Keynote Message: Asian Conference on Climate Change and Disaster Resilience

August 10, 2023

10 August 2023

To the Asian Institute of Management, our distinguished speakers, and participants from the national government agencies, local government units, private sector, local and international non-profit and non-government organizations, and the academe, good morning.

At the outset, allow me to acknowledge and recognize the significance of holding the Asian Conference on Climate Change and Disaster Resilience here in Manila.

We meet together as one region today, fully aware of climate change and its impacts and the nexus of disaster risk.

These pose existential threats that – at no other time in our shared history – need to be understood not only in all their complexities and complications but also in the opportunities they present for meaningful and timely transformation.

Climate change is, without a doubt, the global governance challenge of our time. It knows no borders, ideologies, and timelines, requiring us to channel our collective intellect and resolve into comprehensive action.

It is global, as it affects the global community – no country can stand and survive alone.

It is systemic, as each specific part is as important as the greater whole.

It is historic, as the challenges of today are compounded consequences of inaction and repeated neglect of those historically responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Sixth Assessment Report, speaks with “high confidence” about the profound impact of human activities on global warming, the alarming rise of temperatures beyond pre-industrial levels, and the ineffectual response from policies and finances in meeting climate goals.

Climate change and disasters are inherently connected. Human-induced climate change influences and drives extreme weather events and disasters.

Asia and the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

What does this mean for vulnerable countries and regions, such as Asia and the Pacific? This means that we, the Philippines included, can expect intensified tropical cyclones and typhoons, longer droughts, and rising sea levels, among others.

Despite our unique national and regional circumstances and “differing vulnerabilities,” science and evidence tell us that our region continues to bear the brunt of climate change more than any other part of the world.

From 2000 to 2019, the disaster database EM-DAT showed that Asia and the Pacific experienced a greater number of weather-related disasters, with increased frequency and severity, than other regions.

In COP27 in Egypt, the World Meteorological Organization reported that Asia was hit by more than 100 natural hazard events, more than 80 of which are storms and floods.

4,000 fatalities were recorded; 48.3 million individuals were directly affected, mostly by drought; 35.6 billion US dollars in total economic damage were incurred.

The Climate Risk Index identified four (4) ASEAN Member States among the 10 most at risk of climate and disasters – the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand. This puts nearly half of the entire ASEAN population exposed to climate change impacts – a 150% increase from the 220 million people affected from 2009 to 2020, according to the ASEAN State of Climate Change Report.

Alarmingly, too, from 2009 to 2020, significant economic and human losses and damages in ASEAN amounted to 97.3 billion US dollars – a figure close to the global commitment of 100 billion US dollars for Annex I countries for the same period, 2009 to 2020, which regretfully remains to be undelivered in full.

According to the IPCC, Asia is projected to experience an “increasing surface air temperature” which will negatively impact food security, water sufficiency, and the countries’ economic and development pathways to sustainable development.

Drought conditions will worsen by about 5 to 20 percent, and water stress is expected, excluding North Asia. Terrestrial and coastal ecosystems are put at greater risk, including losses in biodiversity and animals’ habitat.

Our economy – be it regional or national – will be affected. The World Bank reported that the prolonged absence of concerted action against climate change by 2030 will drive an additional 7.5 million people from East Asia and the Pacific into poverty as triggered by climate impacts.

With 75% of our farmers primarily dependent on agriculture, climate change poses grave challenges as productivity is projected to reduce by 15-20% by the year 2050 in the business-as-usual scenario.

Flooding incidents in Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, Thailand in 2011, and the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and tropical cyclones Ketsana and Parma in 2009, were recorded to have the highest costs of climate-related loss and damage in agriculture, amounting to a total of 11.3 billion US dollars.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aptly stated, and I quote: “Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”

We are nearing the point of no return.

We must accelerate the momentum in the race against climate emergency. Give it a clear direction. Create pathways toward meaningful and rapid transformation.

We need to ensure that in a changing climate, the environment is revived, economies thrive, and humans more than just survive.

To do these, we need to think and act differently. We have to break down the silos that divide us and understand profoundly that we need to work closely together. There can be no other way.

Resilience is relational. For us to survive and usher in greater security, progress, and prosperity in this era of uncertainties, we need better coordination and collaboration.

