Privilege Speech: The Global Commission on Adaptation’s Flagship Report “Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience”

September 30, 2019

Privilege Speech of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda

On the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Flagship Report “Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience”

September 30, 2019 | House of Representatives


Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues in Congress:

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

These are few of the gripping words spoken by the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, addressing the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday.

Some may say that her words made them uncomfortable. It did—but only because she was speaking the truth.

Colleagues, the science has been crystal clear for more than 30 years now but leaders all over the world chose to look away.

This resulted in the climate emergency that we all have to deal with now. And we no longer have the luxury of time.

The latest climate science warned that we only have 12 years left before the window of opportunity for achieving the 1.5°C long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement closes.

The 1.5°C goal is the global warming threshold that will enable vulnerable developing countries like ours to survive and thrive.

Global warming beyond 1.5 will disrupt basic social and economic activities. It will transform life as we know it.

This is why Greta and millions of students all over the world, including here in the Philippines, are demanding true climate action from leaders like us.

Responding to the climate emergency is a moral and intergenerational responsibility.

It is our obligation to lead our nation to a more sustainable and climate-resilient path.

We need to ensure that climate action is embedded in the country’s long-term development strategies. We also need to carry out immediate risk-informed and science-based adaptation interventions in the most climate vulnerable communities.

Mr. Speaker,

In 2018, I accepted the invitation to be a Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), which is a gathering of climate advocates and world leaders pushing to accelerate climate change adaptation.

The GCA is jointly led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, philanthropist Bill Gates, and former World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, now International Monetary Fund Managing Director, and is co-managed by the Global Center on Adaptation and the World Resources Institute.

The GCA aims to inspire heads of state, government officials, community leaders, business executives, investors, and other actors to prepare for and respond—to adapt–to the disruptive effects of climate change with urgency, determination, and foresight.

Our call is to ‘Adapt Our World’. This is our mission: to tip the balance in favor of continued growth and more widely shared prosperity, even in a rapidly warming world.

Adaptation means preparing for and responding to the disruptive effects of climate change. It means doing everything we can to protect people’s lives and livelihoods from the impacts of our changing environment, as well as creating and spreading solutions to make communities, homes, businesses, farms, and infrastructure stronger and better equipped to deal with increasing challenges.

Together with Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Christiana Figueres, Former UNFCCC Executive Secretary; and my fellow Commissioners, we launched the GCA Flagship Report which we had developed over the last several months last September 10. I have the distinct honor and privilege of sharing its findings before this august chamber.

Mr. Speaker,

The GCA flagship report, entitled “Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience,” entailed careful study of data and good practices across many countries and reveals to us the costs of climate change on people and the global economy now and in the near future:

Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields by up to 30 percent by 2050, affecting the 500 million small farms around the world the most;

The number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050;

Rising seas and greater storm surges could force hundreds of millions of people in coastal cities from their homes, with a total cost to coastal urban areas of more than one trillion US dollars each year by 2050; and that

Climate change could push more than 100 million people within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030.

Considering all these, the report provides three imperatives on why we should accelerate climate change adaptation.

First, it is a human imperative because climate change exacerbates existing inequities by widening the gap between people with wealth and people living in poverty. It also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who, in most parts of the world, have little voice in decisions that affect their lives.

Second, it is an environmental imperative because climate change is accelerating the loss of natural assets. One in four species is facing extinction, about a quarter of all ice-free land is now subject to degradation, and ocean temperatures and acidity are rising.

The natural environment is humanity’s first line of defense against floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes. A thriving natural environment is fundamental to adaptation in every human enterprise. There is still time to protect and work with nature to build resilience and reduce climate risks at all scales, but the window is closing.

And third, it is an economic imperative because adaptation is in our strong economic self-interest. The report found out that investing 1.8 trillion US dollars globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate 7.1 trillion US dollars in total net benefits.

The five areas considered for this estimate are early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture crop production, global mangrove protection, and investments in making water resources more resilient.

In other words, failing to seize the economic benefits of climate adaptation with high-return investments would undermine trillions of dollars in potential growth and prosperity.

The full report, which my office will gladly circulate, provides a more in-depth coverage of why and how we should accelerate adaptation. But the message of the report cannot be any clearer: We must seize the opportunity to adapt for the benefit of our people, environment, and economy.

Mr. Speaker,

Adaptation is nothing new for us. Together with climate change mitigation, they have become buzzwords, having been said too many times, in too many occasions, for far too long. But translating these buzzwords into results—to actually enable our leaders and citizens to initiate and sustain climate action—remains a challenge.

