MESSAGE: Biodiversity-Friendly Business and Investment Forum, Maurice Dewulf, UNDP Country Director

Feb 11, 2015

UNDP and the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources spearheaded the Biodiversity-Friendly Business and Investment Forum, a landmark event that aims to merge environmental conservation with economic development.

 

Undersecretary Analiza Teh, representing Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,

Assistant Secretary Rolando Canizal, representing Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr. of the Department of Tourism,

Former Secretary of the Department of Tourism, Ms. Mina Gabor

Executive Director Raul Angeles of the Bureau of Investment of the Department of Trade and Industry

Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the Biodiversity Management Bureau

Honorable Mayors

Representatives from the different national agencies and local government units,

Representatives from the People’s Organizations,

And from the private business sector,

Development partners,

Colleagues, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am much honored to represent UNDP here today at this landmark event. Landmark event because it aims to merge environmental conservation with economic development.

This “Biodiversity Friendly” Business and Investment Forum, which is about realizing the economic value of biodiversity resources of the Philippines is, I understand, a first of its kind. And also a first is the introduction of this new Label, the Biodiversity-Friendly Product Label, which was developed under the auspices of the DENR-UNDP’s Biodiversity Partnerships Project, as an instrument to encourage biodiversity-friendly businesses.  

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, therefore, let me start my introductory remarks by welcoming and thanking all of you for taking the time off from your busy schedules to join this ground-breaking Forum.

As you can see, we have a very mixed group here: national and local government officials, conservationists, non-government organizations, community-based organizations and – since we talk about Biodiversity Friendly Business – the private sector.

A coming together, yes indeed, of what used to be perceived as diametrically opposed interest groups: the hard core conservationists on the one hand and businessmen, business-only-businessmen on the other.

But the two can come together, in pursuit of a common goal. A coming together of necessity. 

Indeed, for conservationists there is the growing realization that environmental conservation is eventually bound to fail if it cannot make a case for the improvement of peoples’ lives, especially their socioeconomic status. There must be a profit in conservation. This is thus – and fortunately – spurring new approaches to ensure that the twin objectives of conserving a country’s natural capital for future generations, and of also addressing the livelihood needs of current generation, are met.

That is where the imperative comes from for making a profitable case for conservation. It is that imperative that is the major driver for Biodiversity Friendly Business.

Conservation and use of natural resources for economic endeavors are not mutually exclusive, but can be two sides of the same coin.

The fact that almost 70% of the country’s population is still dependent on the environment and natural resources (ENR) for a living is very telling of the extreme importance of the ENR sector.

It is also important to note that the majority of these natural resource dependent populations are primarily indigenous peoples and reside in the country’s ecosystems that also double up as stewards of these resources.

The challenge is thus to make it possible for them to also become active participants – and thus beneficiaries – in national economic development. The economic benefit will indeed provide the incentive for conservation of the resource.

However, this is easier said than done. But the challenges are not insurmountable.

In UNDP’s work with the Philippine Government and civil society through the Small Grants Programme (SGP), we have learned that it does not take an enormous investment to realise that community business potential.

The maximum grant of US$50,000 per non-government organization or per community has shown to be able of transforming a people’s organization from status quo to a successful entity capable of profitably transforming natural resources to marketable products. 

Today’s event, where we will hear some concrete actual experiences in this respect, is very exciting because it will not only give us an opportunity to meet and understand the players and their experiences, but also get a better insight in the overall opportunities and the very specific challenges ahead. 

Biodiversity conservation needs resources, but these resources need also to be – at least partly – generated from biodiversity.

The UN High Level Panel on Biodiversity Finance estimated a cost of over US$100 billion annually through 2020 to achieve the Global Biodiversity targets. 

Current financing to the biodiversity sector is estimated to be only about 5% of that.

Biodiversity conservation loses out to other competing development objectives which are perceived to be of higher priority or adjudged to bring in more income for a country. 

Indeed, biodiversity conservation, in general, is seen as a cost item rather than an income earner. This is an unfortunate miscalculation. Nothing is farther from the truth.

This miscalculation can thus only be due to the fact that the earning potential of biodiversity, without compromising its long-term potential, has not yet been sufficiently documented or understood. 

Luckily, as a mega diverse country, the Philippines has the potential – mostly untapped potential – for a significant income creation potential in this arena. 

The Philippines’ biodiversity resources should thus be looked at in this new light, as holding substantive potential for wealth creation and which can address some of the country’s remaining pockets of poverty.

Let me just give one concrete example. Global sales of pharmaceuticals are estimated at US$300 billion annually, of which the component derived from genetic resources accounts for between US$ 75 to US$ 150 billion. And the Philippines has a still hidden treasure of genetic pool which can respond to a lot of that pharmaceutical demand. 

This could and should be exciting times for the Philippines. Exciting times for Biodiversity-Friendly Business opportunities. 

Through this Biodiversity Partnerships Project, we must help make an economic case for biodiversity conservation, the results of which will hopefully find its way to policy. 

A paradigm shift that recognizes biodiversity resources as an explicit income earner for the Philippines, and this without compromising biodiversity conservation. 

From a point of view where biodiversity is seen as a cost, we must ensure a shift to one where biodiversity is seen as an important part of the country’s sustainable natural capital. But thus also needing (as is the case for other less disputed sectors) investment so that opportunities can be developed. 

UNDP’s experience through this Project has been very educational in the sense that it has shown that communities, if given the initial support, are capable to harvest sustainably their biodiversity resources into money-making ventures that could help uplift their economic well-being. 

In conclusion, I thus hope that this forum will pave the way for all government agencies, communities, and the private sector to work together in the design of a strategy that will accelerate that business-friendly approach to biodiversity but which is also a biodiversity-friendly approach to business. In short, a win-win. 

It is possible; it is promising; and it would provide a major contribution to both economic development and poverty reduction.

Maraming salamat! (Thank you very much).