Slow Onset Impacts need Fast Action

By Danica Marie Supnet How do we prepare for something unnoticeable? How do we respond to an impact that is irreparable and irreversible? How do we incite interest on an issue, which importance in overshadowed by the lack of optics and bling?

These are some of the questions that we were asking last May 20, 2015 in the Knowledge for Development Center, the ever expanding library of the Philippines Congress, when we launched the report launched the report Slow Onset Climate Change Impacts: What it is, Why should we care, and What we can do about it.

We launched the report with the Congressional Policy Budget and Research Department (CPBRD), Congress’ biggest policy think tank office. House committee secretaries, technical officers, civil society organizations, academe, legislative offices, and legislators attended the launch that ran for three hours.

Hon. Rodel Batocabe, AKO BICOL Party List representative and Chair of the Special Committee for Climate Change, led the panel with CPBRD Director General Romulo Emmanuel Miral, Jr., report author Regina Auan, and iCSC’s executive director Renato Redentor Constantino. Hon. Susan Yap, Special Committee on Climate Change Vice-Chair and Tarlac 2nd District representative, and Hon. Florencio Garay, Chair of the Oversight Committee on Climate Change and Surigao del Sur 2nd District rep, and Hon. Agapito Guanlao of BUTIL party list were represented by their technical legislative staff.

The launch was also graced by the presence of two of the great Filipino scientists and climatologists Dr. Leoncio Amadore and Lourdes Tibig.

What is SOI? Based on the report, there are two kinds of climate change events: “rapid onset” (extreme episodic disasters) and “slow onset” (chronic hazards) events. The former are what we are more familiar with, what with the massive devastation left behind by typhoons such as Ondoy, Pablo, and Yolanda. The latter (prolonged drought, increasing precipitation, sea level rise, and changes in ocean temperature, among others) are not so evident. They can, however, be just as deadly.”

For Regina Abuyuan, author of the report, the findings of the research transcend the message that everyone is indeed affected by the effects of slow onset climate change impacts. However, the understanding of people about SOI is not as much as what they know about episodic disasters such as typhoons. That’s because there are limited information about it. She emphasized that SOI issues should not be discussed only by scientists and academics but by every individual.

The whole discussion boils down to a call for action. But how do we engage the players?

The report shows two sides of climate change—science and social. On one hand, the report contains theoretical climatic terms and jargons—from seasonal emission maps, shifting of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), sea level rise, temperature, and rainfall predictions. On the other hand, it also talks about the social aspect of SOI—food security, manifestation of loss and damages, and demand-driven action for policy reform.

According to Red Constantino, “the big challenge is how we lose uncertainty, how do we find out what we still do not know?”—the sad truth is that we don’t know, because there are few SOI reports written and accessed by people—more research is indeed needed. Dr. Miral said “climate change is an issue that requires collective action”.

As far as Congress is concerned, Hon. Rodel Batocabe said that “the ultimate challenge is to engage legislators not only to be informed about these climate change issues but more importantly to champion these issues as well”. Dr. Miral added that “policy is the most concrete tool to enable a far more climate-responsive national budget.” It is in fact evident in the plenary discussions limited (or even none) budget is allocated to climate change researches.

For Red Constantino, collective action can also be enacted through local engagement. Encouraging Local Government Units (LGUs) to work with their local universities (State Universities and Colleges) to jumpstart  on community-based slow onset impacts research that will help local farmers plan better their planting habits choice of crops, will go a long way. Citizens’ involvement with local academe both in guiding and supporting the work of LGUs and in advising congress as it slowly grapples with the complexity of climate change is critical to ensure diversity in approaches to be taken to respond to new challenges.

The report calls for different levels of action—research technology development, education/awareness raising, review of existing related laws, multisectoral collaboration, and provisional agenda on governance. In iCSC, we take pride in working sideways; for SOI, the Congress launch is just the beginning.