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Speech: Forum Discussion on Building a Resilient, Affluent, and Sustainable Society

November 29, 2017

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda

Forum Discussion on Building a Resilient, Affluent, and Sustainable Society

29 November 2017 | AIM Building, Makati City

Natural hazards have been constant occurrences since time immemorial. Dealing with them has been part of human survival.

But as nations work towards the development of their respective economies, natural hazards have turned into deadly disasters due to poor urban governance, ecosystems decline, and vulnerable livelihoods; and in recent decades, global warming, which has been caused by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere, has resulted in yet another development challenge—the climate crisis.

Extreme weather events, such as increased intensity of storms and stronger episodes of drought, are being experienced in different parts of the world. The continued warming of the global temperature is causing sea level rise, which will gradually inundate small island nations and coastal communities.

The rising number of natural hazards has become evident in recent decades. Between 1996 and 2015, there were recorded 6,392 weather- and climate-related disasters, almost double the number of occurrences between 1976 and 1995 with 3,017 weather- and climate-related events. Moreover, while more than half of the total 1.35 million people killed by natural hazards from 1996-2015 were due to earthquakes, there were 15 years in that period when climate-related disasters claimed more lives than earthquakes.

I believe all of us are already aware that climate change is real and that we are at risk. The signs are all around us.  The numbers speak for themselves. It is no longer an issue of taking action, but rather of how much action we need to take.

Our forum today is titled “Building a Resilient, Affluent and Sustainable Society”. I must say, we should not worry about affluence if our development path is towards resilience and sustainability.

When disaster strikes a part of our nation, it does not only affect that particular town or city, it also impacts the economy. Losses due to typhoon Yolanda in 2013 are now estimated at $15 billion, which represents close to five percent of the Philippines annual GDP. Globally, losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion and will continue to escalate unless disaster risk management becomes a core part of overall development.

As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction, and eventually ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Allow me to go over the five major factors that contribute to our vulnerability to disasters.

First is ecosystems decline. Despite our environmental laws, our ecosystems continue to decline. Approximately 70% of our mangroves and 20% of the sea-grass in our coasts have been destroyed; 90% of our coral reefs are under threat. After 16 years of enactment, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act is implemented in only 36% of our local government units (LGUs) nationwide.

Second, economic gains are at risk.  Economic loss risk to typhoons and floods is growing as the exposure of economic assets and livelihoods increases. Moreover, direct losses from major disasters place a significant fiscal burden on the government and trigger indirect and wider impacts that challenge the country’s macroeconomic stability and poverty reduction efforts. As a country striving for competitiveness and economic sustainability, we need to recognize this.

Third, poverty prevails. Despite our impressive economic growth, poverty incidence remains high.  Poverty and inequalities worsen as natural hazards and climate change constantly affect the poor and keep them trapped in a vicious cycle of risk and poverty.

Fourth, cities are at risk.  The rapid growth of our cities, like in Metro Manila, combined with climate change and the urban population explosion, create new stresses for urban settlements and make city dwellers increasingly vulnerable.

Fifth, climate change magnifies disaster risk. The challenge of adapting to climate extremes gives increased urgency to addressing underlying risk drivers, reducing vulnerability and strengthening risk governance.  If disaster risks can be reduced, then the magnifying effect of climate change will also be reduced, and adaptation will be facilitated.

In order to address these challenges, we need a whole-of-society approach in building resilience. The government must take the lead but it must also closely engage civil society and the private sector, and ensure the prioritization of resilience at all levels.

We need to undertake risk-sensitive planning and investment. This is crucial for LGUs, which should be at the forefront of the planning, preparation and execution of resilience plans and measures.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Climate Change Commission must continue to work closely to support the planning, development, and implementation of the Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAP) and Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plans (LDRRMPs) by LGUs as they are linked to local comprehensive land use plans and local development and investment plans.

We must invest in DRR by following our geohazard maps to determine the no-build zones, opposite the safe areas to build housing and infrastructure. We should raise the standard for building structures. For instance, coastal structures, including roads and bridges, should be built and designed considering projected sea level rise due to climate change.

We need to promote community resilience. LGUs could prioritize resilience as part of their political and sustainable development agenda and make disaster risk reduction their legacy opportunity. Paying attention to protection will improve environmental, social and economic conditions, including combating the future variables of climate change.

Initiatives include the establishment of multi-hazard early warning systems, rainwater harvesting, seed banks, rooftop gardens, roadside ditches and sea walls, mangrove reforestation, and the conduct of drills for preparedness.

It is the responsibility of LGUs to ensure that people understand the risk present in their communities. Early and mandatory evacuation will be ineffective if the people do not understand the need for such efforts.

We need to strengthen social protection. Let us examine how the government’s social protection programs, such as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and other poverty reduction-related initiatives, can be scaled up not only to address structural poverty, but also to build the resilience of the poor against the recurring impact of natural hazards.

Under our General Appropriations Act (GAA), we have a special provision mandating the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to integrate environmental protections, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation in the conduct of family development sessions among beneficiaries of the CCT.

We need to conduct an environmental program audit. We have numerous laws and policies that are focused on addressing environmental and disaster resilience issues. An environmental audit covering the performance of relevant national agencies and LGUs in relation to their enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and compliance guidelines will help identify where implementation can be supported and how to remove barriers to implementation.

We need to advance economic and business resilience. We can ensure our economic resilience by reducing disaster risk, let investors be aware of it, and let business investments take into account disaster risk reduction measures. Initiatives could include promoting green infrastructure, such as green buildings; risk financing, risk reduction incentives, business continuity planning, among others.

The government has already started “greening” our industries in various sectors, but our financial institutions and private banks could further escalate this green growth to a higher level.

A strong partnership among the government, the private sector and financial institutions will be needed to put in place the right conditions to attract domestic and foreign low-carbon investments.

To encourage investments, we must first increase awareness on the severe impacts of climate change within sectors. A national loss and damage registry and vulnerability assessment could help our banks assess the need of a proponent in a particular area for a certain project and realize the urgency of lending funds to finance it.

The government could also provide technical assistance to assist the private sector in addressing regulatory challenges and technical risks. The government may also share the cost and risk in these climate investments.

As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction, and eventually ensure the achievement of the sustainable development goals.

As an agenda shared by all concerned with financial, political, disaster, conflict and climate threats to development, advancing resilience promotes unity of purpose and action among various development stakeholders across all sectors.

The year 2015 set a milestone for the global community as we adopted three important frameworks—the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change—that must be implemented harmoniously. As a vulnerable nation, we strive to comply with our international commitments and urge other nations to do the same, especially industrialized nations in scaling up their support to the adaptation efforts of vulnerable developing countries like ours.

It can no longer be ‘business as usual’ in the way we pursue development. Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation must be closely linked to development—the kind of development that does not create new risks and promotes resilient investments.

The tragedies that communities and nations face create the context for learning and growing. It is our shared memory of death, loss and survival that should drive us to build an affluent society anchored on resilience and sustainability.

Thank you.