04 December 2023

Stocktaking of security sector roles in climate and environmental security - Philippines

The Philippines is facing a range of climate and environmental risks that directly affect human security. Climate change is intensifying existing disaster risks in an active geological region known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, causing volcano eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes, and the region faces other disaster risks, including typhoons and tropical storms, floods, droughts and landslides. At the same time, the urban areas and settlements in the Philippines are located in such a way that ca. 74% of its population is exposed to these different kinds of hazards. Moreover, the country is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, with many endemic species of flora and fauna, giving it a critical role in the protection of global ecosystems.

However, human activities, including environmental crime, are further undermining protective ecosystem services and destroying carbon sinks, contributing to the cycle of degradation and accelerating the effects of climate change. From rising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns, which cause both water scarcity and seasonal flooding, to widespread pollution and the destruction of natural resources, such as coastal ecosystems and tropical rainforests, the combined effects of climate change and human pressures on the environment are threatening to undo the economic development and peacebuilding gains achieved, including by the various peace processes.

There are important links between disaster risk reduction (DRR) and environmental harms. Illegal logging and landgrabbing, leading to deforestation, significantly increase the risk of mudslides. Unregulated waste disposal and mining not only affect soil and water resources, but also have serious public health consequences and ultimately increase flood risks. This directly affects the health and resilience of available ecosystem resources for farming and fishing, driving migration and urbanisation.

While many of these risks require a response that extends well beyond the security sector, security institutions have an important and perhaps not fully recognised role to play in this context.

As climate change increases the risk of flooding, mudslides and other disasters, the role of the Philippine security sector institutions, especially the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in DRR and in supporting efforts of the Office of Civil Defense will be increasingly important. The well-established area of DRR offers a valuable opportunity for institutions to work closely with communities and local government to better analyse and mitigate the risk of both sudden and slow-onset disasters.

Likewise, the National Bureau of Investigation’s Environmental Crime Unit, in conjunction with the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard and in some instances the AFP, has the potential to play a more active role in preventing and prosecuting cases of environmental crimes and other forms of harm to the environment. Community-based organisations, such as forest rangers and guards of fishing grounds (Bantay Gubat and Bantay Dagat), are an interesting example of how communities and volunteers can complement state capacity, but they require additional institutionalisation and professionalisation.

It is worth noting that the government response to these risks (or lack thereof) and failure to address corrupt practices that directly exacerbate an already critical context clearly affect the population’s perceptions of the state. Overall, this stocktaking study has found significant potential for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and security cooperation programming to improve service delivery of security institutions with regard to mitigating the impact of climate and environmental risks on communities and the environment, strengthening social cohesion and contributing to sustainable peace. There are multiple affordable opportunities for security institutions to strengthen their role in addressing human security needs with regard to both protecting communities from disasters and protecting the ecosystem services that communities rely on. In doing so, there is a strong opportunity to contribute to social cohesion.

This stocktaking study is part of a study across four countries, aiming to identify entry points informing security sector governance and reform (SSG/R) from the climate and environmental security perspectives. While international partners in their programming tend not to fully maximise potential in this area, findings place security sector roles in climate and environmental security at the heart of the triple nexus of humanitarian needs, development and security. Moreover, working on this nexus is relevant in the context of the sustaining peace and prevention agenda, as agreed under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement’s Global Goal on Adaptation.

In addition to the more practical recommendations for international partners and the Government of the Philippines that are included in the report, several of the conclusions have broader relevance for SSG/R, prevention, peacebuilding and stabilisation programming across a range of regional, environmental and security contexts, and have been further explored in the other countries in the stocktaking study.


  • The Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and at the same it is one of the most relevant countries in terms of preserving biodiversity. It faces a range of multidimensional risks at the intersection of environmental and human security, and across the two functional areas of DRR and environmental protection explored in this study. These risks interact in a way that continues to increase the vulnerability of Filipinos to the human security consequences of the changing climate.
  • Environmental harms, such as pollution, illegal logging and mining, and violations of existing legislation are sometimes inextricably linked with community livelihoods, especially of indigenous peoples and those depending on agricultural livelihoods. Even if law enforcement in this area is strengthened, harm to the environment is unlikely to cease without a focus on creating alternative, sustainable options for income generation.
  • Strengthening environmental governance is also crucial because of the strong links between harm to the environment, corruption and organised criminal activities, including transboundary activities such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, smuggling of resources and waste dumping.
  • A variety of civilian and security sector agencies are involved in DRR and combating environmental crime, with mandates that are not always entirely clear or distinct. Moreover, when it comes to issuing environmental licences and permits (for mining, logging, construction, etc), it is not always clear which agency’s licensing takes precedence over the other.
  • While challenges around natural resource management and corruption remain, particularly in the Mindanao peace process, there are several promising entry points for environmental peacebuilding. Examples include the transformation of decommissioned rebels into forest and guards of fishing grounds in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, security sector agencies proactively working with communities on fostering climate-smart livelihoods, simultaneously building trust and countering extremist narratives, and community-based environmental protection actors such as forest and guards of fishing grounds.

This is the executive summary, click here to read the recommendations and full report by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF). 

Photo credit: Flickr / Hyunwoo Sun