Recalibrating climate change, post-pandemic response

Residents wade through a flooded street due to heavy rains brought by Typhoon Karding (international code name Noru) in San Miguel, Bulacan, September 26, 2022.

STILL reeling from the economic setbacks brought by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the Philippines was again struck by one of the worst impacts of climate change—extreme weather events.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that Super Typhoon Karding, the most recent of such extreme weather events, considered the “new normal” due to climate change—devastated most of Luzon.

One of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the Philippines is the first to be affected and almost always the last to recover from a climate change-triggered event.

The estimated total damage to agriculture from Karding has already breached the P3-billion mark and the damage to infrastructure is P304 million.

On the other hand, the estimated assistance provided by the National Government and Local Government Units (LGUs) to the typhoon-affected communities combined is only slightly over P51 million.

In its wake, Karding left 12 people dead, 5 missing and 52 others injured, according to a NDRRMC report as of October 2, 2022, which is Day 8 of Super Typhoon Karding and Day 926 of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The same report said the super typhoon affected 299,127 families, or 1,072,282 persons in 7 regions, 30 provinces and 229 cities and municipalities across the archipelago.

A total of 58,172 houses were damaged, with 7,150 having been completely destroyed during the onslaught of one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

The damage to infrastructure, which includes roads, schools, utility services facilities, and other government infrastructure, is also enormous, with an estimated cost reaching P304,245,310.

Worst, the damage to agriculture is P3,076,968,120.04.  According to the NDRRMC, a total of 104,500 farmers and fisherfolk were affected when the typhoon ravaged 166,630.11 hectares of crops.

Preparing for the worst

TO Secretary Robert E.A. Borje, vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), as far as the Philippines is concerned, we are on track in preparing for the worst impacts of climate change.

The CCC is the lead policy-making body of the government tasked to coordinate, monitor and evaluate government programs and ensure mainstreaming of climate-change action in national, local and sectoral development plans towards a climate-resilient and climate-smart Philippines.

In a telephone interview on October 1, Borje said climate change is becoming an overarching governance issue that needs to be addressed, not just domestically, nationally but internationally.

“You know how it is. It is an issue of systems and the Philippine situation cannot be disaggregated from the global scenario.  Be that as it may, you know the Philippines has been working very hard to prepare for the worst impacts of climate change.  In fact, our national panel of experts has already identified 10 of those risks and we are making headway, I think, when it comes to the impacts of climate change for a quick onset,” he said.

According to Borje, the Philippines has established a very reliable system for quick-onset events like super typhoons, wherein the state weather bureau predicts when and where it will hit, and what is the worst-case scenario. This allows concerned national government agencies and LGUs to reduce the risk of disaster, minimize if not totally prevent casualties, and mount a post-disaster response.

Early warning system

“I NOTE that when it comes to early warning systems, our PAG­ASA has a particular capacity. Our NDRRMC, also together with other government agencies, to help address quick-onset events such as typhoons,” he said.

How, he asks aloud, can the government truly commiserate with those impacted the most by disaster? “One of the metrics…is the number of fatalities and casualties. We have observed, significantly, there’s a reduction. But every life matters. That is why it is important for our government to continue working very hard in ramping up our capabilities to address the impacts of climate change.  And may I say, not just for quick-onset events but also for slow-onset events. This requires coordinated approaches and work on the adaptation part, essentially, and then the issue,” he said.

Indeed, he said the Philippines is more prepared today than a decade ago.

‘A developing thing’

“THE government has provided resources for this. But the question is, it is also a developing thing. Always, it moves. Because the challenges continue to change. It is important that we continue to adapt our approaches. I would say that based on the metrics, when it comes to quick-onset events, we have significantly improved. But is that the only approach we want?  Again, every life matters,” he reiterated.

According to Borje, while closely looking at the impacts of extreme weather events, the Philippines is also monitoring slow-onset events—for mitigation—while strengthening disaster preparedness through national and local responses.

