largest sectors and will continue to be adversely impacted by the effects of climate change. The agriculture sector employs 35% of the working population and generated 13% of the country’s GDP in 2009. The two most important crops, rice and corn, account for 67% of the land under cultivation and stand to see reduced yields from heat and water stress. Rice, wheat, and corn crops are expected to see a 10% decrease in yield for every 1degree C increase over a 30dC average annual temperature. Increases in extreme weather events will have devastating affects on agriculture. Typhoons (high winds) and heavy rainfall contribute to the destruction of crops, reduced soil fertility, altered agricultural productivity through severe flooding, increased runoff, and soil erosion. Droughts and reduced rainfall leads to increased pest infestations that damage crops as well as an increased need for irrigation. Rising sea levels increases salinity which leads to a loss of arable land and irrigation water. All of these factors contribute to higher prices of food and an increased demand for imports, which hurts the general economy as well as individual livelihoods. From 2006 to 2013, the Philippines experienced a total of 75 disasters that cost the agricultural sector $3.8 billion in loss and damages. Typhoon Haiyan alone cost the Philippines’ agricultural sector an estimated US$724 million after causing 1.1 million tonnes of crop loss and destroying 600,000 ha of farmland. The agricultural sector is expected to see an estimated annual GDP loss of 2.2% by 2100 due to climate impacts on agriculture.

Agricultural production and civil conflict:
In the Philippines, there is a correlation between rainfall and civil conflict, and manifests through agricultural production. The increased rainfall during the wet season in the Philippines is proven to be harmful to agriculture as it leads to flooding and/or water logging. This above average rainfall is associated with “more conflict related incidents and casualties”. The rainfall has a negative effect on rice which is an important crop that a majority of the country depends on as both a food sources and employment. A poor rice crop can lead to large impacts on the wellbeing of poor Filipinx and cause widespread contempt for the government and more support for insurgent groups. Climate change is expected to amplify the seasonal variation of rainfall in the Philippines and exacerbate ongoing civil conflict in the country.

Gender disparities among farmers:
Smallholder farmers in the Philippines are expected to be among the most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change in the region. However, there are differences in how men and women experience these impacts and often lead to differences in farming patterns and coping strategies. Some of the problems caused by extreme climate events in agrarian areas that are prone to civil conflict that disproportionately affect women include loss of customary rights to land, forced migration, increased discrimination, resource poverty and food insecurity. The effect that the combination of severe climate events and civil conflict has on Filipino women is further exacerbated by discriminatory policies, belief and practices, and restricted access to resources. For example, climate change is linked to increase civil conflict in the Mindinao region which increases the amount of casualties and deaths of young men in the area. This effectively widows women married to those men and leaves them on their own to take care of them and their children, even when the society and government makes it difficult for single mothers to succeed. Women are often relegated to be the caretakers of children which increases the burden and stress placed on them as well as inhibiting them from escaping from conflict ridden areas

Climate change could simultaneously reduce the Philippines’ supply of energy and increase its demand for energy. The increased chance of extreme weather events would reduce hydropower production, which accounts for 20% of the country’s energy supply, as well as cause widespread damage to energy infrastructure and services. There will be more power outages on average in addition to an increased demand for power, specifically cooling.

Several factors of climate change are impacting the availability of water in the Philippines. The increasing number of intense droughts are reducing water levels and river flows and thus creating a shortage in water. The floods and landslides caused by extreme rainfall degrade watershed health and water quality by increasing runoff and erosion that increases sedimentation in reservoirs. Many freshwater coastal aquifers have seen saltwater intrusion which reduces the amount of freshwater available for use. About 25% of coastal municipalities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao are affected by this and the issue is expected to get worse with sea level rise.

Rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and flooding, and strong typhoons pose an enormous risk to the Philippines’ infrastructure. 45% of Philippines’ urban population lives in informal settlements with already weak infrastructure and are extremely vulnerable to flooding and typhoons. A giant storm would wreak havoc on these informal settlements and cause the deaths and displacement of millions of people who inhabit 25 different coastline cities. These natural disasters will also cause millions of dollars in damages to urban infrastructure like bridges and roads. In 2009, Tropical Storm Ketsana cost the Philippines $33 million to repair damaged roads and bridges.

