The challenge of climate change adaptation in the Philippines

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Successful adaptation to changing weather patterns depends on cooperation and commitment from across government and civil society reflects Daniel Morchain. Conducting a multi- stakeholder vulnerability and risk assessment should help bring about adaptation plans which are inclusive and flexible.

Fishing boats in Eastern Samar. Credit: Daniel Morchain/Oxfam

Fishing boats in Eastern Samar. Credit: Daniel Morchain/Oxfam

Successful adaptation to changing weather patterns depends on cooperation and commitment from across government and civil society reflects Daniel Morchain. Conducting a multi- stakeholder vulnerability and risk assessment should help bring about adaptation plans which are inclusive and flexible.
After the strongest ever recorded typhoon devastated eastern and central parts of the Philippines and killed more than 6,300 people in November 2013, tons of humanitarian relief funds followed. While a lot of work has been done since on restoring livelihoods and reducing disaster risk, two and a half years after Typhoon Haiyan almost no municipality in the highly vulnerable areas of Eastern Samar are actively adapting to climate change.

While there is a need and there is money to do climate change adaptation thanks to the People’s Survival Fund (an annual rolling government adaptation budget of £15m which Oxfam in the Philippines campaigned for) it isn’t easy to get hold of this funding because local governments lack adaptation plans and some claim not to have sufficient technical capacity to draft them.

In other words, there is often no mandated office or person to work on climate adaptation in areas at high risk like the Visayas, even though the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts (ranked 5th globally by Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2015, and 3rd most vulnerable by the 2015 World Risk Report). 

Climate change adaptation solutions aren’t and can’t be just technical ones, they have to be about inclusive, flexible, forward-looking planning

What and who is required to put together, and more importantly implement, an adaptation plan? Not just civil engineers and climate scientists. Climate change adaptation solutions aren’t and can’t be just technical ones, they have to be about inclusive, flexible, forward-looking planning; and they involve changing the mentality of politics to never give up on learning. A lot of this comes down to the role of local government and their appreciation of how soft approaches to adaptation, seemingly invisible to voters, can deliver results. Hopefully, next Monday’s polls from national to local level will see new leadership that believes in the importance of these mixed approaches to address climate challenges.

It is in extreme circumstances, such as the severe droughts the Philippines is currently experiencing, that addressing structural problems is most important. A particular need, as Oxfam’s Dante Dalabajan explained, is for development stakeholders to implement ‘a more coherent local government planning process’. This is because whether the culprit is El Niño and droughts, La Niña and typhoons, environmental degradation and pollution, climate change, escalating conflict, poor governance, or most likely a combination of these, threats will always be looming above the least powerful groups of people.

Participatory planning processes also offer an opportunity for development actors to influence the outcomes and promote equity in decision-making. Designing good adaptation strategies requires a healthy dialogue with informal institutions at the local level. They help generate a joint understanding of risks, vulnerability and opportunities, and in general of developmental issues, which again, should inform development plans. In the Philippines, this process starts with the local climate change adaptation plan and ideally goes further to inform the comprehensive land use plans.

In Eastern Samar Oxfam is working with others to conduct a Vulnerability & Risk Assessment (VRA). This involves a widely representative group of stakeholders developing a common understanding of the different ways people are affected by hazards and of what adapting to climate change entails. The process has identified typhoon and drought as key priorities, in addition to weak implementation of land use zoning policies in coastal areas.

As aid efforts keep transitioning from humanitarian response after Typhoon Haiyan to longer term livelihood development, multi-stakeholder processes like this provide an opportunity for steering government into well informed, equitable decisions by shaking up the always complex spider-web of stakeholder dynamics, and giving space for informal institutions to discuss the priorities of marginalised groups, as well as the value of social capital. This has got to be the way forward, top -down adaptation strategies will fail; they will not be relevant enough and they will likely widen the gap between the vulnerable and the ‘adapted’.

The VRA approach to adaptation is one pillar for building resilience and one example of the kind of holistic thinking we talk about in our new framework and guidance for resilient development.

South of the Visayas, in Mindanao, where Oxfam’s long-term programming work has a long history, Oxfam and partners have submitted 27 applications for People’s Survival Fund initiatives and we hope that the communities we work with can start accessing this climate finance shortly. El Niño in 2015/16, and possibly La Niña afterwards, is putting everyone to the test. By fostering planning and inclusivity we will keep trying to turn the new, risky normal from development crashes into development bumps.

Author
Daniel Morchain

Daniel Morchain

Daniel is Global Adviser on Climate Change Adaptation at Oxfam GB and works on a number of initiatives around climate change adaptation, as well as gender justice, such as the Gendered Enterprise and Markets (GEM) initiative. worked with local authorities, and smallholder farmers in developing and implementing strategies to adapt to climate change and to increase resilience.