MANILA -- A new international program aims to increasingly promote youth participation in the conservation of Southeast Asia's rich but threatened biodiversity.

Launched in Metro Manila on Tuesday, the European Union-funded ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme (AYBP) will provide capacity-building, mentorship, and resources for empowering the region’s 15- to 35-year-olds in contributing to biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia.

The youth's action can be on the local, national, and regional levels, according to the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), which launched the AYBP with the EU.

The ACB supports and coordinates biodiversity conservation activities in the ASEAN.

"Our youth is a vital asset," H.E. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Deputy Secretary-General for Socio-Cultural Community of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), said at the launch.

He said more youth action is needed to save Southeast Asia's bountiful natural assets like the Coral Triangle, the earth’s center of marine biodiversity.

Southeast Asia’s biodiversity is increasingly under threat from climate change, habitat destruction, rapid urbanization, population explosion, and other factors, the ASEAN official noted.


“Sound management and protection of biodiversity is crucial,” he said, adding that ASEAN’s youth has the energy and creativity to make a difference in such efforts.

Latest data presented at the launch further bolstered his observation.

The data showed that the youth accounts for about 33 percent of ASEAN’s population, making the sector a potential conservation game-changer if mentored and supported through initiatives like the AYBP.

The AYBP’s two signature activities are the Youth Biodiversity Leaders (YBL) training and Youth Internships in ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs).

The YBL training targets to build capacity and linkages for enhancing youth-led implementation of national biodiversity strategies and action plans and raising youth-related concerns to national biodiversity agenda.

The internship in AHPs will provide youth participants on-the-job training and exposure to biodiversity conservation, as well as protected area management and operations.

AHPs are protected areas of high conservation importance. Application to join such activities will start in the fourth quarter of 2018. The ACB said it will furnish the application details soon.

Philippine environment chief Roy Cimatu is supporting the move towards increasing youth involvement and action in biodiversity conservation.
“We need everyone to do their share in protecting the environment,” he said in a message read on his behalf by Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones at the forum.

The AYBP was part of the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Regional Forum’s second leg, which ACB initiated in collaboration with the Philippines’ Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).

Biodiversity heroes featured at the forum were Cambodia’s Sophea Chhin, Indonesia’s Alex Waisimon, and the Philippines’ Angel Alcala.

They were among 10 conservation advocates, who received the ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes Award last year.

“Biodiversity needs faces. We need community leaders, scientists, and others the public can identify with,” ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim said at the forum.

Continuing biodiversity destruction is fueling the need for more conservation heroes, Xavier Canton-Lamousse, EU Delegation to the Philippines Project Manager, noted at the forum.

“Our planet’s future is being challenged by pressures on the environment,” he said.

Lim said collaboration on biodiversity conservation is a must, noting what happens on land affects the seas.

“Land-ocean connection is important. There must be initiatives in terrestrial areas to reduce impacts on marine areas,” she said at the forum’s press conference also on Tuesday.

Activities must take biodiversity into account, she added.

BMB Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez agrees. She said the BMB continues to promote sustainable livelihood nationwide to help rural folk earn without jeopardizing the environment.

"We're further pushing for biodiversity-friendly enterprises," she said at the press conference.

Eco-tourism and producing items from discards like coconut shells are among such enterprises' possible activities, she added.

Alcala also cited the need for the Philippines and other nations concerned to cooperate on environmental protection for the South China Sea despite respective territorial claims in this water body. The South China Sea is rich in aquatic resources, which can help meet fisheries needs of such nations, he noted.

“There must be cooperation on South China Sea,” he said at the press conference.

ACB said Vietnam hosted in March 2018 the regional forum’s first leg. The forum’s third leg, it said, has no venue yet, but is scheduled in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Aside from promoting ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes’ conservation activities, the ACB said the forum also aims to inspire public action for saving and protecting biodiversity. (PNA)