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Filipinos lack climate protection on the ground, despite laws

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 28 May 2014 12:58 GMT
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A family peeks out of a makeshift shelter on the Philippine coast in Marabut, Eastern Samar, after their dilapidated house was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. TRF/Imelda Albano
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MANILA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Progress in rebuilding the Philippine city of Tacloban and the lives of its residents devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last November has been painstakingly slow, according to the city’s mayor Alfred Romualdez.

And while driving forward recovery from the disaster, the local authorities must also work out how best to deal with extreme weather in the future – which is expected to get worse as the planet warms.

"Climate change is a reality, and we are experiencing that already," Romualdez told a recent planning session with international aid agencies working on the post-typhoon rehabilitation effort.

Local governments urgently need to organise themselves so they can fund and put into practice measures to adapt to climate-linked hazards like storms, floods and droughts, the mayor added.

“It will not be easy for a city that lost scores of lives, saw its infrastructure damaged, and was left with almost nothing,” Romualdez emphasised.

At national level, the Philippines does have policies, regulations and laws in place that mandate action to manage disaster risk and tackle climate change. But implementing these locally is proving harder, government officials and lawmakers agree.

Beyond helping communities shattered by Haiyan to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, Filipino lawmakers also face the task of reviewing and strengthening legislation in order to protect the country better if another super-typhoon strikes.

“Typhoon Haiyan by itself is more than enough reason to urgently act on the implementation of climate change laws,” said Tarlac Province Representative Susan Yap. Challenges include turning national laws into local action and getting government agencies to coordinate their plans, she added.

MONEY IN LIMBO

The government must also make sure it provides adequate funding “year in and year out”, said Yap, who chairs the Philippine chapter of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International), a network of parliamentarians advocating for action on climate change and sustainable development.

“The People's Survival Fund Law”, signed in August 2012, is the first piece of Philippine legislation aimed at financing early plans to help communities deal with climate impacts. It outlines priorities including food security and sustainable energy.

The law provides for at least 1 billion Philippine pesos ($22.8 million) per year in government spending and international donor aid for climate change adaptation initiatives led by local governments and communities. But the president has yet to sign an amendment to the Climate Change Act that would promulgate the implementing rules and regulations required to make the People's Survival Fund (PSF) operational.

In the past two years, the PSF has been allocated P500 million, but the sources of the money have yet to be determined, so it cannot be accessed by local governments. Earlier this month, environmental activists urged the government to mobilise the PSF and finance it from the national budget.

 “What the people and Congress have been clamouring for is the release of the funds appropriated for the implementation of the laws,” said GLOBE Philippines Director Christopher Estallo.

Not enough funding has been provided so far to roll out laws and projects to build resilience to climate change and disasters, nor has there been adequate monitoring and accountability for the limited resources that are available, he added.

Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering told Thomson Reuters Foundation she expects the PSF to be fully funded in 2015 through the national budget, and in a position to hand out cash for projects.   

ACTIVE LEGAL RESPONSE

The Philippines government has responded actively to the challenge of climate change by creating relevant legislation and new institutions, Sering argued.

As a result, the country does not lack laws to adapt to climate change impacts, mitigate global warming and help communities become more resilient to disasters, she said.

The 2009 Climate Change Act established the Climate Change Commission which is tasked with coordinating, monitoring and evaluating government climate programmes and action plans. The commission developed a National Framework Strategy on Climate Change in 2010 and a National Climate Change Action Plan in 2011. 

The action plan addresses food and water security, ecosystem and environmental stability, human security, sustainable energy, climate-smart industries and services, and knowledge and capacity development.

Up to 2016, its focus is on assessing vulnerability, developing ‘eco-towns’, and conducting research to support renewable energy and sustainable transport systems.

It also provides guidance for local governments to formulate and implement their own climate change action plans, Sering said.

“We are measuring success on how well we respond in the short term, and yet local plans are still not based on (local) vulnerabilities,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Haiyan exposed how a reactionary response is no longer sufficient.”

There is a need to plan for both sudden emergencies and slower-onset problems, she added.

Challenges include raising awareness at local level, coordinating government activities, and rolling out initiatives at a larger scale, GLOBE’s Estallo said. “There have been a lot of laws that are very good, but implementation is a perpetual issue,” he added.

The budget for reducing the risk of disasters should not be limited to the minimum P1billion required by law, but supplemented by additional spending across government departments dealing with related areas such as infrastructure or science, Sering said.

For 2014, the government has allocated a total of P13 billion for climate change action to various ministries. Most of it will be used for the production of maps plotting multiple hazards, early warning systems and infrastructure to help reduce risks, Sering noted.

SETTING A GLOBAL EXAMPLE

Legislator Yap called for three additional pieces of important climate change-related legislation to be passed urgently. One is a bill to protect the country’s rapidly declining mangrove areas, which act as a coastal buffer zone against storms.

Two more draft bills provide for sustainable management of forests and the delineation of forest boundaries, setting out a solid foundation for forest conservation and development efforts, Yap said.

Laws also need to be updated regularly “in order to adapt properly and effectively to the challenges of climate change”, Estallo said. “We may have sufficient legislation to address our climate and disaster woes now, but we cannot be sure about that tomorrow,” he warned.

In Estallo’s view, domestic legislation on climate change is “crucial not only as a first line of defence for our people facing the threats of climate change but also for facilitating the environment necessary for international cooperation.”

The Philippines, along with several other developing countries, has passed key legislation on climate change, which must now be replicated internationally to achieve a global multiplier effect, Estallo said.

In the Philippines, GLOBE now plans to push forward policies and legislation that will move the Southeast Asian nation towards a low-carbon green economy. It also intends to strengthen legislators’ influence on the country’s negotiating position at U.N. climate talks, which are due to agree a new pact to tackle climate change at the end of 2015.

“When there is a critical mass in the number of countries taking the necessary action on climate change, grounded in domestic legislation, they will be in a better position to sign up to the commitments and actions required under a global deal,” Estallo said.

Imelda Abano is a freelance contributor for the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Manila.

This story is part of series of articles, funded by the COMplus Alliance and the World Bank, looking at progress and challenges in developing nations’ efforts to legislate on climate change, ahead of the June 6-8 World Summit of Legislators in Mexico City, organised by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International).

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