State of the Climate Speech

August 10, 2010

Never before in history have humans proactively worked together to avert a global catastrophe, as what we now attempt to achieve with the threatening challenge of climate change.
It is 2010, a particular time to look into the progress of countries towards halving poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is impossible to achieve without taking extensive measures to minimize the impacts of recurring floods, droughts, and other hazards that push Filipinos back into poverty. It is time to recognize that disasters, turbocharged by a changing climate, have undone years of development gains, and that unsound and short-sighted development practices themselves are playing a significant role in worsening disaster risk.
We are at present, in a darker place than we could have ever imagined – we are polluting at a rate more rapid than what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had declared as the worst-case scenario.
The climate crisis knows no territorial boundaries. But it is the Asia Pacific region which bears much of the burden of the global disaster risk problem, expressed in the historical frequency, severity and impact of disaster events. The imperative today is to understand new risks and their impact on vulnerable populations.
Philippine scenario
At home, disaster risks abound. The Philippines, being an archipelagic State located in the western edge of the Pacific Ocean and directly within the Ring of Fire, faces the constant risk of typhoons, drought, as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. With climate change, we are to expect weather in extremes.
Sea level rise As one of the countries most affected by sea level rise, the Philippines is inundated 9-12mm per year which is much higher than the global annual average of 3mm. A one-meter rise in sea level would inundate an estimated 129,000 hectares of land, affecting 2 million people. Manila invariably registers the highest rise in sea level and this impact will be grave for the country’s administrative and financial capital.
Weather and other Natural Disaster Risks There is a need to improve our scientific and technical capacity to forecast the shifting hazards and their links to disasters. Downscaling, which requires time, skill and the human and computational resources, is now possible to help our municipalities prepare from the possible impacts of their alternative climate futures.
Current modeling runs show Mindanao and Southern Visayas as warmer and dryer in 2020 and 2050 compared to Luzon, but Western Mindanao, particularly the Central and Southern Peninsula are projected to have the highest increase in temperature.
It is also projected that, except for Western Luzon, there will be less rains over Luzon and Mindanao and more rains in the Visayas.
Aside from the change in the pathway of the storms, research at the PAG-ASA and Manila Observatory reveal that there have been fewer but more intense rainy days. As the number of rainy days decrease, water-dependent sectors will need to anticipate and innovate approaches to achieving and maintaining sustainable supplies of fresh water while preparing for floods and landslides. Rainfall variability analysis has also shown us that there has been a geographic redistribution of rain all over our country. This highlights the two extremes that the country is currently experiencing: drought and deluge.
Drought Experts agree that the looming water crisis is the result of the combination of rapid population growth, pollution, the destruction and mismanagement of freshwater resources, and the failure to study and anticipate climate variability. All these factors create a growing water security challenge. Even as we speak, one out of five Filipinos has no direct access to clean water based on World Bank estimates. This uneven distribution of water is echoed throughout the farms in the countryside. The lack of storage infrastructure also leaves the Philippines highly sensitive to droughts and floods.
Water is also vital to energy development, directly to fuel hydropower generation and indirectly to cool generation facilities of both fossil-fuel and renewable energy producing plant. Without water to cool systems, facilities tend to breakdown from overheating. One need only recall the blackouts we had over the summer to realize the value of this resource.
The agriculture sector, which accounted for 81% of total water consumption in 2007 , is most affected in the event of a water shortage during prolonged dry spells. To address this, I have filed a resolution pushing for better adaptation in the water sector, which entails comprehensive watershed management, irrigation efficiency, introduction of low water use crops, recycling of water, creation of water impoundment and rainwater harvesting systems, and improvement of monitoring and forecasting systems for floods and droughts.
The capital is not spared from the dangers of a prolonged drought. As water level in the Angat dam has plunged, long queues for water have become a common sight in many affected barangays.
A disturbing study from PAGASA reveals that water entry in the Angat Dam has decreased by 500 million cubic meters for the last 50 years. This strongly supports our resolve to think of long-term development interventions.