I have been a strong advocate for environmental and climate action since my time as a broadcast journalist and during my three terms in the Philippine Senate. And I will certainly continue to do so, as I discharge my role as Deputy Speaker and Representative.

I recall that when I first ran as senator in 1998, I was warned to be prepared to lose if I espoused the environmental agenda. During my reelection year in 2007, many thought I was out of my mind as I championed the climate change agenda. Some even said that my advocacies seemed trivial and out of place.

But in both elections, I was victorious. Winning the elections was just the start, I thought. I wanted to deliver on legislation that would respond to the people’s needs for which they voted me into office.

In my three terms in the Senate, I authored several landmark laws on environment and climate change, including: the Clean Air Act (RA 8749); the Environmental Awareness Education Act (RA 9512); the Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513); the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003); the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121); and the Climate Change Act (RA 9729) creating the Climate Change Commission, and its amendatory law, which created the pioneering local climate finance mechanism called People’s Survival Fund (PSF).

I also chaired three Committees in the Senate, among others, namely: the Committee on Foreign Relations, which facilitated the Senate concurrence on the President’s ratification of the Paris Agreement; the Committee on Climate Change, which I sought the creation of; and the Committee on Finance, during which I endeavored to transform our national budget into a climate budget by enshrining provisions on adaptation and mitigation, as a way of supporting our goal to build climate resilience.

One groundbreaking action that we also led in the Philippine Senate was to impose taxes on coal which would be comparable with rates in other neighboring countries. For decades, coal importation here had enjoyed minimal taxes at 10 pesos or 20 US centavos per metric ton. There was stiff opposition, but we were able to increase the taxes to 50, 100, and 150 pesos for the next three years.

These tax rates are four times lower that what I had originally wanted, but to break the wall against dirty energy that could not be penetrated on for the longest times was, for us, already a monumental feat.

I mention all of this, Mr. Speaker, because conveying what climate change is, is the easy part; enabling them to take climate action is the difficult part. But even doing the easier part is in itself already frustrating, especially when dealing with people who consider climate change only as a conceptual environmental issue, without real-life impacts on humanity and our planet.

It was only when Typhoon Yolanda brought devastation to many communities that people began to understand how big of a threat climate change is. Although it was much unfortunate that it took tremendous loss of lives, properties, and resources, there was a sudden urgency to put systems and policies in place to address those climate impacts.

We have learned a lot since then. We have integrated the climate change perspective into our development planning and budgeting processes and have supported our own measures to combat its impacts.

But in light of the intensifying impacts of this climate crisis we are in, we are required to do more.

Mr. Speaker,

The Philippines, in the 2019 Global Climate Risk Index by the Germanwatch, ranks fifth among countries most affected by climate change from 1998 to 2017. Within these two decades, the country lost an annual average of 0.5% of its GDP due to climate change impacts.

Moreover, according to PAGASA, the observed temperature in the country is rising at an average rate of 0.1°C per decade and is projected to increase by as much as 0.9°C to 2.3°C by 2050, entailing drastic changes in weather patterns, increase in frequency, intensity and duration of floods, and increase in frequency and intensity of droughts in the face of climate change.

Major rainfall changes in patterns and distribution suggest a decrease in rainfall by 2020 in most parts of the country except Luzon, and an increase in the number of days with heavy rainfall by year 2020 and 2050.

Sea level rise in the country is projected to be at 60 centimeters or three times the global average of 19 centimeters, with about 60 percent of our local government units at risk of storm surges, flashfloods, and saltwater intrusion.

Just last month, our Department of Health (DOH) issued a national epidemic alert on dengue, following reports of 142,062 dengue cases in the country within the first seven months of this year. This is a sharp increase by 98% compared to the same period in 2018.

In Antique alone, the province registered 1,117 cases from January to July this year compared to the 494 cases for the same period last year, which is an alarming increase by 126%.

It is considered that dengue naturally thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates, but various studies point out that climate change is linked to the surge of dengue, and potentially for other vector-borne diseases, as rising temperatures may lead to longer transmission, and stronger rainfall and flooding may facilitate breeding, leading to a greater number of human infections.

Mr. Speaker,

Despite this bleak scenario, I remain positive that the Philippines can exercise leadership on adaptation and be regarded as model of resilience.

