The convergence of society, science, and technology towards climate resiliency

Engr. Felix Vitangcol, Fellow for Environment at the Stratbase ADR Institute and Secretary-General of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship

Recently, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned of the high probability of near to above normal rainfall conditions in the following months. At the same time, PAGASA also said that up to 19 tropical cyclones may enter the country until November of this year.

Climate risks are not uncommon in the Philippines. In fact, the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index ranks the Philippines as the fourth most affected country by extreme weather events from 1999 to 2019. The World Bank (WB) International Disaster Database also shows that a total of 72 storms entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) from 2011 to 2018, affecting some 68 million Filipinos. Each year, the country incurs $3.5 billion in estimated total damage to private and publicly owned assets.

According to Dr. CP David, who spoke at the Stratbase ADR Institute and Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship’s (PBEST) virtual event on the need for our communities to adopt best practices for a proactive approach to climate resilience, despite our generation occupying the majority of the leadership roles today, climate risks are still “not a top-of-mind issue.” The reality is, due to other pressing problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic and because of its slow onset effect on humanity, climate issues are downplayed. The lack of understanding and proper communication is another reason for the lack of awareness of the climate risks.

The damaging impacts of climate risks to our communities will grow every year if we fail to keep pace with the warming and fast-changing world and waste the shrinking window of opportunity we have to address climate change.

However, not all opportunities are lost as Philippine communities’ can still build up their climate resilience if they adopt best practices now and not when these risks present themselves in full force. Because of the climate risks’ complex and long-standing nature that often affects every Filipino, solving it will require a collective effort from all stakeholders across all levels of our society.

For instance, Governor Dax Cua shared best practices from the province of Quirino where the local government there utilizes data gathered from its Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS) to inform its citizens and plan ahead for possible calamities. The province also uses the Advanced Geographical Information System (GIS) to aid the local government in making accurate science- and evidence-based decisions and actions.

Collaboration among stakeholders is key to achieving sustainability and climate resilience, he added. Under the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) dialogue series with private and community development partners, the province has been able to explore climate-resilient pathways to economic growth and inclusive development through the introduction of modern technologies and innovative solutions to reduce carbon emissions while promoting resilient economies, ecosystems, and communities.

Dr. Mahar Lagmay of Project NOAH also stressed that responses should be people-centered and data-driven. To save more lives and livelihood, warnings should be hazard- and area-specific, and time-bound. This can be done through openly available real-time monitoring applications or data platforms and other technologies which have advanced to such a degree that it helps people make better decisions.

Meanwhile, as creating sustainable and climate-resilient communities is too crucial to be left to the responsibility of the government, the private sector plays an active role in strengthening disaster resilience through its expertise, financial capabilities, resources, and technological know-how.

Among private-sector groups that lead in this undertaking is the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF). Through its strategic partnerships with companies, government agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, the companies can nimbly mobilize efforts towards building disaster-resilient businesses in communities across the nation.

PDRF President Butch Meily shared their flagship project, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Clark, Pampanga, the world’s first ever in the region that runs on a national basis. The center tracks tropical weather patterns, storms, volcanic and earthquake eruptions around the world. PDRF also uses the center to track the Philippine pandemic situation daily.

Another worthy example of multisectoral initiatives is the data-backed Liveable Cities Dashboard, a project of Globe Telecom, PDRF, the Liveable Cities Challenge, and the League of Cities. The dashboard aims to provide an interactive visual profile of the 146 cities in the country and aid the LGUs in utilizing data and innovation to enable local governments to quickly spot trends and correlations for effective decision-making and help them diagnose areas for improvement.

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, a co-chair of PDRF, summed up the importance of multisector collaboration: “Now, more than ever, everyone must play a role in building resilience and mitigating risks as more devastating calamities arise in the future. I think we should be contributors of resilience and help minimize the contributions we make in worsening the situation.” He added that “climate change is an existential threat to everyone, whether you are a business, a government institution, or just an individual.”

The real problems in creating climate-resilient communities are in front of us, and we just have to acknowledge them.

Multi-sector engagements and best practices must be discussed and more widely adopted to address climate risks proactively before they even happen. With these, the vulnerability of communities to physical, social, and economic shocks will be minimized, and many lives saved.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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