Keynote Speech of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda Representative, Lone District of Antique House of Representatives VISAYAS REGIONAL FUTURE EARTH COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION WORKSHOP 23 February 2021 Zoom Digital Meeting Platform

February 23, 2021

Good day, everyone. Isang luntiang Pilipinas sa inyong lahat!

Thank you to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) for organizing this Future Earth Philippines Regional Workshop for Visayas and for this honor to be part of this important event.

My warmest appreciation to all of you here today—to our national agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges (SUCs), private higher education institutions (HEIs), the private sector, and civil society—thank you for being part of this urgent and crucial movement towards sustainability and resilience, not just here in Visayas, but across the Philippines and the world.

It has been almost a year of living in this COVID-19-ridden world, and yet we find ourselves still struggling to go about our daily lives. 

Perhaps, part of the reason why we struggle is that we feel that this is just temporary, and that sooner or later, we will somehow be able to go back to how we lived our lives before COVID-19.

But the question is, “Do we want to?” Do we really want to go back to our old ways that led us to this very situation?

No country, whether rich or poor, was adequately prepared to handle a health crisis as big as this COVID-19. As they say, COVID-19 did not break the system; it exposed a broken one. Our health mechanisms did not have the buffers to manage the shocks brought about by the pandemic and its resulting impacts to economies and communities around the world.

 As we hold this workshop to discuss and work towards sustainability and resilience for the Visayas region, rebounding from COVID-19 is on top of our immediate priorities.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), our gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 9.5% last year, which is considered as our worst economic performance since the country began releasing growth data just after World War II in 1947.

In September last year, an SWS survey revealed that an estimated 7.6 million Filipino households experienced involuntary hunger or hunger due to lack of food at least once—a hunger incidence rate of 30.7%, which is the highest since the previous record of 23.8% in March 2012. This eased down to 16% or four million families in November 2020.

 The World Bank meanwhile also projected that nearly three million Filipinos would fall into poverty by the end of 2020. A study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) earlier reported that with just a 10%-decline in incomes, up to 5.5 million Filipinos would be pushed into poverty, with the pandemic causing larger income dislocations.

 I fear we are being shortsighted if we only considered COVID-19 as a threat to our goals for sustainability and resilience. Beyond the COVID-19 horizon is what I consider as the greatest threat to our existence and our planet, and this is climate change.

 Climate change is not new, and in fact, I have been calling for all sectors to take action and combat this crisis for more than a decade now.

 We have consistently ranked high among countries at risk from climate impacts. In the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines is 4th most affected by climate change from 2000-2019. This is due to our peculiar vulnerability of being “recurrently affected by catastrophes.”

 We hold this workshop now as Tropical Storm Auring batters areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with rains and floods. Late last year, three typhoons, one after another, submerged many towns and devastated billions worth of our agriculture and infrastructure.

 But it is not just about storms and typhoons.

 In 2019, 51 of our local governments declared a state of calamity due to droughts and dry spells induced by El Niño and aggravated by climate change. In the first quarter of the year, the estimated damages to agriculture amounted to more than eight (8) billion pesos, affecting the lives of more than 247,000 Filipino farmers.

 Episodic climate-induced disasters unfortunately form only one subset of the threats our people are facing. We also contend with slow onset effects, which take place without the drama of calamity, but are likely to inflict more lasting harm to our country’s economic aspirations.

 These involve rising sea levels and ocean acidification, as well as serious and more frequent temperature stresses in our seas that result in coral bleaching.

 The 2017 Philippine Climate Change Assessment reported that by 2050, it is expected that Visayas and Mindanao will be drier than usual. Large decreases in rainfall and longer drier periods will affect the amount of water in watersheds and dams, thereby limiting agricultural and energy production.

 Central Visayas and Western Visayas, as well as areas in Luzon, are projected to lose over 50% of their existing coastal wetlands by 2100.

 As the Philippine coasts are highly vulnerable to storm surges, especially during the tropical cyclone season,  Central Visayas, Southern Luzon, and Northeastern Mindanao are identified as most vulnerable to high storm surges because of their gently sloping coasts and shallow bays and the frequent passage of tropical cyclones.

 These are just some scenarios that would likely happen in a world without clear and urgent climate action.

 The year 2020 drew to a close with a harsh reminder of the current state of this global climate crisis.

 The year 2020 is the second hottest year on record, with just 0.02 degrees difference than the hottest year, 2016. This makes the last six years as the warmest on record since 2015 and the period 2011-2020 as the warmest decade on record.

 We expect the future to be even warmer and deadlier—but by exactly how much depends on the choices we make in the crucial months and years ahead of us.

 Climate adaptation is to build our defenses, to capacitate ourselves, and to strengthen the resilience of our vulnerable populations and communities to cope with the array of climate impacts that come our way. Adaptation has always been primarily local, with our communities—our climate frontliners—left to fend for themselves in dealing with extreme climate events.

 We already have several landmark laws on the environment, climate change, and disaster risk reduction, many of which have been regarded as model legislation in other countries. But despite this, we continue to be among the top countries that are most affected by climate change and disasters, year after year.

