Learning from the Philippines: How Global Entities May Achieve Climate Resiliency

In 2010, Robert Carroll—now of FirstCarbon Solutions, an ADEC Innovation—was assigned to the Central Philippine island of Guimaras to establish a marine sanctuary. The area suffered from overfishing, in part due to a lack of government enforcement. Due to economic instability, the government’s main priority in the area was food security, rather than conservation or climate change. Over time, Carroll worked to highlight the long-term benefits for the environment as well as the economy, and eventually the sanctuary was established. 

The story of the Guimaras sanctuary highlights an important global struggle: short-term economic instability has the potential to preclude regions from achieving long-term environmental sustainability. Since the turn of the decade, successive governments and other organizations in the Philippines have embarked on a number of initiatives to build sustainable practices and broader climate change resiliency across the island nation. The example of the Philippines highlights the importance of understanding the long-term environmental and economic benefits of sustainability, and of preparing for the current and imminent effects of global climate change. These lessons are not only applicable to tropical nations such as the Philippines, but also touch on broader sustainability objectives that other global entities are working towards. 

Shifting Tides 

Described as “among the most intense storms in the world ever documented”, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines in November 2013, with wind speeds of up to 196 miles per hour. The effects of the storm were exacerbated by weak infrastructure, as many civilians were living in structures made of wood, bamboo, or other materials that could not provide adequate shelter. By the end of the storm, there were over 6,000 fatalities, making it the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record. 

While the typhoon raged, diplomat Naderev Sano delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nation’s Council of Parties (COP19) Climate Talks in Warsaw, calling on world leaders to take action to stop a future in which super-typhoons like Haiyan are commonplace. As the atmosphere and oceans warm due to anthropogenic climate change, the intensity of tropical storms is likely to increase. Communities across the world are facing similar risks, as climate change is linked to the worsening of other natural disasters, such as floods and droughts

Since Typhoon Haiyan, there have been extensive regional and national efforts to strengthen climate resilience in the Philippines. Globally, we can learn the same lesson from tragedies like Haiyan: that actions to prevent or mitigate climate change and its effects are crucially important. Many such actions are already being taken, from efforts to incorporate trees to cool urban landscapes in Munich, Germany, to the ambitious range of projects underway in Växjö, Sweden which aim to make the city fossil fuel-free by 2030. 

Outside the Box 

One of the key factors in the legitimization of marine sanctuaries in the Philippines was the development of ecotourism. Both the Guimaras sanctuary and the sanctuary established on Apo Island in the 1970s and ‘80s have blossomed into thriving ecosystems that attract visitors from all over the world. Following these successes, in April 2017 representatives from the national government, local governments, civic organizations, and community groups came together to sign a Memorandum of Agreement to “strengthen and revitalize” the network of Marine Protected Areas in Guimaras. 

Finding solutions that bring together environmental and economic benefits for a region often requires this kind of bold, out-of-the-box thinking. The ‘Living Breakwaters’ project in New York, which received $60 million in funding last year, stands as another example of design that satisfies both these needs. Originally developed as an entry to a coastal resilience competition held by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the project involves the installation of artificial breakwaters off the south coast of Staten Island. Designed with resilience in mind, Living Breakwaters consists of structural installations seeded with oysters, which will grow into reefs that will slow incoming storm surges like those the city experienced during the infamous Hurricane Sandy. The project aims to bring together the elements of cultural resiliency, risk reduction, and ecological enhancement, and demonstrates—much like Guimaras’ marine sanctuary—that a well-balanced sustainable solution can address multiple community concerns.

Bold Solutions 

The success of regional projects like the sanctuaries at Guimaras and Apo, as well as the wakeup call of Typhoon Haiyan, have encouraged the Philippine government to embark on larger climate resiliency projects. Most notable among these is the construction of a “back-up city” to the capital Manila. Expected to be completed within 30 years, the sustainably designed “New Clark City” is projected to accommodate 1.2 million people. It is being built to withstand typhoons, flooding, and earthquakes, and its designers intend to make it pollution-free by building with people—rather than cars—in mind. Much of the city will be pedestrianized, with efficient large-scale public transport systems in place. A commitment to sustainability begins at the very foundations of New Clark City.

It is imperative that governments and corporations around the world—particularly in places highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, such as island and coastal communities—explore these kinds of unique, large-scale solutions for communities that are facing ongoing consequences of global climate change. A similar scheme is already underway in the Maldives, a tropical nation spread across 1200 islands. As rising sea levels threaten the lives and livelihoods of inhabitants of the islands, the Maldives government is building new ones, like Hulhumalé, where the “City of Hope” will house up to 230,000 on an artificial island fortified against three meters of sea rise. Designed with a focus on climate change resiliency, Hulhumalé already has a number of sustainable initiatives underway, including sustainable transport options, green architecture, and renewable energy solutions.

The effects of climate change are making themselves known in ways for which many communities and organizations are unprepared. The examples discussed, however, illustrate that innovations across the globe are making it possible for communities of all sizes to improve climate change resiliency and sustainability while also strengthening local economies. With the effects of climate change impacting regions of every climate type—from the melting Arctic to some of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history—bold, community-partnered projects will continue to reflect the multilateral importance of climate change resiliency going forward. Adequate planning and forward-thinking initiatives are key to ensuring the safety of people and ecologies within these communities while also providing a sustainable foundation for generations to come. 

FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS), an ADEC Innovation, advances sustainable practices around the world and helps organizations grow and operate responsibly.