Risk to “Double Exposure”
Large cities in the Philippines such as Manila, Quezon City, Cebu, and Davao City see an increased risk from both climate change and globalization. For example, in addition to being one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to climate change due to geographical location, Manila has also been shaped by globalization and abides by many tenants of neoliberal urbanism, including “a strong focus on private sector led development, attracting global capital, market oriented policies and decentralization”. These cities experience challenges to their own climate resilience due to this double exposure to climate change and globalization, where many cities are most at risk to climate events in addition to having a large percentage of the population live in informal settlements with weak infrastructure. Four million people, or about a third of Manila’s population, lives in informal settlements which puts them at higher risk and danger from tropical storms and flooding, and they often have fewer resources available to recover from damages caused by environmental hazards. Several factors and governments in the history of the Philippines has contributed to a large focus on urban development and its connection to “globalized systems of material production and consumption. Spanish colonial rule from the 1500s to 1898, America’s annexation from 1898 to 1946, Japanese occupation and bombing during World War ll, Ferdinand Marcos’ authoritarian regime from 1965 till 1986, and more have all contributed to an urban development focused on globalization, market oriented development, privatization, and decentralization.

Human Health
Climate change, heavy rains, and increased temperatures are linked with the increased transmission of vector and waterborne diseases like malaria, dengue, and diarrhea (who). The heavy rains and increased temperatures lead to increased humidity which increases the chance of mosquito breeding and survival. Increased natural disasters not only directly contribute to the loss of human life, but also indirectly through food insecurity and the destruction of health services.

Coastal Ecosystems and Fisheries
Climate change and global warming and the rising amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere has contributed to ocean warming and ocean acidification. The ocean has acted as a carbon sink for earth for millennia and is currently slowing the rate of global warming through the sequestration of carbon. This comes at a cost however as the oceans are becoming more and more acidic as they sequester more carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification has dire consequences as it causes coral bleaching and ultimately leads to the collapse of coral reefs (usaid). Rising sea levels cause increased salinity that can have damaging impacts on the country’s extensive system of mangroves. Both coral reefs and mangroves help to reduce coastal erosion and supports water quality. This erosion from the loss of coral reefs and mangroves increase the chance of coastal flooding and the loss of land. Coral reefs and mangroves also act as important feeding and spawning areas for many fish species that many fisher folk depend on for survival. Over 60% of the coastal population depends on marine resources like coral reefs or mangroves for their contributions to fisheries, tourism, and storm protection.

Government Policy
Sustainable Development
Recognizing the need to tackle the environment issues as well as the need to sustain development and growth, the Philippines came up with the Sustainable Development Strategy. The nation for the Sustainable Development Strategy includes assimilating environmental considerations in administration, apposite pricing of natural resources, conservation of biodiversity, rehabilitation of ecosystems, control of population growth and human resources development, inducing growth in rural areas, promotion of environmental education, strengthening citizens’ participation, and promoting small to medium-sized enterprises and sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. One of the initiatives signed in part of the strategy was the 1992 Earth Summit.

Upon signing the 1992 Earth Summit, the government of Philippines has been constantly looking into many different initiatives to improve the environmental aspects of the country.

Environmental protection
Currently, the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been busy tracking down illegal loggers and been spearheading projects to preserve the quality of many remaining rivers that are not yet polluted.

Environmental Policy in the Philippines

International treaties
International treaties on the environment:

part to: biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, law of the sea, nuclear test ban, ozone layer protection, tropical timber 83, tropical timber 94, wetlands, ban on whaling.
signed, but not ratified: Kyoto Protocol, Desertification.

National Policy
According to the World Bank, forest areas have increased since 2010, from 23% to 25.5%.

Gina Lopez, appointed Minister of the Environment in June 2016, was removed from power in May 2017, under pressure from mining groups, following the desire to close 28 of the country’s 41 nickel mines and to ban open pit mines.

Global Environmental Assessment
In 2015, Global Footprint Network (GFN) reports that the Philippines has a biocapacity deficit. The agricultural and wood reserves are almost zero, and the carbon footprint is negative with a carbon footprint more than three times greater than the forest capacity of abosrption.

Source from Wikipedia