Earth Day 2022: A Call to Invest in Nature

By Dr. Selva Ramachandran, UNDP Philippines Resident Representative

April 22, 2022

Photo by Gab Mejia

Today, we commemorate Earth Day with an important call to action: to invest in nature for the sustainable future of the generations to come. And what a timely call it is.

Increasing global emissions contribute to extreme weather patterns. The onslaught of  recent typhoons that swept the Philippines clearly demonstrate the worsening climate crisis, greatly affecting those at the fringes of society.

The years 2021 to 2030 was designated by the United Nations as the decade for ecosystem restoration, as well as the deadline for the achievement of the sustainable development goals. The call for protection and revival of the earth’s ecosystems has never been more urgent. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, address climate change, prevent the collapse of biodiversity, and protect the population against deadly pandemic.

However, the planet and its people are at the tipping point; we find ourselves faced with a critical crossroads, which could spell either survival or peril. Recent global reports such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have highlighted that we are at a turning point in the earth’s history if nothing is done. The message is clear – we need to change the way by which we use investments to reverse this trajectory.

We do not need to look far to observe the challenges in restoring the country’s valuable ecosystems.  The Philippines has been touted as the 3rd largest contributor of marine plastics. Combined with water pollution, these endanger marine wildlife and fisheries production, affecting the value of tourism, food supply, and human health. Recent studies have shown that microplastics have been discovered in human blood, organs and tissues, posing added huge health risks

Furthermore, degraded watersheds have resulted in reduced capacities to prevent flooding and landslides, affecting lives and properties, and at the same time reducing water supply during dry months. Mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs have deteriorated in many parts of the country, and uncontrolled development in the coastal areas have compromised their ability to weaken storm surges and other climate induced hazards, thereby leaving swathes of destruction to communities and livelihoods

 All of these are preventable, if every citizen, stakeholder will do their part in investing in nature. Investing in our future would mean less cost to repair, rebound, and avoid the hefty damages that inaction could inflict upon society.

There are a number of ways by which we can show our ‘investments’.

First, let us invest in behavior and lifestyle modification. Global food waste, for example, is responsible for 6-8% of greenhouse gas emissions. This, in addition to making more food available for those who are in need, is a tradeoff we make if we are not prudent in our consumption.

Everyday decisions, such as minimizing the use of plastics, can mean a lot in turning the tide in our campaign against marine litter. Reducing the volume of our wardrobe and the frequency we buy new clothes is another way we can make a difference. The fashion industry alone is responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of GHG emissions in 2018 or 4% of the global total. This is equivalent to the same quantity of emissions of the entire economies of France, Germany and the UK combined!

Second, let us invest in risk-informed planning and development. Decisions on location of settlements, industries, city centers; and the way we plan spatial development in cities, greening our infrastructure can mean a lot in preventing lives and saving costs through efficiency gains. Mapping of hazards and exposure of population and assets, and providing alternatives and development controls, zoning regulations can save the government billions of dollars of losses and damages from powerful typhoons and earthquakes.

Third, let us ensure financing is geared towards sustainability. This means ensuring that capital is channeled towards investments that either do no harm or result in positive impacts on environment. There are available tools to guide decision making on this, and metrics to guide us in measuring results. This entails the active application of environment, social and governance (ESG) principles; aligning with the Sustainable Finance Roadmap; and ensuring each project is evaluated against social and environmental impacts. There are big wins in doing this – the Better Business better World Report of UNDP has estimated that around USD$ 82 trillion in investment opportunity and 4.4 million new jobs will be created if directed towards those in support of SDG positive investments.

Lastly, all of these will not happen without an environmentally aware citizenry and supportive leadership. At this crucial time, we enjoin all Filipinos to make their voices heard and advocate for environmental sustainability and sustainability financing as priority agenda for the country’s path for development. The clock is ticking, and every second of inaction may cause us generations lost.

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