by Sarah Lukaszczyk

Our intern Sara Lukaszczyk writes about her recent trip with the climate policy team to Baybay, Leyte, where locals were discussing the proposed new disaster risk reduction law and its implication on slow onset events research.

One of the major things that attracted me to working in the Philippines was their use of the term climate change. Everyone here has something to say on the matter. Everyone has experienced climate change at one point or another, and many are finding ways to use it as reason to strengthen community wellbeing and overall survival.

Take for example elementary schools. In the Philippines, it is normal to see elementary schools double as community evacuation centres. Intuitively, integrating climate change preparedness in schools makes sense for a number of reasons, and here are two specifically. One, schools already act as the default venue for many community-wide events. Given their covered basketball courts and bleachers, several hundred of families can take shelter from the elements, while the sound system blares/shares important updates. Also, as virtually every community has an elementary school, municipalities don’t have to budget for new infrastructure projects. In short then, schools become not only places of life lessons, but place for saving lives.

Comparatively, in Canada schools don’t serve this same function. If anything, the closest we get to them serving any community function is when they act as voting stations during federal or provincial elections. However, my time in the Philippines has shown how we Canadians could certainly do more in way of integrating the community lens in resiliency building.

The first time I heard Community of Practice was during a larger discussion we -the Climate Policy team- had at Visayas State University in Baybay*, Leyte (Canadians read: bye-bye). A Forestry Professor at the end of the meeting accurately summarized how our on-going partnership and project, with them, local government units and an international development organization was as an example of a Community of Practice model.

From my understanding and experience, a Community of Practice model is when everyone participates in the decision-making process. And when I say everyone, that means the Civil Society Organizations (CSO). To Canadians, we rarely refer to civil society, and for those odd times when we do, we generally lumped them in with non-government organizations (NGO). This categorization, however, is totally at the disservice of actual civil society work as I came to realize in another meeting one Friday afternoon.

Last week, I also attended a “learning exchange” organized by Civil Society members. In this meeting people discussed and debated the government’s upcoming Disaster Risk Reduction Law. To make this brief, the proposed bill would dissolve the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and “absorb it” under the Disaster Risk Reduction arm of government. In the simplest of terms, and as the civil society members raised, this amalgamation should not bode well with many people for Climate Change work is not analogous to Disaster Risk Reduction. There are slow onset events like sea-level rise, and drought that cant be accounted for in Disaster Risk Reduction. And more broadly again, while DRR focuses on reducing risk -which is rightfully a part of climate change work- it does no, to little justice for adaptation or mitigation work.

Now as the CSO afforded me a fair explanation (as I have now shared with you) about the differences between DDR and CC, I will pay it forward in explaining why civil society needs to be recognized independently from NGO work to you.

For one, Civil Society includes everyone of us. Everyone has the liberty to participate regardless of age, occupation, ability, or skill level. And rather than be funded by external means, the investment comes through individual time and energy.

Next, individuals mobilize themselves into CSO with the aim to raise awareness or respond to a general need in society. This responsiveness is a major difference from NGO work since civil society can address a host of issues that may otherwise fall outside of an NGO’s mandate. Lastly then, the objective of CSO is to have change in whatever capacity seen best suited. Whether it’s lobbying an elected official, gathering data, or organizing a learning exchange on a Friday afternoon.

In retrospect, and as I come to the end of this blog, although the allure in coming to the Philippines was due to their use of language, my stay has proven that climate change is more than that here. In the Philippines, climate change preparedness manifests itself not only in their words but in their buildings, partnerships, and afternoon gatherings. To them, climate change action is centred on community, and not something that can be decided on by the few, or for the few. This orientation then is something we -the Canadian Civil Society- could do with invoking more in Canadian climate change response.

*Baybay is Filipino for the Coastline.