Connect with nature, connect with marginalized communities

June 5, 2017

The Center for Environmental Concerns Statement on World Environment Day 2017

Rehabilitated mangrove area along the coastal town of Palo, Leyte

The Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) sends its solidarity with communities at the forefront of struggles for the environment in time for this year’s World Environment Day.

The World Environment Day declaration was among the results of the 1972 Conference on Human Environment or otherwise known as the Stockholm Conference. The UN General Assembly declared that same year, the 5th of June as World Environment Day with a message “Governments and the organizations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the conference.”[1]

On this year, the UN announced the theme “Connecting People to Nature,” which sends message of appreciation of beauty and importance of nature and to invite people to protect and value it. Indeed, there is a need to protect and value our environment as it continues to experience challenges over the years.

Environmental degradation has been worsening with impacts of large-scale extractive industries being felt in local communities of indigenous peoples, farmers and fisherfolks across the globe. Destructive mining has been affecting and disrupting lives of people as well as exploit resources for profit. This was seen with the historic decision of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) closure order to 23 mines operating all over the country, with violations on compliance and environmental protection, as well as standards with regards to communities’ welfare.

The conflict of interest in the management of natural resources and the lack of access of the people to their natural wealth has also led to the absence of genuine peace in today’s societies. This has impacted the communities and the environment as seen in the heavy militarization of resource-rich areas in the Philippine countryside. Aside from displacements and harassments, military activities in the countryside such as aerial bombings and ammunition testings are also contributing to changes in the environment.

Another challenge that the people and the environment face is the worsening climate crisis. Biodiversity loss, shifts in climatic conditions and migration patterns of species are observed in the past years that both threatens the environment and the human population. The overexploitation of the world’s natural resources and the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions from big industrialized countries have greatly contributed to the crisis.

Just recently, the U.S. pulled out of Paris Agreement as pronounced during the campaign of now President Donald Trump to protect the American economy and refrain from international agreements that deem “unfair” to the US. This is definitely not a good thing as the US remains to be second in the world in terms of carbon emissions and may continue to be as it leave its commitments to reduce emissions and contribute to climate financing.

The environment faces many challenges and mostly impacted are the marginalized communities experiencing the brunt of these changes. To us and the communities we serve, the World Environment Day should not just be about connecting people with nature, but to recognize the connection of people and nature as seen in the strong links of communities to their environment as their source of livelihood, culture and wellbeing. Such disruptions in the environment as caused by exploitative interventions could really impact hard the relationship of humans to their local ecosystems.

This year, we call on fellow environmental advocates, the government and other stakeholders to connect with marginalized communities and be at the forefront of their struggles for a healthy and peaceful environment.

No to militarization of communities! Defend people’s rights to their natural resources! Climate and environmental justice now!