Mainstream protection of the environment and defending environmental defenders
Today, the 7th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) is being held online due to the corona virus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This year’s theme is “Accelerating action for and delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.”
However, five years after the Agenda was adopted, no country in the Asia-Pacific region was said to have achieved sufficient progress across all areas. The current pandemic reflected this, with the poor suffering most from the lack of government support for people’s health and welfare. In the Philippines, many families are experiencing hunger after ten weeks of lockdown with no livelihood and insufficient aid.
The impacts of environmental destruction also highlighted what scientists have long predicted – that if we do not stop the unsustainable profit-oriented practices with regards to the environment, humans will greatly suffer the consequences. The ever-rising resource extraction, vast land-use changes, habitat- destructive activities and disturbances of wildlife give rise and brought us zoonotic diseases. In addition, growing urbanization along with neglect of social services have caused their rapid spread. Along with biodiversity loss, the world is also destroying potential sources of medicines and nourishment that will help us fight diseases.
Yet, the people in the frontlines of environmental defense are continuously being attacked. There have been rising cases of killings, arrests, red-tagging, threats and intimidations in several countries.
In the Philippines alone, environment and human rights activist, Jory Porquia, was shot dead in his house in Iloilo. He played a pivotal role in campaigns against large-scale mining, coal-fired power plants and large dams. He was also active in relief operations before his death. When his daughter and other family members and colleagues gathered two days after to lament his death, they were arrested. There was also an arrest of six farmers in Batangas who were active in anti-land grabbing and anti-coal-fired power plant campaigns. Progressive organizations were also red-tagged including the Cordillera People’s Alliance, an indigenous peoples network known for its environmental protection of their ancestral land and the remaining forests in the country. Similarly, in Metro Manila, the office of the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment was vandalized with posters red-tagging organizations.
Environmental defenders are in the frontlines of working for the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals such as zero hunger, life on land, life below water and climate action, among others. Instead of heeding their concerns and working with them, State forces deem them as a challenge to their authorities and mete them with repressive actions. State authorities have been inclined to ensure the smooth operations of local and transnational corporations in resource plunder than to conserve and rehabilitate the ecosystems for their functions and services that could benefit the majority.
With this, the United Nations and other international organizations need to take stronger and decisive measures to hold governments and the business sector accountable for their actions affecting the environment. This includes not only legal action but also compelling them to rehabilitate the environment and provide just compensation for and support to the communities whose rights they have violated. Aside from these, there should be changes in neoliberal policies that perpetuate business-as-usual operations. Furthermore, the recognition and protection of environmental defenders, who are key players in every relevant sustainable development goal should be ensured. Stronger policies and mechanisms that environmental defenders can utilize to prevent or address attacks against them must be established. All of this is in the essence of environmental justice and human rights.