Borje said the Philippines remains committed to implementing Republic Act 9729, or the Climate Change Act of 2009, and Republic Act 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

The Climate Change Act, the law that created the CCC, promotes the mainstreaming of climate change into government policy formulations and establishes the framework, strategy and program on climate change, while the DRRM Act of 2010 aims to strengthen the country’s disaster risk reduction and management system, provide a framework for national disaster risk reduction and management, and institutionalize a national disaster risk reduction and management plan.

Local climate change action plans

ACCORDING to Borje, the CCC continues to push LGUs to create and allocate funds for the implementation of their local climate change action plans.

The Climate Change Act of 2009, as amended, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations recognize the role of local governments as frontline agencies in the formulation, planning and implementation of climate action plans in their respective areas, consistent with the provisions of the Local Government Code, the National Framework Strategy for Climate Change, and the National Climate Change Action Plan.

The DILG Memorandum Circular 2014-135, on the other hand, provided that city and municipal local governments consider climate change adaptation as one of their regular functions, supported by provincial governments through technical assistance, enforcement and information management.

Over the past decade, much has been done to improve the crafting of local climate change action plans, he pointed out.

“We have modified warning systems already.  We have a series of rainfall advisories and classifications,” he said.

“If we zero in on LCCAP, 79 percent [of LGUs] has LCCAP. But is that enough? The 21 percent still needs to have an LCCAP. We want to see everybody to be fully involved. We are working on, even as we speak, we are also working at capacitating not just the LGUs but the higher educations for LCCAP,” he pointed out.

Although the CCC is primarily a policy coordination office, Borje said the agency is mandated by law to partner with relevant government agencies, to work on increasing the adaptive capacities of communities and the government at the national level.

“It is important that we continue to work on providing assistance and direction to our national government institutions.  Adequate budgets should be allocated,” he added.

Increasing budgets

TO monitor the progress of government budget allocation for climate change-related programs, projects or activities, the CCC has partnered with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Borje said for tagging climate change expenditures, there has been a 56-percent increase in the 2023 budget as proposed by national government institutions (NGIs).

“I think this was subject of the advisory budget of the Department of Budget and Management. It’s an ongoing partnership with the CCC.  In 2022 kasi, the budget was 289.7 billion.  This time around for the NEP 2023, umakyat na siya to 453.2 billion so that is 56 percent increase for climate change projects for NGIs,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Borje said the budget tagging activity revealed a 44-percent increase in NGI participation before the submissions in 2022.

“Before it was 145, now it is 210,” referring to the number of NGIs actively taking part in the budget process.

“Be that as it may, we want to increase our target participation.  Our target participation is at 70 percent.  Right now, even with that significant increase, it is still at around 60 percent.  We want it to be 70 percent.  That is one of the things that we are currently working on when it comes to ongoing programs, mainstreaming climate change and the adaptation and mitigation programs,” he said.

Consultative mechanism

UNDER the Marcos administration, Borje said the CCC will pursue a consultative mechanism to broaden participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) as well as the private sector when it comes to crafting climate change action plans.

“We have formalized for the first time the consultative mechanism for civil society organizations.  We now have at least 4; and for the private sector, we have so far 1.  But we want the CCC to play an important part for policy formulation. It is up to us to continue working with stakeholders and provide the space for discussion,” he said.

“We want to work for a climate-smart and climate-resilient society,” he quipped.

According to Borje, fighting climate change under a post-pandemic scenario requires a whole-of-government approach, as well as international support.

“We recognize that this problem requires not just a whole-of-government approach.  We need to negotiate for the Philippines when it comes to commitment. Our national system is part of a global system and as President Marcos says, we contribute so little when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions and we bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Support, Borje stressed, must come primarily from the international community, particularly the so-called “carbon industry.”

Climate change financing

DESPITE efforts to increase the budget for climate change actions, the Philippines is compelled to depend on the international community for climate change-related programs, projects and activities.

In a separate telephone interview, Albert Magalang, chief of the Climate Change Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources- Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), said the Philippines introduced—at the Conference of Parties (COP) meeting last December—what he describes as “a game changer” in climate negotiations.

