Lifeboats & Lifelines

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By WWF CEO & Vice-Chair Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan
Originally published on

WE CAN prepare for climate change. And, there is a lot that we already know.

  • We know that all our best-laid plans are at risk. If we are to effectively deal with change, then we must drive change, through “no regrets” initiatives.
  • We know that the sooner we act, the cheaper it will be. We do not have to wait. Actions can be scenario-driven, then science-validated. We are not helpless unless we choose to be indecisive.
  • We know that hesitation will expose our constituencies to increased poverty, hunger and their multipliers.

In 2009, a comprehensive WWF report on the coral triangle and climate change, drew on the talents of 20 climate experts who examined 300 peer-reviewed studies. That study underscores six major impacts. El Niño will continue. Sea surface temperatures are likely to increase from 1C to 4C. Ocean acidification will be eco-systemic. Sea level rise will likely reach 4 meters to 6 meters. Tropical cyclones will be more intense, frequent and their locations may shift. Rainfall, river flow, flooding, landslides and drought will grow in severity.

  • We know these changes are happening faster than ever before; they have begun and will continue, they are dynamic, they are non linear. The evidence, throughout Asia and the Pacific stares us in the face.
  • We know that climate change is like a degenerative lifestyle disease. It will happen in waves. Like chest pains. Or diabetes. In a non-linear and dynamic fashion.
  • We know that certain anthropogenic activities aggravate climate impacts. Global population growth, estimated at 50 percent over the next 40 years, is the elephant in the room, spawning forced migration
  • and widespread internal displacement—affecting as many as 1 billion people globally. Disaster zones will be deserted. And, areas of refuge will be swamped with people.
  • We know that increased urbanization within mega-cities is an undeniable trend. It is clear that management of natural and human systems will need improvement, if we are to remain viable and economically competitive.
  • We are aware of climate “lifeboats,” such as water, food, shelter, health, livelihood, basic services, without which productive life is not possible. More often than not, the poor management of many of these elements has put us in the hole we are in. Climate change will only make things worse. We know that we must get our act together.

In the Philippines, we must cement down the rules on resource use and stop re-classification. These are finite resources. We must eliminate overlaps through integrated area planning, as opposed to the traditional silo approach. The “one-town-one product” program was only Phase 1. Development of strategic regional plans, founded on likely climate scenarios, will be Phase 2.

  • We know that the environment is the social security system for a vast number of poor. Although jobs may be created, they cannot be sustained in a vacuum that does not include solid social, economic and environmental foundations. More than that, we must rationalize agriculture/ aquaculture, introducing and promoting “climate smart” formulas. With global population expected to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion, we know that natural systems will no longer suffice. Simply because we do not have a “Planet B,” it is imperative that we develop a “Plan B” for all crucial life-sustaining services.
  • More than just “lifeboats,” we know that we must strengthen climate “lifelines”—the ways by which people, messages, information and goods are moved. These include transport, infrastructure, telecommunications, energy, banking and insurance. We know that unless these crucial lifelines are made climate ready, our economy faces serious marginalization.

It is important that we “start from the future,” cast denial aside, and reset our trajectories based on a clearer understanding of the future. Otherwise, we will be constantly playing catch up.

It is important that our programs embrace “next practice”—the systems and solutions of a sustainable future. “Business as usual” solutions are fast becoming obsolete and will not hold water. Sustainability is innovation’s new frontier.

It is important that we broaden sectoral ownership, and draw in the tremendous potential of the business sector—whether through Public-Private Sector Partnerships or a variety of co-management formulas—learning how to make better use of competitiveness and self-interest, rather than just philanthropy, as a driver of positive change.

Government may have the mandate, but it will not always have the capacity, nor the solutions that make sense. Governance is a joint responsibility of civil society and the public sector. No single sector can do this alone.

Cognizant of the non-linear nature of climate change, adaptation must be designed now through a bottom-up process. Adaptation is the management of risk. This can start now, locally. In contrast, the best-laid mitigation efforts (carbon reduction) will take 50 years or more to stabilize climate—while hunger happens daily. Local actions should define national programs. And, as a planet, we must learn how to work together. There are many solutions, but we only have one future, and one planet.

If it is our ambition to remain influential drivers of positive change in the world that will be, then we must all espouse a forward-looking activism led by a vision of the world, not merely as it is, but of a world as it should be. // ends

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