To date, we have six municipalities that have secured funding from the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), which is our very own local climate finance mechanism, for adaptation projects that support the establishment of climate field school, ecological-based farming, climate-resilient agriculture, watershed rehabilitation, ridge-to-reef adaptation, and river ecosystem management.  And I hope that more local governments can access these funds easier and more promptly.

Mr. Speaker,

There are a number of simple, easy-to-do, no-regrets local adaptation initiatives, that my colleagues in Congress could promote and pursue in their respective districts and sectors to increase their adaptive capacities. Let me share with you ten of them, citing some areas where these have been successfully done:

Harvesting rainwater for household and community use in Ormoc, Leyte;

Making rain gardens, food gardens, and edible landscapes for food sufficiency in Taguig City, Quezon City, UP Los Banos, and Valladolid, Negros Occidental;

Constructing roadside ditches to mitigate floods;

Harnessing solar and other renewable energy to electrify homes, schools, barangay halls, and public places in Guiuan, Samar;

Reducing wastes to zero, recycling and reusing, and refusing single-use plastics in Camotes Island, Cebu;

Planting bamboo to protect slopes, to prevent landslides, and to provide livelihood in Lubao, Pampanga;

Planting mangroves and sea grasses to protect coastal ecosystems and communities in Bohol and Sorsogon;

Promoting climate field schools and resilient livelihoods for farming and rural communities in Dumangas, Iloilo;

Knowing local risk to natural hazards and improving early warning systems to reach the “last mile” and to ensure early action at household and community level in Legazpi City, Albay; and,

Preparedness for emergency response to and swift recovery from the cascading impacts of extreme weather events, including contingency planning and drills, in Pampanga, which was awarded Best Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council at the 20th Gawad KALASAG Search for Excellence in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management and Humanitarian Assistance.

Mr. Speaker,

While we already have the policies in place to enhance the adaptive capacities of our local communities, we must also address the gaps in local data and science on climate risks and hazards to guide local action.

The Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAPs) of our LGUs must be quality assured and enhanced to become science-based and risk-informed, so they can be more responsive to the prevailing and emerging needs of our local communities for climate change adaptation.

We must also continue allocating financial resources for adaptation interventions, such as improved water management, promotion of sustainable livelihoods, establishment of “early warning-early action” systems, formulation of evacuation and contingency plans, and resettlement of populations at risk.  We must move from project-based efforts towards a holistic programmatic approach to sustain initiatives for more long-term and gender-responsive adaptation measures.

And we must sustain our call for climate justice, which has been the resolve of the Duterte administration—to demand from the developed countries their fair share in addressing this climate crisis and for them to honor their commitments on climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building for us developing countries to meet the costs of adaptation.

Mr. Speaker,

We welcome the outcome of the UN Climate Action Summit convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and attended by over 65 heads of state and government last Monday in New York, particularly: (i) climate finance pledges and carbon neutrality and emission reduction plans of certain developed countries, local governments, and private sector actors; and (ii) national plans by vulnerable developing countries to enhance adaptation efforts.

I echo the call of our Climate Change Commission for developed countries to deliver promptly on their financing commitment under the Paris Agreement for the climate actions of developing countries, starting with the immediate replenishment of the Green Climate Fund.

Developed countries must also exhibit greater ambition and action to reduce their carbon emissions significantly. As the Global Commission on Adaptation puts it, ambitious mitigation is still the best form of adaptation because emissions reductions minimize the scale of the problem that we need to address.

Mr. Speaker,

The only fitting response to the climate emergency is to change our ways — from our way of thinking and living, to our way of pursuing development.

We have no other choice now but to adapt to a fast warming world fraught with danger.

We have no other choice now but to wean our economies from over dependence on coal and fossil fuels at the shortest time possible.

We have no other choice now but to act together bolder and faster to rein the runaway global warming to below our resilience threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The low carbon revolution is at hand. We must green our technologies and industries. We must green all the sectors of our economy — with green jobs and just transition.

We legislators must fully understand the state of climate crisis we are in, so we may be able to put forward policies that would steer our country towards the right direction.

I call on my colleagues in Congress to heed the call of our youths — to rise to the climate challenge, to uphold the  Climate Change Act and all the other ecological and environmental laws of our land.

And l call also on all our national and local government officials to implement our climate change laws and policies and to ensure that climate change adaptation and mitigation is mainstreamed in all policies, plans and programs.

Let the latest climate science inform and guide every decision that we make.

Let’s unite for global and local climate action — for everybody’s action matters.

Let’s unite for climate resilience — for despite the odds, we shall survive and thrive in this trying era of climate change.

Thank you very much.