Speech: Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR) Final Project Meeting and Workshop

September 5, 2016

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR) Final Project Meeting and Workshop
5 September 2016| New World Hotel, Makati City


I believe all of us here today know and agree that we are at risk; we are vulnerable to climate change risks. 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.


Last month, residents of Shishmaref, a small village in Alaska, voted to relocate their community from the Sarichef Island that has been steadily sinking into the sea. Shishmaref is just one of the 31 Alaskan villages that face imminent threats from flooding and coastal erosion.[1]


On a global scale, about 200 million people may become permanently displaced by 2050 due to sea level rise, flooding and intense droughts.


If global temperature rises by 2°C, sea level rise is projected to be less than 70 centimeters; with warming of up to 4°C, sea level rise is projected to be more than 100 cm.


The statistics are even more disturbing in the Philippines. Various studies show that sea level rise around the country is three to five times faster than the global average rate; and even if we are successful in limiting global warming to 1.5°C, sea level around the Philippines would still rise to about 70 centimeters, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


Sea level rise is just one of the impacts of climate change. Ocean acidification is causing irreversible damage to our coral reefs, while the sudden shifts from hot temperatures to incessant rains pose uncertainties to agriculture, greatly affecting our food security. The warming climate is now one of the most significant risks for World Heritage Sites, including the Philippines’ own Ifugao Rice Terraces. Extreme rainfall and heavy floods constantly threaten lives, livelihood and development.


This is why nations, especially those highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as the Philippines, were not content with the use of the phrase “well below the 2°C goal” when the Paris Agreement was being drafted. Instead, we pushed for the inclusion of the 1.5°C global warming limit as our main goal.


It was not an easy journey during the Paris Agreement negotiations yet we continue to move forward through the challenging path of pushing for its ratification.


At this point, 26 of the 197 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have ratified the Agreement, including the US and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG). They represent 39% of global GHG emissions.[2] For the Agreement to enter into force, at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC representing 55 percent of global GHG emissions must ratify it.


I am hopeful that it will not take long for our own government to realize the wisdom of completing our process of ratification.


But even as the Paris Agreement has been hailed by many as a landmark agreement, its aspirations will not happen on its own.


Bending the global warming curve to 1.5°C is a moral imperative, because it means saving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people; it means upholding the human rights of the poor and vulnerable; it means ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.


The Philippines has committed to a 70% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 from business as usual scenario from energy, transport, waste, industry and forestry. We also committed to building the resilience of our communities and promoting inclusive growth in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Delivering on our commitments to these global frameworks is our way of telling and showing the world that though we are vulnerable to natural hazards and climate impacts, we are not incapable of action.


We need to strengthen the capacities of our governments and apply the whole-of-society approach in integrating responses to climate change within national to local policy frameworks and programs of actions.


The Philippines has among the world’s best laws on climate and disaster resilience such as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, the Climate Change Act, and the People’s Survival Fund Act. The greater challenge, however, is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.


Our government has also started climate-tagging expenditure for climate change adaptation and mitigation and will prioritize funding for adaptation to reduce the vulnerability and address the climate risks to our communities.


Moreover, in my capacity as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, we were able to transform the 2016 national budget into one that is climate-adaptive and disaster-resilient. We have mainstreamed provisions that ensure that the implementation of government programs would contribute towards building resilience. We will continue to do this in the 2017 national budget.


On this note, I wish to congratulate everyone behind the Coastal Cities at Risk Project. Scientific research collaboration and innovation are important for government to design evidence-based decision support systems and to help communities prepare for localized impact assessments.


The best climate solutions are possible only with the guidance of science. We need science in developing land use plans that are risk sensitive. The science and research community’s role to gather, validate and process scientific data is crucial in the accurate prediction of events. These are indispensable inputs to designing practical solutions and communicating the risks to our communities.


Building resilience is not the duty of the government alone. It is everyone’s responsibility. The risks will always be present; managing the risks is key to resilience. We must be fully aware of the specific risks and vulnerabilities of our communities so we can craft the best solutions to effectively manage them.


In closing, I wish to stress that we all live in one Earth. Climate change is now in our midst and it imparts to us the lesson that we do not own the planet, but are mere stewards of its resources. Let us also be reminded of our responsibility to ensure that the future generations will have the benefits of a balanced and healthful ecology.


Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future. We must lead the way towards meaningful change—change in the way we think, change in the way we live, and change in the way we pursue the development and the future we long for—for our children and grandchildren, for all of humanity, for all species in the world, and for Mother Earth.***



[1] Reeling From Effects of Climate Change, Alaskan Village Votes to Relocate, New York Times, 19 August 2016