By Chien Huan Li

The 6th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum was held last Oct. 17-19 at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters in Manila. What attracted me most about the event was not only the chance to visit the ADB, but the opportunity to participate in the flagship activity of the Asian Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN).

Established since 1966, ADB is one of the most influential multilateral institutions supporting development initiatives in Asia and the Pacific. Joining APAN’s activities from behind the ADB’s high walls were representatives from over 80 countries. Before we arriving at the conference rooms we had to pass through several security checkpoints, which seemed stricter than airport procedures.

At the venue we joined hundreds of people who arrived early. APAN’s forum always attracts hundreds of scientists, donors, NGO leaders, business people, and government officials from all over the world. At the venue people could be seen constantly shaking hands and chatting with one another. Through social networks and session discussions people exchanged learning moments, practices and experience, establishing connections and sharing insights covering adaptation strategies and solutions. It might just be one of the most influential events in terms of environmental and social governance in Asia and the Pacific.

This year, it was organised between the Philippine Climate Change Commission, the government of the Republic of Palau, and the ADB. The Forum focused on four areas: (i) resilience of social and human systems, (ii) resilience of natural systems, (iii) resilience of industry and the built environment, and (iv) resilience of island communities. These four topics seem different at first glance, but it would have been swiftly evident to anyone that all the sessions, whether in plenary or in smaller groups, are dedicated to highlighting best practices that also engage different stakeholders into collaborative strategies.

There is nothing more interesting than seeing so many stakeholders enthusiastically share ideas and insights. Some proposed successful applications of new resilience technologies, some provided comprehensive angles to analyze issues and generate solutions, some tried shared inclusive concepts and policy framework implementation expertise. There was synergy and a strong sense of solidarity in the event.

Some speeches were compelling. My colleague, Red Constantino of ICSC, and Grid Market representative Matt Tranchin both agreed mitigation and adaptation need not be a dichotomy. To some context, small islands or other similarly vulnerable regions could suffer more from the impact of climate change due to the cumbersome, rigid nature of traditional fossil energy systems. Renewable energy, in contrast, provides low-cost and flexible electricity generation options, which can increase the resilience of households facing damage wrought by extreme weather. There are a lot more issues and approaches that can help respond to mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development goals (SDGs) together. We need to explore possibilities further as we mobilize and channel more resources towards similar efforts.

Another interesting speech given was in a session about green jobs. Siddharth D’Southa, director of Laya Green Venture in India, proposed a realistic approach to help rural communities. “Low-tech, low-cost approaches can assist communities transitioning to low-carbon resilient systems,” D’Southa said. And he’s right. While people continue to deploy new technologies and big projects to demonstrate their “ambition”, D’Southa maintains there is no “natural incentive” in the market of India or other less-developed countries for high-cost technology. He also argued if anyone wanted to bring market forces into a project and make people willing to pay for low-carbon transition pathways, nothing is more fundamental than using affordable technology and combining it with local knowledge and responsible habits. This way, technology is used to improve life instead of replacing it. Successful examples include the use of solar energy for water pumps and building waste collection stations for schools to generate electricity, among a multitude of other instances that can be cited.

Some consider international events like the Forum as a waste of time and energy. To me, the opposite is true. Good examples and knowledge cannot simply be acquired through the internet or papers. The sharing process often needs opportunities for face-to-face conversations and exchanges of ideas, which the Forum provides.

Adaptation is a continuous initiative. According to the IPCC Special Report published recently, it is clear we will face more serious threats to our wellbeing if global average temperatures increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Only when we face the problem together more responsively can we hope to successfully curb increases in temperatures beyond the carrying capacity of many ecosystems. Only then can we truly say we’re helping vulnerable people survive and thrive in the face of climate change.