In Durban, South Africa, since last week, the governments of the world have been trying to make progress to address the global challenge of climate change. This is a serious matter for the Philippines. All scenarios indicate that our country will not be spared from the impacts of climate change. Indeed as the recently approved National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) has concluded, “Even if the world will drastically decrease its greenhouse emissions, stabilizing the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will take some time and the impacts of changing climates will continue for years to come”.
As I wrote last week, following an integrated adaptation-mitigation approach, the NCCAP identifies seven strategic priorities: Food Security; Water sufficiency; Ecosystem and Environmental Stability; Human Security; Climate-smart Industries and Services; Sustainable Energy; and, Knowledge and Capacity Development. As earlier promised, let me elaborate on these priorities.
Food security as critical if we are to adapt to climate change. Actions are needed to address some underlying drivers such as poverty and sustainable livelihoods, human and institutional capacities, and advancement in scientific knowledge on climate change risks and adaptation technologies in the food production sector. According to the NCCAP, the objective is to ensure availability, stability, accessibility, and affordability of safe and healthy food amidst climate change.
Water scarcity, already felt in many parts of the country, is aggravated by the deterioration of water quality due to pollution from untreated domestic sewage, industrial wastewater, agricultural run-offs, and urban run-offs. In some highly urbanized areas, high water demand has resulted in over extraction of groundwater and salt water intrusion. Climate change will exacerbate these unless early actions are taken.
Maintaining healthy and stable ecosystems is essential if we are to survive climate change. Unfortunately, almost all of our ecosystems have been significantly transformed or degraded. According to the NCCAP, “Philippine ecosystems have changed more rapidly, through large scale conversion of forests and grasslands into cropland, settlements and mining areas, diversion and storage of freshwater behind dams, pollution of rivers and lakes from domestic and industrial effluents, and the loss of mangrove and coral reef areas. In fact, the country has often been cited as example for the worst-case-scenario in environmental degradation.” With climate change, ecosystems will be threatened even further. It is critical to adjust human activities, reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change, and strengthen its ecological resilience through mitigation and adaptation. For this reason, the NCCAP has prioritized the protection and rehabilitation of critical ecosystems, and the restoration of ecological services.
The NCCAP provides key strategic actions that give importance to coordinated efforts on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to minimize the threats to human security. The objective is to reduce the risks of women and men to climate change and disasters. This includes strengthening PAGASA and making sure the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 is implemented properly.
Although the Philippines is not a significant emitter of greenhouse gases globally, the NCCAP recognizes that “green growth is a relevant approach to sustainable economic growth for the country to reduce poverty, achieve social progress, protect the environment and diminishing natural resources, and adapt and mitigate the impacts of changing climates”. The long-term goal is to sustainably transition towards green growth by developing climate-smart industries and services, creating green jobs and sustainable livelihoods, and promoting climate-resilient and sustainable cities and municipalities.
Our energy systems must also be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Thus, the following priorities have been identified: promotion of energy efficiency and conservation; expansion in the development of sustainable and renewable energy; promotion of environmentally sustainable transport; and, climate-proofing and rehabilitation of energy systems infrastructures.
Finally, the NCCAP recognizes that climate change is complex and effectively responding to the issue, requires having enough knowledge about it. It identifies the key issues that should be addressed such as having access to relevant information and localizing it from the Philippine perspective, creating a good data management and reporting system, and good dissemination of information.
From a planning point of view, the Aquino government is in the right direction on climate change. But the NCCAP must be implemented through national and local mechanisms.
Secretary Lucille Sering, Vice-Chair of the Climate Change Commission, talked about this in a well-attended talk in Durban last Friday. According to her, priority will be given to the establishment of ecosystem towns or Eco-towns, an implementation vehicle for the convergence of adaptation and mitigation actions, as well as a demonstration of integrated ecosystem-based management approach. A sustainable city or town, or ecosystem town (eco-town), is a city/town designed with consideration of (a) environmental impacts and protection of ecosystems, (b) efficient in its use of land, energy, water and food (i.e., eco-efficient), (c) minimizing waste outputs, and (d) creating sustainable jobs. The crux of eco-towns is the creation of the smallest possible ecological footprint, reduction of its overall contribution to climate change, and building resilient communities and ecosystems.
The concept of Eco-towns is a simple yet elegant idea, in fact quite practical and consistent with common sense. No wonder, it was well received by the Durban audience of experts, government officials, donors, and ordinary citizens concerned with climate change. While listening to Secretary Sering talk passionately about Eco-towns, I was struck with the insight that, in fact in climate change, the conventional wisdom that we must “think global and act local” might not be entirely accurate. Or at least, the reverse is just as true if we are to deal with this greatest challenge to the human environment.
Yes, climate change is a global problem, caused by activities everywhere. But its impacts are in specific places. Local actions are necessary to address to climate change. But they must be enabled by global actions led by those who have contributed and are contributing most to the problem - the richest countries of the world, whether from the North or South, who have historically contributed or currently contributes (or are rapidly increasing their contribution) the most to cause climate change. These big countries must take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in supporting vulnerable countries like us to adapt to and mitigate climate change. In Durban and onwards, I think, it will be actually good if the countries of the world also think local (understand what is needed by real communities to adapt to climate change) and act global (adopt strong emission targets and provide financial and technology support to vulnerable countries).
In thinking locally and acting globally, maybe we can reverse what is now a losing battle against climate change.
Manila Standard TODAY
EAGLE EYES by Dean Tony La Viña
December 06, 2011