More than observations and projections, IPCC identified investment opportunities in climate-resilient infrastructure and green jobs; climate-resilient agriculture; ecosystem-based adaptation; and urban blue-green infrastructure.

As we strengthen regional cooperation on investment priorities, we likewise need to make sure that the commitments of developed countries under the Paris Agreement are delivered and mobilized. We need to ensure that the establishment of a loss and damage funding facility will materialize at the soonest possible time.

We also need to bolster the call of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), for major polluting nations and carbon majors to increase their ambition by reviewing and strengthening their targets for 2030 under their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

I speak with special emphasis because to me and for billion others, who are or will be affected by climate change in our region, these are rightly principled positions.

Any talk or action on climate change, to be truly transformative, must recognize the key principles of climate justice and equity: Those who are most responsible for climate change must do more for those who are least responsible.

For us, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, and their provisions are not just treaty obligations. They are moral responsibilities.

And so, we must accelerate the way we “course-correct” and safeguard the 1.5°C of the Paris Agreement— our climate threshold to survive and thrive – with the greatest sense of urgency.

The established blueprint on climate policies has paved the way in upscaling climate action in the country, but the urgency of our times calls for policies that are more comprehensive, enforceable, and responsive to evolving challenges.
In my privilege speech the other day at the Senate, I pointed out practical approaches moving forward as a country, perhaps as a region, and as part of the global community.

First, we have to adopt a transformative mindset in governance, and mainstream science, and cascade opportunities and resources to our Local Government Units (LGUs) and communities, the climate frontliners who bear the brunt of climate impacts and are expected to manage local climate risks and hazards.

Second, we have to accelerate decarbonization efforts and ensure timely implementation of our Nationally Determined Contributions, without being restricted by the unconditional share. Let us aim for higher ambition by embracing the Net Zero scenario, and its imperatives to combat further warming by utilizing more advanced technologies.

Third, we have to create an enabling environment for the private sector to accelerate investments on climate-resilient infrastructure, and technologies, and promote the creation of green jobs. We can look at the experience of ARISE – a global network of private sector entities – leveraging their strengths as a key partner of government for disaster risk reduction.

Fourth, for the legislators, we have to revisit our environmental laws and push for legislation that will strengthen the foundation for climate-resilient development. These are measures to promote circular economy, blue economy, ecosystems regeneration, and forest management.

Fifth, we need to strengthen regional mechanisms to respond to disasters, losses and damages, while emphasizing preventive adaptation and climate resilience approaches in their tool kits.

We have to optimize convergence between agencies and stakeholders, working with a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, and whole-of-world approach to maximize resources and impact for each individual.

We need to fortify the bond between local government and civil society, tap the potential of the private sector, and synergize the efforts of development partners.

And lastly, we have to consider transformative climate actions that are investment-led: from public and private sources, domestic and international.

We must take the path that leads towards resilience and low-carbon development – where our energy and transport systems run on renewable energy, where our oceans and forests sustain life above land and below water, and where our industries embrace a circular economy to influence sustainable ways of living.

As a Philippine legislator for over two decades, I envisioned this kind of life for the millions in my climate-vulnerable country – a vision that I had wanted to become a reality through the laws I passed and funding allocations I made.

In the face of the climate crisis, it is significant that we view and understand our challenges from individual and collective lenses, with the sum considered greater than its parts.

In truth, we are all experiencing the same storm within the same ocean. But we are onboard very different ships.

Our challenge, therefore, is to ensure that the region’s diversity and differences in circumstances will not undermine the state of our region’s collective resilience and strength.

They should be catalysts for stronger partnerships that work for the benefit of all, particularly for those most at risk.

Friends, we have the foundational policies, the knowledge and technological tools, and the global resources to confront this challenge. It is not a question of capability but of willpower and determination.

Our collective resilience should be defined by cooperation and collaboration, not by fractiousness and segmentation, but cohesion and integration.

Let us move and transform our region and our societies from fragility to agility by working continuously, conscientiously, and collectively.

We all need to work together for the climate; to secure the lives, livelihoods, and the future of humankind.

Finally, allow me to urge everyone: let us approach the challenges of climate change and disaster with the greatest sense of commitment and urgency, knowing fully well that we act together not merely by the force of a legal obligation but by virtue of a moral imperative for humanity.

Thank you.