by Danica Marie Supnet; Photos: Vinai Dithajohn/ICSC

This year’s Asia-Pacific Climate Week was held on the first week of September at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand. This is one of the many conferences of the international climate community to convene experts, advocates, practitioners and government representatives to catalyze climate action regionally. We in the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) took the call and organized a side event on Southeast Asian Resilience in Agriculture and Biodiversity with scientists from the Southeast Asian region (SEA).

It was an overwhelming moment to see scientists from the Philippines, Viet Nam, Indonesia, and Thailand in one panel to stress the implications of not keeping within the 1.5˚C global warming limit regionally and globally.

But why focus on Southeast Asia? The Philippines shares common circumstances with the rest of the countries from the region: we share smoke from forest fires, typhoon pathways, and even rice imported among the SEA countries. Agriculture, forestry, and marine biodiversity are the most predominant issues in the region and are also the most affected by climate related risks.

Global temperature is fast rising, as well as the magnitude of impacts.

This is not new – in fact, scientists never missed a chance to warn us of this over and over again. But did we listen? In the side event, Philippine climate scientist Ms. Lourdes Tibig emphasized that the magnitude of climate impacts encompasses rice production, marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle, and global deforestation, which affects the world’s food system. She cited the IPCC land report which noted that socio-economic choices can reduce or exacerbate climate risks, as well as influence the rate of temperature increase. She further emphasized that in an ideal transition towards low emission pathways, we can expect food production in low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission systems, effective land use regulation and high adaptive capacity. This is why national and local initiatives must complement these efforts.

Country initiatives must be shared in a bigger and more engaging platform.

We are often bombarded with news on rice demand and supply, forest fires across the world, and other events which put food systems and biodiversity further at risk. However, we seldom hear of efficient low emission systems and other solutions which have been successfully implemented to address these problems. During the side event, the scientists presented community-based agricultural practices and climate-smart initiatives that cut across traditional and advanced technologies. The restoration of tropical peat forests was also discussed in the context of low emission and food sufficiency.

I realized that these experiences are often confined within the extension programs of universities and scientist networks within each country. Reflecting on the Philippines’ experience in general, we often depend on innovations from developed countries, and not from our own. Local scientific developments must be encouraged, promoted, extended and of course funded.

There is limited representation of Southeast Asian scientists, despite the magnitude of action that needs to be done.

Scientists consistently tell us that the numbers speak for itself and we have recognized the fact that time is running out, so we have to act now. We need national and local level researches to address climate impacts in the areas of land management, food and human security, among others. The IPCC reports are highly dependent on peer reviewed researches and reports as basis for their recommendations. The lack of citations from the SEA region should send a message that our voices need to be heard.

The highlight of this side event is the urgent call of the scientists to lead a network of experts and practitioners working on climate science and policy development in SEA. The panel emphasized the need for sharing experiences within the region to improve capacities in addressing climate-related issues.

As Indonesian scientist Dr. Mahawan Karuniasa said during the event, “we underestimate our vulnerability.” We therefore shouldn’t settle on just knowing these facts. Creating a space for comprehensive climate talks involving different countries in the region doesn’t only advance our standing in climate negotiations, but more importantly, it can address scientific misconceptions and effectively communicate with national and local stakeholders.

I am very hopeful that through this regional network, we can integrate the sciences with long-term development plans in each Southeast Asian country, which in turn will lead to compelling climate action across the region.

During the Asia-Pacific Climate Week in Bangkok, Thailand, 3 Sept 2019.  Scientists from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines urge governments in Southeast Asia to base their development plans on new climate science.
COPYRIGHT:  Vinai Dithajohn/ICSC

Danica Marie Supnet leads ICSC’s coordination with local academic institutions to localize the slow-onset events associated with climate change impacts in the country, as well as to craft adaptation proposals with local governments and communities. She also works on the local tracking initiative of climate adaptation finance in the Philippines.