Finance solutions gain traction for Philippines biodiversity

10 Mar 2017

A new legislative agenda introduced into the Philippine Congress during 2016 is striving to mobilise greater public finance for crucial biodiversity and ecosystem protection and management.

A recent Bill to reform the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act (the law governing protected areas) will help formalise 100 proclaimed protected areas into law, and creates access to state funds and management. Another Bill is proposing access to the country's fossil fuel-derived Special Fund – better known as The Malampaya Fund – to increase finance for biodiversity initiatives.

These Bills and others, introduced by prominent Congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato, are at the heart of a ground-swell of support for protecting the Philippine's biodiversity – a place that harbours more diversity of life per hectare than anywhere on the planet. 

In Mindoro, from where Congresswoman Sato hails, a total 18 new species of birds, bats and fishes have been added to the long list of unique species that thrive on the island, based on a study conducted by Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (MBFCI) in 2015 and supported by the Malampaya fund.

“Healthy and well-functioning ecosystems provide so much more to our well-being than just beautiful natural places for us to look at and explore,” Congresswoman Sato said. “They underpin the need to strengthen conservation efforts as livelihoods of peoples and communities, agriculture, fisheries and even tourism are dependent on the health of ecosystems," she said.

Around 70% of the Philippines population are dependent on the environment or natural resources to earn a living and sustain their livelihoods.

The Biodiversity Finance Initiative’s (BIOFIN) work with several government agencies in the Philippines found a gap of around US$378 million per year to properly implement the official national plan to protect and manage biodiversity – known as the PBSAP (Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan) 2015-2028. 

“Given this significant deficit, all potential and feasible sources of financing must be tapped to help bridge this finance gap and fully carry out the PBSAP for all to benefit,” stated Congresswoman’s Sato’s Bill (House Bill No. 4604).

The Malampaya Fund sits at around USD 3.6 billion and the often-controversial fund is derived from royalties and payments to the Government from the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power Project. 

“There is a nexus between energy resource development and biodiversity. Government income derived from the exploitation and use of energy resources in the Philippines should contribute to bridging the biodiversity conservation finance gap,” the Bill states. 

But while the desire to tap into new funding streams is significant, there are other finance solutions that can help protect and manage biodiversity better including other budget realignments, local government buy-in, smarter management of protected areas and increasing the private sector’s involvement. 

Reforming current policies such as the NIPIS Act are also crucial for protected areas to be effective. Since 1992, 113 protected areas have been declared through presidential proclamations, however only 13 have been enacted into law – the final step to becoming fully fledged protected areas. Triggering this step, through a rigorous and appropriate process for each protected area, will allow access to more resources and management, crucial for safeguarding the country’s biodiversity.

In a recent op-ed, UNDP Philippines Country Director Titon Mitra said “the repercussions of biodiversity loss are much more expensive than the cost of sustaining, protecting and managing biodiversity. The quantity and quality of water, food, pharmaceuticals, energy – almost everything that sustains life – suffer.  We need to move quickly to viewing biodiversity as an investment that can deliver significant economic and social returns.”

As the private sector increasingly realises that conserving rather than only extracting is not just a matter of corporate responsibility – it’s good for business – they will join the trailblazing businesses out there already reaping the economic benefits and contributing to the improved capacity for biodiversity resource mobilisation across the country. 

BIOFIN and UNDP is working with the Philippine Business for the Environment and the Government on the Innovative Biodiversity Investments: A ‘Marketplace’, to showcase innovative projects and initiatives focused on the PBSAP priority programs including genetic research and wealth generation in protected areas, ecotourism, biodiversity and wealth management, improving resilience/reducing vulnerabilities and celebrating urban diversity. More details of marketplace will be announced in the coming weeks. 

Improving the policy environment in both directions

Congresswoman Sato is leading the charge, with UNDP and several other important Filipino decision makers to take the finance challenge to the local level. Her home Island of Mindoro has been selected to pilot implementing a localised biodiversity finance plan and applying the BIOFIN process in the two provinces there – a first of its kind process, globally.

The rigorous BIOFIN process mirrored from the national level and being carried out in 29 other countries around the world measures the current biodiversity expenditures, assesses the financial needs, and identifies and helps implements the most suitable finance solutions to bridge biodiversity finance gaps – in this case at the local context and locally led. 

Being an island endowed with rich natural resources and a host of unique species of plants and animal wildlife, Mindoro and the people living on the island have everything to gain out of this initiative,” she said. 

Biodiversity vital in new Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022

Further traction was made in moving the targets of PBSAP into the highest overarching development plan in the nation – the new Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 (PDP) which is expected to receive presidential endorsement in the coming months. BIOFIN was instrumental – through sustained engagement in the plan’s development and its close working relationships with the National and Economic Development Authority – in ensuring convergence of all 20 PBSAP targets into the PDP.

This PDP importantly translates into policy and programs that will govern the development of the nation over the next six years and beyond. Chapter 20 – entitled Ensure Ecological Integrity, Clean and Healthy Environment tackles everything from addressing e-waste, to reforming land use laws, to increasing forest cover from the baseline of 6.8 million hectares. Importantly and recognised in the plan, is the availability of funds being crucial to achieving all the outcomes aspired to.  

A recent report looking at the mainstreaming of the PBSAP into the National Development Agenda said “BIOFIN together with the Biodiversity Management Bureau has successfully mainstreamed PBSAP in the Philippine Development Plan.”

For Congresswoman Sato and the growing band of biodiversity finance champions in the Philippines, the key is maintaining the pressure and increasing awareness for the imperative issues surrounding financing the countries biodiversity needs. 

“There is no disputing the evidence as to why biodiversity and nature are important to the societies and economies of not just my constituency but the whole country,” she said. “What we need now is effective collaboration and stewardship at all levels of government and society for mobilizing and managing finances and meet the significant finance gap we are facing.”