Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has called for the protection of peatlands in the ASEAN region citing their important role in preventing haze pollution and mitigating the impact of climate change.

While peatlands only cover three percent of the Earth’s land surface, Cimatu pointed out that peatlands can store twice as much carbon as all of the forests on the planet combined if they are kept in their natural state.

"This is why protecting peatlands in our region is of global significance. Keeping the ASEAN peatlands in their natural state, however, is a great challenge, given population pressures and the competition over the uses of land and water resources that they generate," Cimatu said in a video message during the 6th Meeting of the ASEAN Task Force on Peatlands (ATFP) on June 30.

"Despite the current pandemic that hinders us from doing in-person meetings, I am optimistic that through these virtual sessions, we will able to concretely chart the way forward for our regional programs and projects in peatland management," he added.

The ASEAN region is home to about 27.4 million hectares of peatlands.

These comprise 56 percent of global tropical peatlands, which can store an estimated 68 billion tons of carbon or 14 percent of the carbon stored in peatlands globally.

The Philippines has two well-known peatlands—the Leyte Sab-a Basin Peatland in Alangalang and Sta. Fe, Leyte, and the Caimpugan Peat Swamp Forest in Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Agusan del Sur. These are listed as part of the tropical peatlands in the ASEAN region and cover approximately 20,000 hectares.

Cimatu said the adoption of the 2006-2020 ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) promoted the sustainable management of peatlands through collective actions and enhanced cooperation to support and sustain local livelihoods, and reduce the risk of fire and associated haze.

The APMS and its programs are being implemented by the ASEAN Member States with the ATFP as the overseer.

It aims to enhance public awareness and capacity on peatlands; address transboundary haze pollution and environmental degradation; promote sustainable management of peatlands; and promote regional cooperation.

The Philippines, through the DENR, hosted a series of meetings on peatlands--the Third Programme Steering Committee (PSC 3) of the Sustainable Use of Peatland and Haze Mitigation in ASEAN, PSC 3 of the Measurable Action for Haze-Free Sustainable Land Management in Southeast Asia, and the 6th Meeting of the ASEAN Task Force on Peatlands or ATFP 6.

DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, and International Affairs Atty. Jonas R. Leones served as chair of the ATFP 6 and the associated PSC meetings.

The meetings were attended by representatives from the ASEAN member-states; donors such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development, European Union, Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety; and implementing partners such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Center for International Forestry Research, Global Environment Centre, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, and World Resources Institute.

The DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau headed the Philippine delegation as the National Focal Point of the ATFP with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) as the Alternate National Focal Point.

As peat fires are usually associated with forest and wildland fires, the BFP serves as the country’s primary agency that ensures the prevention and/or control of these fires.

The meetings of the ATFP aim to coordinate and strengthen the efforts of ASEAN member-states in the protection, conservation, and sustainable use of peatland in the region.

It also serves as a venue to update where the member-states are in terms of implementation of the APMS in relation to their respective National Action Plan on Peatlands.

For his part, Undersecretary for Special Concerns and concurrent BMB Director Edilberto D. Leonardo said that the DENR was "able to continue raising awareness on peatlands with the use of social media, and webinars."

Representing the Philippines as Head of Delegation in the ASEAN-wide meeting, Leonardo presented the updates on the status and implementation of the country's National Action Plan on Peatlands.

"We are gearing towards the way forward to solve these challenges in managing and conserving Philippine peatlands. This includes communication, education and public awareness campaigns, mobilization of resources for the mapping and inventory of peatlands, lobbying for the legislation of Wetland and Peatland Bills, partnership with different stakeholders, among others," Leonardo said.

The ASEAN-wide series of meetings on peatlands were held from June 28 to 30 via Zoom teleconferencing. ###