 In 2009, the Climate Change Act was enacted to create the Philippine Climate Change Commission, formulated our national framework and action plan for short to long-term adaptation and mitigation priorities. with our president as its chairperson.

 In 2012, this law was amended to put in place our local adaptation fund called the People’s Survival Fund. The PSF has an annual budget allocation of 20 million US dollars for resilience-building projects and programs of our local governments and organizations. The PSF may be augmented by grants from other sources. We also envision that approved PSF projects could be scaled up by international climate finance sources, such as the Green Climate Fund.

 Thus far, six municipal governments have received grants for their projects. This law is a form of exercise for our LGUs, whose resources are almost always set aside for social services and public infrastructure needs. This is for them to value climate science and to work with stakeholders in developing climate finance proposals for their vulnerable constituents.

 Another law is our ENIPAS Law, which is the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018, which legislated the protection and effective preservation of the Philippine protected areas by giving more access to funding for protection programs, as well as the prosecution of prohibited acts. From the only 13 legislated protected areas, with this law, there are now 107 legislated protected areas.

 Protected areas are important ecosystems, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands and tropical forests, which are critical in our climate adaptation mechanisms and the conservation of Philippine biodiversity.

 These are laws that have been regarded as model legislation for other countries in the region and the world. But a law is but a mere piece of paper if not properly implemented.

 We all dream of living in progressive, peaceful, safe and healthy communities. We all hope to be able to fulfill our needs and enjoy our basic rights. But we still live in a country and a world far from ideal.

 And in light of the intensifying effects of the climate crisis and the crippling effects of this pandemic to our economy, we need greater solidarity, cooperation, and action to make our ideals a reality.

 Let me share a few insights on how we can ensure a sustainable pandemic and climate recovery:

 First, we need to undertake science-based and risk-informed action and investment planning.

 This is crucial for all our LGUs who are at the forefront of the planning, preparation, and implementation of local climate action plans. They must be able to know their specific climate risks and vulnerabilities, as a way to inform their actions, policies, and investments within their jurisdictions.

 We have always considered that adaptation is local,  recognizing that our communities bear the brunt of climate impacts and therefore our local leaders must be able to address their risks and vulnerabilities specific to their area, as effectively as possible.

 Our government, through the Climate Change Commission or CCC, has initiated partnerships with our schools, universities, and higher education institutions to bring climate science on the ground.

 Through the CCC’s Communities for Resilience or CORE Initiative, the government trains our community local leaders and planners and provides platforms for exchanging knowledge and best practices on local climate initiatives.

 These trainings include Climate Change 101; Climate and Disaster Risk Assessment; Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory; Climate Change Expenditure Tagging; and accessing climate finance. But the main focus is in the formulation or enhancement of their respective Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAPs)—our community’s guide and toolkit to address local climate risks and vulnerabilities.

 We strive to make these LCCAPs as science-based and risk-informed as possible and consistent with national development plans. It is the responsibility of our LGUs to ensure that our people understand the risks and hazards present in their communities.

 Second, we need to strengthen social protection.

 Let us examine how the government’s social protection programs 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 climate change.

 We have to expand our social protection both vertically and horizontally to include the poor and the vulnerable from communities identified as having high-exposure to typhoons, floods, and droughts.

 Third, we need to conduct an environmental program audit.

 We have numerous laws and policies that are focused on environmental protection, climate action, and disaster management. 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.

 Fourth, we need to advance economic and business resilience.

 We can ensure resilient livelihoods and economic systems by pursuing sustainable investments that take into account environment, social and gender safeguards. Private sector capital must now consider heavily how they can promote green infrastructure, such as green buildings; risk financing, risk reduction incentives, business continuity planning, among others.

 The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has issued its “Sustainable Finance Framework,” which I hope could really catalyze green and resilient growth for our country.

 The framework seeks to safeguard the financial system from the evolving material hazards of physical climate risk and transition risk, including stranded assets. This would give banks the impetus to start pricing not only climate and transition risk, but also to value climate-resilience and low-carbon opportunities.

 To make adaptation work for us, it really requires efforts from both the public and private sectors to bring about the needed investments and development to enable genuine resilience to our communities.

 And fifth, let us enable the environment for adaptation to work for us by building partnerships and fostering convergences across all levels.

 Climate action cannot solely be the government’s responsibility.

 Each of us has a role to play. Our goals entails collective action and commitment to transform our society towards environmental sustainability and resilience.

 From this year until 2030, which is declared as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we need rapid action to combat planetary threats to humanity’s survival and prosperity.

 At the end of this decade, by 2030, is the deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals and the year our scientists have declared as the closing of the window of opportunity to deflect the catastrophic effects of climate change. This decade is our last chance.

 Whatever actions we take today will ultimately affect our children and grandchildren. Even if we hand them over all our material wealth, it would not matter if they live in a polluted, uninhabitable, degraded Earth.

 Beyond this workshop, I hope we all continue the conversation and foster convergence towards our goals for the Visayas, the Philippines, and the world. The path that we will take today will determine the fate of the next generations. Let us not fail them.

 Thank you very much. Mabuhay po tayong lahat!