Compared to much "weightier" issues such as political stability and high oil prices, climate change might seem too tame a subject for one of the most trusted economic advisers of President Arroyo.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, however, does not subscribe to this thinking. He says preparing for natural disasters caused by climate change is good economic policy and a task that all local executives should do, post-haste.
"Why is climate change so important? Simply because it's a major obstacle, a major hurdle to our achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," he said during a food, energy and climate change conference in Sofitel Hotel in Manila Wednesday.
"Climate change is real. That's science. Climate action means no regrets. It doesn't ask me to do anything bad. All it asks from me is to protect and take care of the environment," he added.
Experience adds much needed urgency to Salceda's call. In 2006, at least 100 people were killed and another 10,000 displaced in Albay after typhoons caused deadly mudslides to flow down the slopes of Mayon volcano. According to the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, the landslides in Albay as well as Guinsaugon, Leyte are just several of the extreme weather events that have affected the country in recent years.
The task force said the Philippines has experienced temperature spikes brought about by climate change, including warming in the northern and southern regions of the country. It said frequent occurrence of extreme events has affected rainfall and inflow patterns of the country's reservoirs.There is also evidence correlating El Niño occurrences with the epidemics on dengue.
International Alert also identified the Philippines as a climate hotspot and ranked it 4th in the Global Climate Risk Index, with 20 out of 80 provinces vulnerable to a one-meter rise in sea level. These provinces are in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula, Eastern Visayas and the Bicol Region.
Salceda says the severity of the weather disturbances in Albay prompted him to draft his own climate change and disaster reduction policy for his constituents. He says local government units should act as lead agents for disaster reduction and the not the national government.
Calling his action plan "Albay in Action on Climate Change" (A2C2), the program focuses on "climate-proof and disaster-proof" development in the province by strengthening and improving evacuation sites, introducing climate change curricula to schools and training 720 village officials in climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness.
Policy and action
Salceda says his first resolution as governor specifically mentioned climate change as a key concern of the province. "I have the backing of the provincial board to revoke any program of the government if it is harmful to the environment. If I give a quarry permit and your neighbor says that you're polluting the climate, that is a basis for me to revoke the franchise," he explained.
Salceda also introduced the concept of "preemptive evacuations" in Albay last November. He said thousands of residents near mountain slopes were ordered to evacuate their homes for the safety of schools, public buildings and other evacuation sites before the arrival of large typhoons.
"In Albay, we don't evacuate during typhoon signal no. 3, we evacuate during signal no. 1 because it gives us time to do it," he said.
He said the local government also signed an agreement with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to train teachers on climate action. He said UPLB will also develop the curriculum in public schools to include climate action and disaster risk reduction subjects for grade 4 and 5 pupils.
He also formed the Center for Initiatives and Research on Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) as a public-private partnership to help evolve climate adaptation priorities in the province. In order to institutionalize adaptation programs in the government, the province has also categorized expenditure on climate adaptations as a mandatory expenditure item.
He says part of the city's climate action and disaster reduction initiatives is the construction of a new town away from Mayon volcano and the relocation of residents near the volcano's permanent danger zone.
Salceda says the local government has also focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by ordering power plants to use geothermal energy. He says local power plants now generate about 25 percent of its output from geothermal energy.
The incumbent governor says Albay's climate change policy is a critical balance between mitigation and adaptation. He adds, however, that the disasters that have affected Albay in the past have pushed his constituents to adapt to the changing climate of the times.
"Practice does make perfect. The more disaster, the more you will behave properly," he said.