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Protecting natural carbon sinks

The Philippines is one of the 18 mega-biodiverse countries with a very high level of endemism. Almost half of terrestrial wildlife is not found anywhere else in the world. Many of these rare species are found in the country’s forests.

The Philippines’ forest cover is 7.2 million hectares or approximately 24 percent of the country’s total land area. But according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we have already lost 2.1 percent of our forest cover annually between 2000 and 2005. This is the second fastest rate of deforestation in Southeast Asia and the seventh globally.

The main culprits in this rapid deforestation are overexploitation, forestland conversion, oil exploration, and mining, to name a few.

The protection and restoration of forests is vital to our communities who depend on it for food, water, and livelihood. In fact, we all depend on our forests for many of our needs. They also serve as natural protection from flooding and landslides. And in our ongoing fight to mitigate climate change, we need our forests as carbon sinks.

Aside from forests, other natural carbon sinks include oceans and coasts, peatlands, and farmlands. Conserving these ecosystems is important as they absorb more than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

During the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, the Philippines was among the 141 countries that endorsed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, which calls on the conservation of forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerating their restoration, facilitation of trade and development policies, and promotion of sustainable development, among others.

If done with careful planning and enhanced investment, nature-based solutions can cut net emissions by the equivalent of up to 18 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

For instance, in working forests, sustainable harvesting and community management are keys to preventing losses while also providing benefits to citizens; while degraded and abandoned farmlands can be planted with native trees or can be helped to regenerate naturally.

In farmlands, shifting to sustainable farming with regenerated, carbon-rich soils not only reduces GHG emissions from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but also cuts energy use during farming.

Mangrove reforestation is also another solution, as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass beds trap and accumulate organic matter in their soils and prevent it from being lost to the atmosphere.

According to UNEP, even cities can become carbon sinks if we apply nature-based solutions such as building green infrastructure, using sustainable materials, and lining streets with trees. Green cities also encourage people to either walk or cycle, thus also contributing to the reduction of GHG emissions.

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