Understanding slow-onset climate impacts on a local scale

Danica Marie Supnet

It is easy to blame the occurrence of typhoons, heavy rainfall, or prolonged drought to climate change, but it’s never easy to understand why these phenomena happen and why we need to know about them. It is easy to say what the communities and government should do to adapt to these phenomena, but often the work is not done in a proactive way. It is easy to say “it’s all about science”, then take a step back and leave these all for scientists to figure out.

Working with climate policy analysts, scientists and advocates changes this mindset. Learning about the dynamics of climate science and policy is challenging but it pushes me to delve deeper. Perhaps the lack of accessible information available to the public is one of the main reasons why people tend to be adverse to science, or even, for some reason, to deny it completely.

We at ICSC aim to help raise the discourse on the slow-onset impacts (SOI) of climate change. Our strategy is to empower local academe to undertake SOI research, even as we continue to make sense of the climate science-policy agenda. 

We partnered with Benguet State University (BSU), Visayas State University (VSU), and the University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP) to understand how slow-onset climate impacts have been affecting the provinces of Benguet, Leyte, and Davao, respectively.

The objective is to map out the gaps on local data and studies on SOI and identify what needs to be done. We have always said that the local academe are in the most strategic position to lead this initiative, not only because they are prominent research think tanks but also because they are also helping the communities in their area through their university’s extension work. 

We have visited our research partners over the past few weeks to further improve their case studies and ensure that the scope and objectives of the research are met. We were joined for most of these trips by Ma’am Lourdes Tibig, ICSC’s Climate Science Advisor. She is a veteran climatologist and meteorologist, and one of the Lead Authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s incoming Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

In the Philippines, we have been seeing a number of SOIs such as dry spells and drought events which had been observed to have caused decreases in yields, and incidences of frost during the colder months of the year which have damaged vegetable crops in the productive mountainous areas of Benguet.

However, we do not have much information on the increase of sea surface temperatures as well as on sea level rise, according to Ma’am Lourdes. The former could potentially impact our marine resources through heat stress and possibly slow growth of biodiversity, while the latter could result to saltwater intrusion in some agricultural areas near the coasts, as well as the submergence of small islands and low-lying coastal areas.

The outlook might be dire, but communities and local governments could adapt to these impacts if they have an adequate understanding of the circumstances. These are just some of the factors in climate scenarios and projections that need to be integrated in local adaptation plans and programs.

We will soon launch our SOI report, which includes both the case studies done by the universities and our recommendation of policy approaches. Through this launch we are hoping to enable other academic institutions, non-government organizations, government agencies, and policy makers to join the conversation on science-based adaptation and resilience.