Adapting to Climate Change at a City Level: Challenges and Opportunities for Local Governments in the Philippines, San Fernando, La Union.

Colleen Curran is an SCI Intern based in San Fernando, Philippines.

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Data is to climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) as cheese is to pizza, you can go without it, but with it, it’s much better. Data in regards to CCA and DRR is the start of a good platform in designing a plan to combat the effects of climate change. But more specifically compatible data is needed; with data compatibility strong analysis can be generated which can give city planners a blue print into an efficient adaptation and mitigation strategy. But this is the first challenge among many that local government are facing in the Philippines, and most likely in many municipalities around the globe, when it comes to combating climate change.

The process in adapting to climate change through the lens of San Fernando City, La Union, Philippines can give insight into what challenges some medium size municipalities in developing nations are facing.

Why data is the first challenge in combating climate change?

Harmonizing and centralizing data is a time-consuming process and one that requires a specific skill set, and involves specific software and hardware. All of this requires a large investment of resources, and training. Currently San Fernando is working through the issues involved in this first step. Major challenges here are reluctance to invest in software and hardware, and lack of training with standard data programs like Excel. Concurrently, the city is involved in updating and acquiring data to fill in data gaps highlighted by a data assessment completed in July 2012 by Sustainable Cities International intern Colleen Curran, and assisted by ICLEI, Asian Cities Adapt. This is also proving costly and challenging. Basic tools used in developed countries for data collection (like GPS) are scarce here. Using a geographical information system would be a benefit to building a CCA and DRR plan, but people with this skill set are rarer still. In addition, cost is incurred by the city because they are not able to take advantage of national datasets as the local level CCA and DRR require high-resolution, small-scale data to have the greatest accuracy. This means that data like a digital elevation model needs to be purchased commercially at a high cost.

San Fernando City staff and SCI intern at a weather station training event, a project for CCA and DRR

Albay Province creates first ever CCA and DRR policy in the Philippines

There are cities in the Philippines that have overcome these obstacles and can serve as an example. Sorsogon City and Albay province in the Philippines were recently showcased in a Knowledge Transfer workshop set up by ICLEI, AsiaCitiesAdapt. Albay province has been the first to create policy surrounding CCA and DRR. They have developed DRR plans which ensure zero causality in times of calamity. These plans incorporate an education component to ensure citizens are prepared when calamity strikes, starting at the elementary level. Their efforts have been applauded by the UNDP and their strategies can be used as a template for cities throughout the country.

To ensure longevity of the CCA and DRR initiative, Cedric D. Daep, head of Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office says it is important to institutionalize. Institutionalization ensures political commitment, money flow and a vision. This is important he notes for further funding and stability of the project and subsequent CCA and DRR program. In respect to data harmonization, an institution enables data to be kept in a central hub, and generated by a team of professionals fully engaged in CCA and DRR.

Evacuation plan, part of materials created by Albay province for DRR


Sorsogon City is leading the way with merging disaster data with a land-use plan

Sorsogon City is another city leading the way in the Philippines. They are one of four cities in Asia working with UN-HABITAT in the initiation of climate change mitigation practices. To help them better understand and document how their city is affected by climate change they are currently digitizing all pertinent data into a GIS. They also have digitized their land-use data and now are integrating hazards into their comprehensive land-use plan.

A screen image of Sorsogon City’s digitized landuse map

When Mayor Leovic R. Dioneda of Sorsogon City was asked by Cris E. Rollo, a UN-HABITAT Philippines knowledge management specialist “what did you find most challenging in the project?, he replied,

“Investing in climate change is not politically attractive compared to traditional infrastructure projects. It was most challenging to open the minds of the Bicolanos about climate change. In the first place, it is not easy to understand. But climate change advocacy is like planting seeds that takes time to bear fruits. You have to continuously educate… Investing in climate change is investing in the future.”

This is echoed in a recent UNISDR report, “Making Cities Resilient Report, 2012”. The report concluded that political will, not local wealth, is more important to the creation of resilient cities. This is perhaps the silver lining of the dark cloud of climate change for the City of San Fernando as it prepares to tackle climate change with little resources but an enthusiastic local government.

Additional Benefits of Harmonized Data

There are many additional benefits to harmonizing and centralizing data in a compatible format. One ironical benefit is insuring its protection from natural disasters. Data existing in an electronic format can be backed up several times over and is easily transportable. When data exists in paper form it cannot be readily protected in times of calamity.

Furthermore, when data like a road network, hydrology map, population, landuse map and vegetation classification, for example, are readily available they can be easily distributed. There is an increasing amount of institutions studying climate change in Southeast Asia. Already San Fernando has been canvassed for its data in regards to this and we were not able to offer much of what they needed for their analysis. Good data allows for propagation of further data. Moreover, being able to quickly share our data with regional partners can strengthen our relationships with them.

The most obvious benefit with rapid data sharing will occur in times of calamity. When disaster strikes, large NGO’s and Aid organization will call upon us for data to be used to aid in rescue efforts and logistics. Being able to offer data which helps increase the efficiency of rescue directly relates to an increase in lives saved.

Data for disasters is often overlooked, data for climate change research is over looked even more, but it is a cause worth funding and supporting.



About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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One Response to Adapting to Climate Change at a City Level: Challenges and Opportunities for Local Governments in the Philippines, San Fernando, La Union.

  1. Pingback: Livable Cities Forum 2012: Creating Adaptive and Resilient Communities - - Ontario

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