At the root of this water shortage is the deterioration of the country’s forest areas. Under nature’s order of things, watershed areas store water for release into the water receptacles during the dry months, ensuring a continuity of water supply. Yet most of the proclaimed watershed areas have been classified as deteriorating or dying. We lose 1.4% of our forest cover a year.
I have also filed a resolution urging the Department of Public Works and Highways to implement a 21-year-old law, Republic Act No. 6716, or the Rainwater and Spring Development Act of 1989. Why has the DPWH not constructed wells and rainwater collectors, developed springs and rehabilitated existing water wells in all barangays during the last 21 years?
Deluge Our experiences with Ondoy, Pepeng and Basyang exposed the country’s lack of an effective weather forecasting and early warning communications systems. They are either underutilized, outdated and inadequate to effectively predict typhoons, determine their intensity, and communicate warning to everyone exposed to these hazards. The critical gaps in operational, scientific and institutional capacity can only lead to increasing the vulnerability of the poorest sectors – those living in high-risk areas and whose livelihoods are at the mercy of extreme weather events.
The Senate Committee on Climate Change conducted a series of public hearings last year after the onslaught of Ondoy and Pepeng. A matter of discussion in these hearings was dam operations as waters were released based on outdated protocols, flooding several provinces in Luzon.
We now call upon the DOE and NAPOCOR to review their planning and operations in light of the science available and to ensure that extreme weather events are taken into consideration in the process. Our hydropower systems must be climate-resilient, which entails measures for improved management of our dams linked to reliable weather forecasts and effective early warning systems for communities at risk of floods due to dam water releases.
I have already filed Senate Bill No. 1406 or the PAGASA Modernization Act of 2010, which will give the agency PhP5 billion for the acquisition of modern equipment and communication systems, providing for the necessary information requirements.
With regard to our problem on flooding, I have also filed a resolution urging the Metro Manila Development Agency (MMDA) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to implement a river rehabilitation program in order to recover the length of our rivers, and promote better water flow along our major tributaries to prevent flooding.
The Vulnerability of Schoolchildren to Floods, Landslides and Earthquakes
As in the case of the Sichuan Earthquakes in China, and the Guinsaugon debris avalanche in 2006, extreme rainfall, floods, landslides and earthquakes may generate associated disaster risk.
School children in the Philippines are uniquely vulnerable to this potentially deadly disaster. A study published by Columbia University reveals that compared to the rest of the world, the Philippines has the largest number of schoolchildren at risk from earthquakes – with 15.6 million school-age children in earthquake zones.
To ensure the safety of our schoolchildren, we urge: (1) the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to identify earthquake hazard areas within the country; (2) the DPWH – to immediately conduct a nationwide structural evaluation of all schools, enhance the structural integrity of public schools and help private-run schools improve on the same; and (3) the Department of Education (DepEd) – to ensure that schools are structurally and organizationally resilient to earthquakes.
Public Health Higher temperatures also trigger the surge of diseases such as dengue, malaria, cholera and typhoid. Communities displaced by disasters will most likely be exposed to health threats in evacuation centers.
In 1998, when the Philippines experienced the El Niño phenomenon, almost 40,000 dengue cases, 1,200 cholera cases and nearly 1,000 typhoid fever cases, were recorded nationwide. These sicknesses make our population more vulnerable, especially those who cannot afford health care, much less health insurance.
We must strengthen our people’s health as to make them resilient against diseases that the change in climate may bring. It is for this reason that I advocate the passage of the Mandatory Universal Healthcare Coverage of Every Filipino Act and the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act, as well as a bill providing for nutrition workers in every barangay. These laws shall ensure that proper healthcare and accessible, cheaper, and quality medicines and knowledgeable nutrition workers will be on hand to help our citizens, especially the poor, avoid diseases heightened by warmer temperatures.
Agriculture From 1970 to 1990, typhoons, floods and droughts resulted in an 82.4% loss to total Philippine rice production. With continued climate change, crop yield potential is estimated to decline by 19% in Asia and rice yield in the Philippines by as much as 75% toward the end of the century.
Forests and Biodiversity Philippine forests, host to a large variety of plant and animal species, have been declared as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The IPCC predicts that with a 1.5 to 2.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature in a span of 50-100 years, 30% of species would be at risk of extinction.
