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Philippines increased spending for climate change efforts for past five years, World Bank says

Shown is Climate Change Commission Vice-Chair Mary Ann Lucille Sering (center) in this file photo.
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Over the last five years, more than 3,000 lives were taken, 10 million persons were affected, and P50 billion in damages were left by tropical cyclones Ondoy, Sendong, and Pablo.

New areas were ravaged by tropical cyclones, especially parts of Mindanao which were previously thought of as typhoon-free.

The poor remained particularly at risk, especially in a country that is "the third most vulnerable in the world to weather-related extreme events, earthquakes, and sea level rise" because of its archipelagic nature and location, according to the World Bank.

Thankfully, the national government has been increasing spending on climate change initiatives on an average of 26 percent annually since 2008, an amount that is larger than the growth of the national budget at six percent.

This is according to a report titled “Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines”, which was done by the World Bank through its Philippine Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review, as commissioned by the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). Findings were disclosed to stakeholders and the media on Tuesday at the World Bank office in Taguig City.

Released at the midterm of the President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, the report summarizes the government’s progress on climate change response in the past three years, as well as weaknesses in its efforts. It also has recommendations over the short, medium, and long term.

“Reform is a work in progress,” said sector leader for environment and climate change for World Bank-East Asia and Pacific, Christophe Crepin. This is why the government must improve on giving technical and financial support for local government units; enhance monitoring systems to increase accountability and assess results of climate change initiatives of government agencies; and equip government agencies with more knowledge as well as knowledgeable staff.

Collaboration among government agencies is key

Collaboration is key, stressed Crepin, to the agreement of officials from the CCC, DBM, and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) who were also present at the briefing.

The good news is, said CCC Vice-chairperson Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering, all government agencies are aware of the urgency of climate change response.

The Department of Public Works and Highways, under Secretary Rogelio Singson, has relocated building of roads from the coasts to the inland. He has also put structures for rainwater catchment so it is captured upstream. Aside from preventing floods, it also provides water to the uplands.

CCC Secretary Elisea Gozun elaborated on research on developing various species of rice which can withstand flooding as well as extreme dry weather. Her agency is also looking at the viability of planting multiple crops instead of a single one so farmers still have a source of livelihood should one crop be wiped away in a natural disaster.

Ninety-four percent of the CCC’s budget is also going to flood control, with money pouring into projects for “18 major river basins” where vulnerable communities are located.

“We need to be able to manage the unavoidable,” said Sering, noting that a National Panel of Experts is being created this year to help her agency do just that.

Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Jett Villarin, University of the Philippines Los Baños Chancellor Dr. Rex Cruz, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Rodel Lasco are some of the persons who have been suggested to President Aquino. Former United States Vice President Al Gore will also be part of this panel.

For her agency’s part, DBM Assistant Secretary Luz Cantor said that its Program Budgeting Approach, which was first used in the crafting of last year’s budget, aims for a “tighter collaboration among government agencies”. Departments and agencies are asked how they intend to work together in fulfilling their roles, as well as using their resources.

With the budget for 2014 set to be released late this week or early next week, Cantor said that climate risks are “fully accounted for”. This ensures that during the second half of the Aquino administration, foundations for inclusive growth are in place, which means the poor and the marginalized benefit from the strong Philippine economy. 

What the DBM wants is not a “trickle-down effect”, but rather, wealth creation at the level of the community, especially in the previously neglected sectors of agriculture and manufacturing.

Now is the time to act

Crepin stressed that the time to act is now, as Filipinos can expect more days that are exceedingly hotter, with the strongest heat waves to affect the southern Philippines; decreasing fish catch by up to 50 percent due to warmer sea temperatures and ocean acidification, affecting between 500,000 to one million reef fishers; higher wind speeds of tropical cyclones; and rising sea levels by more than 50 centimeters above current levels by 2060, and 100 centimeters by 2090. By 2100, temperatures can get warmer by up to four degrees Celsius.

If decisive action is taken, these can still be avoided, said Crepin.

Proactive planning is important, said Sering, noting that the CCC is now able to “target spending to reduce damages in the long run.”

There is also a need to invest in research and development, said National Economic and Development Authority Director-General Secretary Arsenio Balicasan. There must be innovations in climate-related technology and cultural changes to respond to changing times.

“We are not here to scare people,” said Sering. “We’re here to show what the opportunities of climate change are [such as] energy efficiency, renewable energy. Those are types of activities that can bring in the numbers in terms of jobs.” The private sector can turn climate change challenges into income-generating opportunities.

Ordinary citizens too, should be involved in responding to climate change.

According to a recent Social Weather Stations survey, eight out of ten Filipinos said they were affected by climate change, but almost 60 percent admitted to not doing anything about it.

“We can survive it,” said Sering, referring to climate change. Filipinos must be willing, however, to change their lifestyles in such simple ways as conserving electricity and spending wisely. Condo buyers, for example, should choose property not just because of its location, but also because it adheres to land use planning.

Survey the property when it’s raining, said Sering, and make the developers responsible.