Defining resilience to climate change
MANILA, Philippines - The Senate, home to eloquent statesmen, ran out of words to define climate change resilience in a debate that transpired after Sen Loren Legarda gave a privilege speech on Tuesday, July 30.
Is there a Filipino translation for "resilience?" Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III asked.
Finding no equivalent term in Filipino, Sen Vicente "Tito" Sotto III cited the word's Spanish counterpart which is "elastico." Sen Alan Peter Cayetano jokingly suggested, "Why not just make it synonymous with Legarda?"
Laughter filled the Senate session hall. But for Legarda, the issue is no laughing matter.
In her speech dubbed "State of the Environment," the head of the Senate Climate Change Committee reminded her colleagues that the threats of climate change and the laws that seek to combat them are clear.
Not in language but in action
On the ground, local officials are asking a different question: How are they going to withstand the effects of climate change?
Mayor Alejandro Gamos of the town of Santa Magdalena in Sorsogon could also not find an exact Bicolano term for “resilience.” For him, the word may not be in their language but it is in their acts.
“Climate change resilience means awareness, safety of houses, food security, and protection of our watershed,” the local executive said.
According to Gamos, his town has achieved a 100% awareness on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. For the past 5 years, he could not recall a reported casualty caused by disasters that hit his town.
By awareness, all the 35,000 households in his town know disaster scenarios, hazards, and what actions to take, like evacuating when needed, Gamos said.
What national officials should address
In a recent forum organized by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Philippines to tackle the theme “Harnessing synergies to build resilience against disasters,” Gamos shared how his town deals with climate change.
Not only had Santa Magdalena started to build the necessary infrastructure to withstand disasters, it has also strengthened its environmental efforts like zero-waste program, coastal resource management, and forest protection.
Local officials who attended the forum agreed that what national officials should address are the lack of resources, capability, and economic opportunities at the local level.
In her speech, Legarda urged her colleagues “to rectify the social and economic structures that breed disaster risk and trap the poor in the vicious cycle of risk and poverty.”
State of the environment
Legarda, a UN regional champion for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA), stressed that the Philippines has enough laws that will help its communities withstand the impact of climate change-related disasters.
She said the UN has praised the Philippines for its various landmark DRR and CCA policies, calling them the "best in the world."
According to Legarda, the problem lies in the enforcement of these policies that are supposed to protect the environment.
Citing data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), she said that only about 24% of the country’s land area of 30 million hectares remain forest-covered, a far cry from the ideal 48%.
She added that the country’s coastal ecosystem has rapidly deteriorated: 70% of mangroves and 20% of sea-grass are destroyed; 90% of coral reefs are in peril; and only 10% of fish biomass remain.
The senator also lamented that 12 years after the Solid Waste Management Act was enacted, only 414 of the 1,610 ( 25.7%) local government units (LGUs) have complied with the national plan.
'The new normal'
Disaster risk is expected to intensify in the Philippines as more people and property become exposed to weather extremes, Legarda warned, citing a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The scientific body under the United Nations (UN) suggested that climate change altered the magnitude and frequency of some severe weather and climate events such as storms, heat waves, and droughts.
"We are all aware that typhoons are normal occurrences in a tropical country like the Philippines, with some 20 heading our way every year. But lately, the occurrence of destructive torrential rain has been increasing even with the absence of typhoons," Legarda said.
Many climate scientists call this extreme weather condition “the new normal.”
A recent World Bank report projected a 4-degree Celsius warmer world within the century, a scenario of unprecedented heat waves, drought, and major floods, affecting vulnerable sectors, particularly the poor.
In her interpellation, Sen Cynthia Villar urged Legarda to look into the status of the enforcement of environmental laws.
"If laws can't be implemented, there's no point passing them," Villar told Legarda, who authored many environmental laws, including the Climate Change Act.
Legarda proposed an environmental audit of those mandated to enforce DRR and CCA laws to strengthen implementation.
"We need to ask why some LGUs can comply with the law, while others cannot. We need to understand what enables action since only through effective enforcement that these laws gain their true meaning," Legarda said.
The recently released World Bank study also pointed out that national climate change and disaster reduction plans are not integrated in local government plans. It said gaps in climate policy efforts across sectors and levels of government stifle their effectiveness.
READ: Climate change resilience starts in the village – Rappler.com