For this, I urge the passage of the Barangay Greening and Forest Land Rehabilitation Act, which empowers local officials as frontliners to advance greening, rehabilitation and protection of the different forest lands in our country. This shall be a priority adaptation strategy that will be implemented from the provincial down to the barangay level.
Energy The country is a leader in the use of renewable sources of energy: hydropower, geothermal and wind power. However, even with pro-alternative energy policies, hydropower currently accounts for less than 10% of total national capacity. Moreover, since hydropower is dependent on rainfall, the historical trend of fewer rainy days threatens the sustainability of this energy source.
On our most recent experience, Typhoon Basyang paralyzed the energy sector causing a massive blackout throughout Luzon. This only shows how vulnerable energy-related infrastructures are; thus, a call for the need to climate-proof our energy sector.
Measures for improved management and development of our energy generation, transmission and distribution linkages must be instituted by giving serious consideration to the findings of climate analysis and impact scenarios.
Moreover, a diversification of our energy systems must be designed and implemented. Exploring and developing geothermal and wind power, apart from hydropower, as renewable sources of energy would be a great leap in the country’s goal for energy sustainability. The renewable energy map of our country must be produced and linked to the realities across all sectors.
Economic growth A 2004 World Bank study revealed that the annual economic impact of disasters totals $500 million US dollars or about 4% of GDP. Rural areas where poverty is most prevalent bear the brunt of these economic losses.
Based on a study by the Asian Development Bank on the economics of climate change, the country stands to lose 6% of its GDP annually by 2100 if it disregards climate change risks.
However, this same study found that if the Philippines invests 0.5% of its GDP by 2020 in climate change adaptation, it can avert losses of up to 4% of its GDP by 2100 — clearly a short term investment with a long term eight-fold gain.
Mr. President,
While uncertainty may still be a part of climate change science, the vulnerability and exposure of the Philippines to impacts of climate variability and extremes is clear and irrefutable.
Thus, it is high time to re-think development – the kind of development that transcends traditional economic yardsticks such as GDP; and the kind founded on socio-economic progress, ecosystems protection, cultural resilience and good governance.
Evidently, the Philippines is a climate hotspot, ranking 12th of the most number of deaths because of disasters . The capital even landed second place in World Wildlife Fund’s list of climate-vulnerable coastal cities in Asia.
With the clock ticking, I call on:
– The government to make our laws work, which entails the review and understanding of socio-economic implications of complex climate risks we face and ensuring that these insights are incorporated into the efforts for the coordinated implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and now the Climate Change Act of 2009 and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010;
– The government to institute transparency and accountability mechanisms that will ensure the prudent utilization of dedicated budget lines, financing facilities and international aid for climate change financing;
– The Philippine negotiating team to the United Nations Climate Change Conference to bravely assert “climate justice” and persuade high-emitting countries to commit drastic cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions;
– The newly created Commission on Climate Change to support scientific research collaboration and innovation in order to promote and design evidence-based decision support systems. This critical task lies at the core of its capacity to fulfill the mandate to decrease our vulnerability by ensuring the integration of climate change and disaster risk reduction, into national, sectoral and local development plans and programs;
– My colleagues in Congress to fully exercise their legislative and oversight functions to advance adaptation;
– Local leaders to drive and push for environmental protection and clean energy initiatives in their respective jurisdictions;
– The private sector to invest in clean new technologies, adopt energy efficiency measures and re-engineer corporate social responsibility to reflect the joint values of achieving business sustainability through building disaster resilient local communities;
– The national government and LGUs to support the scientific and research community in their goal of collaboration on risk science and innovation and help us prepare for a range of impacts;
– The academe to incorporate and share indigenous and practical knowledge with their communities and teach our youth the urgency and importance of climate change action; and
– Non-government organizations to be a channel between the academic and scientific institutions and communities by helping to bring science and technology of resilience to the most vulnerable populations;
Mr. President,
Critical mass is needed to influence political will and effect change on a global and local scale. We must confront these challenges with courage, compassion, commitment and capacity. For only together, can we truly help chart humanity’s path to a safer tomorrow.