THE importance of planetary health has never been more evident than today. Global and national actions are currently working on addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, both of which are traced to environmental neglect by human activities.

Consequently, nature-based solutions (NBS) are at the forefront of the upcoming 2021 UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. With less than a decade to go to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, countries are already discussing on how to raise their ambition while pursuing national sustainable development.

For the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable nations to the climate crisis, its wealth of biodiversity and natural resources present tremendous potential for enhancing national and local resilience to its numerous impacts. This is why nature-based solutions must be placed as a center of its strategies for the upcoming climate negotiations and at the domestic level.

The significance of NBS is indirectly referenced in the nation's recently-submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Under this self-determined pledge, the Philippines commits to uphold "the importance of ensuring ecosystems integrity and promoting the country's obligations on human rights and the rights of its indigenous peoples." This is in recognition that these solutions do not just involve ecosystems and biodiversity, but also nearby communities and their well-being.

This would be largely accomplished through adaptation measures in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, coastal and marine ecosystems, and biodiversity. A special emphasis was placed on forest protection, forest restoration, and reforestation, in recognition of its vital role in both reducing greenhouse (GHG) emissions and strengthening adaptive capacities.

There is no specific statement on when the country aims to reach net-zero, or a point when it does not add GHG emissions to the environment. However, it aspires for its emissions to peak by 2030 before declining, indicating a willingness to join its Asean neighbors and the rest of the world in achieving the net-zero level by 2050 and halt global warming.

Next policy steps

One of the key issues to be discussed at COP26 is on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which provides the framework for establishing non-market mechanisms and international carbon markets. The latter would provide modalities on how mitigation projects in one country will be counted as emissions reductions for another.

This issue is especially crucial for the Philippines, as it plans to secure means of implementation (e.g., finance, technology transfer, capacity-building) to implement its mitigation measures under the NDC. Hence, the country must take a strong stance on Article 6 to acquire the necessary support from developed nations in implementing its proposed actions, including NBS.

To further secure more support, the Philippines should also pursue public-private partnerships to maximize NBS development and its benefits for communities, especially the most vulnerable. However, national and local government units must avoid falling for potential greenwashing and false solutions that undermine its climate goals.

For instance, around one-fifth of the world's 2000 largest public companies have net-zero commitments by 2030, many of whom have a significant presence in the Philippines. However, most of these entities have not outlined their long-term strategies to achieve their targets. Many of them, especially fossil fuel companies, are opting to offset the pollution that they themselves emitted by investing in NBS, such as developing vast monoculture tree plantations.

This approach presents several issues that undermine climate action. Firstly, it indicates that high-emitting businesses avoid changing their business models and phasing out fossil fuels to keep making profits, effectively maintaining the business-as-usual culture that prevents sustainability.

Secondly, actions that fail to fully account for their cost-effectiveness and reliability are false solutions that could do more harm for ecosystems and communities. For instance, afforestation with non-native species stores less GHGs than natural forests andhas less-impactful co-benefits, such as livelihood opportunities and protection from storms, flash floods, and other climate-related hazards.

A study reports that NBS have the potential to provide 37 percent of the needed GHG mitigation by 2030 to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. While a significant finding, this also shows that relying solely on NBS without avoiding more emissions is unsustainable. Without decarbonization, climate change impacts will worsen, which lowers the capacity of forests, wetlands, and other natural sinks to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce their resilience to other potential hazards.

As such, it is imperative for the Philippines to resolve existing issues with climate and environmental governance. Unfortunately, there remains incoherence and gaps with policies and programs from different government agencies. For instance, there is a lack of a clear decarbonization strategy in its NDC. The recent decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to lift the moratorium on new mining agreements also increases risk many areas to pollution, biodiversity loss, and land degradation.

Moving forward, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Climate Change Commission must lead in continuing to mainstream NBS, especially those involving ecosystems-based adaptation, into policies and programs at the national and local levels. These measures should not only protect and conserve aquatic or terrestrial ecosystems and wildlife, but also involve local communities and indigenous peoples, with respect to their rights, knowledge, and cultures.

Now that the NDC has been submitted, the next step is to present a clear roadmap for achieving its climate targets. Nature-based solutions must serve as an anchor of the Philippines's vision of a sustainable future.


John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si' Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has represented Philippine civil society in UN climate and environment conferences since 2017.