By Denise Margaret Matias & Danica Marie Supnet
Southeast Asia/Philippines: Although the region is strongly affected by the consequences of climate change, representatives from Southeast Asia are hardly present in international climate committees. Cross-sectoral cooperation from local to international level is essential to combat the causes of climate change and mitigate its consequences.
While the effects of climate change in Southeast Asia are primarily strong typhoons and floods are known, the so-called slow onset events (SOE) also have serious consequences. Among the SOEs are rising sea levels, rising temperatures, ocean acidification, glacier retreat, salinisation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. The gradual development of SOEs sometimes makes them invisible to the climate regime. Their direct attribution to anthropogenic climate change is not always easy to determine.
Politicians negotiate without the bid of urgency
The gap between the urgency of science and the action of leading politicians* in the world has become larger in recent years. During the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, countries commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to prepare reports on the 1.5°C warming threshold. However, at the last two major United Nations climate conferences in Katowice and Madrid, there was disagreement between countries on how these reports should be recognised and implemented. Both conferences ended with participants agreeing that these developments – in fact, a wake-up call for policy makers around the world – were merely “recognised” without agreeing on concrete joint actions.
Southeast Asia (SOA), a region that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, does not have its own negotiating block in the UN climate negotiations. However, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) frequently publishes joint statements on climate change to reaffirm its commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to enumerate mitigation and adaptation plans. Although ASEAN does not have a common negotiating position, some of its individual member countries, such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam, are part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a partnership of 48 countries of the Global South, which triggered the call for the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold to be enshrined in the Paris Convention and for IPCC special reports to be commissioned.
Although the CVF is not a formal negotiating block, this cooperation platform offers member countries the opportunity to agree on common principles on climate policy and financing that countries can bring to the UN negotiations. The states in the region are therefore involved at various levels. However, the extent to which they do so depends on their own government. The involvement of multisectoral representatives* of Southeast Asian countries in the CVF is an example of a strong cross-sectoral alliance and a platform for cross-sectoral cooperation at the international level.
Multi-actor partnerships in battle against climate change
Several terms describe cross-sectoral cooperation, such as Multi-Actor Partnerships (MAP). These can be defined as a cooperative process involving different actors who work together to tackle complex problems. MAPs are often initiated by civil society actors and are more likely to be associated with community service work aimed at implementing projects on the ground.
Video: ‘What are Multi Actor Partnerships’ c/o Germanwatch:
The term ‘transdisciplinary’ describes approaches to overcoming challenges or refers to the composition of teams. Transdisciplinarity is seen as a ‘true mode of sustainability research’ in which joint learning processes take place between science and society. Transdisciplinary approaches, similar to MAPs, take the best from different disciplinary worlds and use their diverse expertise to develop solutions for sustainability problems such as climate change. Using the strengths of transdisciplinarity and MAPs, the impacts of climate change, especially those of SOEs, could be reduced.
Southeast Asia: severely affected, but underrepresented in global climate committees
Dealing with SOEs at regional level could be done on a collaborative platform. This could be a form of MAP and involve experts and actors from the field. Agriculture, forestry and biodiversity are the areas most affected by climate change in South East Asia. Without adaptation and mitigation, the climate impacts would lead to large losses of agricultural yields and biodiversity in the tropics and marine ecosystems such as the Coral Triangle. The Asian Climate Experts, a network of scientists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, constantly point to the low representation of Southeast Asian scientists on the global stage.
Although the IPCC reports are based on peer-reviewed research, there is a lack of insight and influence from Southeast Asia. The inclusion of experts from the region in a joint discourse is an urgently needed step to make the voices of South East Asia visible in international discussions on climate change. While much remains to be done at the regional level, initiatives at the country level are still the key to promoting research at the local and municipal level.
Adaptation and Mitigation in the Philippines
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 by Germanwatch, the Philippines are in fourth place among the countries affected by long-term climate risks from 1998 to 2018. Climate policy in the Philippines, such as the Climate Protection Act of 2009, which was amended by the People’s Survival Fund, not only sets priorities for adaptation and mitigation strategies, but also promotes partnerships between government agencies, the private and non-governmental sectors and the scientific community.
The eastern Visayas region of the Philippines, one of the areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, is a good example of multi-actor partnerships. In 2016, the development plan for the Eastern Visayas region was approved by the Regional Development Council. This plan addresses disaster and climate risks and successfully put together comprehensive plans for dealing with SOEs. This was done in a multi-stage process led by civil society.
The first step was to persuade the political body of the province to strengthen the climate principles of its development plan. One policy recommendation that emerged is to ensure a separate budget for research on SOEs in local academic institutions. The aim of this research is to develop a guide for cross-sectoral planning of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of its impacts. Ideally, strategies developed at the sub-national level should go hand in hand with strategies at the local level. But even at the local level, remarkable, proactive climate change mitigation measures emerge independently of an improved subnational plan.
Localities climate protection plans and research cooperation
Guiuan in the eastern Visayas, was the place where Typhoon Haiyan first hit land. Guiuan is located at the southeasternmost tip of Samar Island and has a diverse marine flora and fauna. This is endangered by SOEs as well as by extreme weather events. After Typhoon Haiyan, the local government formed the Guiuan Recovery and Sustainable Development Group for Resilience to help the community build its resilience. The group served as a MAP platform for Guiuan’s adaptation strategies to climate change.
Several risk and vulnerability assessments and exercises have been carried out to ensure that a strong mitigation plan is in place that is clear and workable. The local authorities have been mandated to develop a local action plan against climate change. Guiuan went beyond this mandate and developed a framework for action on climate change. This framework for action provides a research-oriented planning mechanism with a 10-year adaptation framework and three-year implementation plans.
Recent studies, particularly in the eastern Visayas region, indicate that SOEs are actually occurring faster than the projected climate trends. So despite efforts such as Guiuan’s adaptation strategy to climate change, action plans are still needed. Philippine scientists* emphasize that further studies should be continuously conducted to this end. To further strengthen the development in Guiuan, the expertise of a local university, Visayas State University, has been called in to conduct research, e.g. for the acidification of the oceans.
The university also trained community members in local data collection. The research provided policy recommendations that the local government of Guiuan incorporated into the community’s development plans and the implementation of climate adaptation. This resulted in an adaptable and constantly evolving climate balance of the community.
Besides these actors, the NGOs Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) and CORDAID are active in Guiuan. They agreed to cooperate on the basis of a joint approach to strengthening local approaches to integrated risk management and planning adaptation to climate change by their partner local government units and community organisations.
Achieving a workable climate change adaptation strategy for SOEs is not a one-time affair, but continuous communication based on partnerships with various stakeholders. The Guiuan City Council has sought to develop and implement a transdisciplinary climate policy that has emerged from years of learning with its partners. Successful climate measures at the community level could certainly trigger a domino effect that would trigger the success of political reforms at the local and national level. In turn, the Philippines could contribute its successes and experiences on this basis to international platforms.