Climate-proofing tomorrow’s cities, today



Posted on 28 September 2011  | 
On a hellish September week two years ago, millions of Filipinos were literally up to their necks in misery. Typhoon Ondoy, labelled by Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) spokesman Nathaniel Cruz as a 'possible manifestation of climate change', brought Metro Manila its highest amount of rainfall in the past 42 years.

It took the lives of 246 people but taught survivors and the country a crucial lesson – climate change is real and lives lost will be part of the tally of its costs.

“Climate change shall continue even if we stop all our carbon emissions tomorrow. It takes 40 years for its momentum to grind to a halt. Given this, what should we do?” asks WWF-Philippines Climate Change Director Gia Ibay.

“The solution lies in Climate Adaptation – preparing for pronounced climate change effects by adjusting the way we run our businesses and live our lives.”

Since September 2010, the WWF and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) have been conducting intensive baseline studies to help Philippine cities adapt to climate change. WWF and BPI’s Business Risk Assessment and Adaptation Study covers four cities at risk from increased storms, floods, drought and other extreme climate events – Davao, Cebu, Iloilo and Baguio.

The study combines baseline data findings with stakeholder inputs from scenario-building exercises conducted per site and shall form the basis for each city’s localized adaptation strategy. More studies may soon cover other Philippine cities.

Climate-proofing

WWF recommends revamping and ‘climate-proofing’ local infrastructure – moving coastal roads and communities to higher ground, improving community drainage systems and investing in natural solutions like mangrove forests to parry inbound storms.

WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said, “Climate adaptation is a phenomenal business opportunity: after Typhoon Ondoy, land-developers started offering flood-proof townhouses and condotel units. They are thinking ahead – and this saves money.”

WWF says that though revamping infrastructure may cost millions today, it will cost tens of billions 50 years down the line. By thinking ahead, market leaders secure the profitability necessary for business sustainability.

Meeting climate change head-on

Hundreds of guests attended the four stakeholder workshops, the last one being completed in Baguio City on 21 September. Stakeholder feedback was largely positive. Pepito Capuli from the Davao City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council said “The activity gave me new insights in giving emphasis on climate change preparations.”

BPI Foundation Executive Director Florendo Maranan said, “This is our way of helping partner communities adapt to the coming storm. In one scenario, we see the country losing space, food and water. In another, we see our countrymen meeting climate change head-on.”

In 2009, WWF launched The Coral Triangle and Climate Change: Ecosystems, People and Societies at Risk – a report based on a thorough consideration of the climate biology, economics and social characteristics of the immediate environs of the Philippines – showing how unchecked climate change will ultimately undermine and destroy local ecosystems and livelihoods.

Vulnerable to climate change

The Philippines has one of the longest non-continuous coastlines in the world which makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Warming temperatures might force up to 30% of all known species into extinction. It is also situated within an area that is vulnerable to increasingly violent storms.

“Imagine the sea inexorably creeping inland to submerge farms and homes. Heavier droughts will suck our soil dry to desiccate our rice and sugarcane fields. Hotter days will drive people up mountain communities like Baguio”, warned Tan.

“Remember that even if you live in a climate-proof area – people from afflicted cities will run to you.”

“We must act today to create safe and livable cities tomorrow. There’s only one thing better than dreaming of a climate-proof community – and that’s building it.”
Shanghai is one of the cities participating in WWF's Low Carbon City Initiative
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK Enlarge
Residents of Los Baños and Bay towns, along the coast of Laguna de Bay and about 60 kilometers south of Manila, cope with floodwaters that have not receded 3 days after Typhoon Ondoy ravaged the Philippines.
© International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) / Flickr Enlarge

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