Instead of emission reduction and removal, the Philippines is pitching the call for emission avoidance, Magalang said.

Under the emission reduction scheme, claiming support is hard because of the baselining and modeling to show the country’s emission reduction.

Low-carbon emitter

“But our emission is very small.  Very, very small. In truth, the equivalent support they’ll give you is also very small. It’s getting smaller and smaller and one can’t access it right away,” Magalang said. Thus, he explained, what the Philippines and other developing countries want now is emission avoidance.

Under the concept or mechanism of emission avoidance, activities like not putting up a new coal-fired power plant guarantees a point in emission avoidance.

“And even the conversion of forest to agricultural land or any other land use, its avoidance,” he said.

Emissions are considered environmental risks, he said, and avoiding them should be considered in seeking climate financing from developed countries.

Another emission avoidance score that needs to be considered, he said, is the use of “green technology” or technologies that avoid carbon emission.

Adaptation and mitigation, according to Magalang, should go hand in hand.

Climate change mitigation, he said, should address the challenge of limiting greenhouse-gas emission (GHG) to a minimum, while adapting to the worst impacts of climate change to make sure that communities are resilient and the ecosystem and people are protected against various risks.

Sustainable development

IN Magalang’s view, low-carbon development can be achieved, using the right technology.

He said this even as the Philippines, a low-carbon emitter, still has what he calls a remaining “carbon budget” to use.

“Development is not really a problem. We really need development. We still have carbon budget for development. But, it does not sit well with our goals,” he explained.

He noted that the Philippines is not yet fully industrialized, by way of explaining why the country’s GHG emission remains low.

Philippine GHG emission is only around 0.3 percent compared to the global GHG emission.  “It is not even 1 percent, our contribution to the global GHG emission,” he noted.

Nevertheless, Magalang said the Philippines can opt for low-emitting technologies or non-GHG emitting technologies and demand support from developed countries to sustain development.

“We are entitled to green financing. That’s why every time there’s climate negotiations, we are reminding developed countries of that promised support,” he ended.

Recalibrating for post-pandemic recovery

IN conclusion, Borje said recalibration of climate change actions for post-pandemic recovery forms part of the work that the entire government is doing.

“And this is where the demand for more climate change mainstreaming is coming. In fact, for all of our LGUs and national government agencies, there is a realization because this is a system that we cannot divorce climate change or disaggregate from the realities because the direction that we are taking is, we want to bounce back from the pandemic,” he said.

Recently, however, the principle that is well accepted by the international community is the “build back better approach” or “build forward better,” according to him.

“We argued that for the Philippines, our approach is different and that is the ‘build right at first sight approach.’ Why? Because we have limited resources. We cannot afford to rebuild and rebuild. We have to make sure that every time we come up with a project for our LGU or national government, the project must be done right; and the best science and climate-resilient response to the problems as identified by the national panel of experts.

“It is an enlightened approach for our government. We want to say that with President Marcos’s vision, this is happening and the commitment further strengthens, our capacity for climate change is on track and something that is committed,” he concluded.

Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

As pandemic recovery boosts energy demand, PHL leans heavily on RE to tweak power

Next Article

Pandemic disruptions, new climate risks spur revisiting of 6-year-old Green Jobs Act

Related Posts

Read more

In war-torn states hurt by climate, scant hope for new funds

The United Nations’ climate conference, which wrapped up last weekend in Egypt, established a new fund to help poor, vulnerable countries hit hard by climate change. Countries like Yemen and Somalia are among the world’s poorest and more vulnerable to climate change impacts as they are less able to adapt to weather extremes. But they have little or no access to climate financing. And they are unlikely to receive funds because they lack stable governments.
Read more

Historic compensation fund approved at UN climate talks

The decision establishes a fund for what negotiators call loss and damage. It is a big win for poorer nations which have long called for cash — sometimes viewed as reparations — because they are often the victims of climate worsened floods, droughts, heat waves, famines and storms despite having contributed little to the pollution that heats up the globe.