Moving from Coastal Resources Management to Adaptation: A Reflection on Mainstreaming Adaptation into Local Development Plans

By Regina Junio, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Philippines      

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a non-government organization in implementing development projects funded by official development assistance. One of the main objectives of the project was to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) through a participatory coastal resources management approach (PCRM) in the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines.  In doing so, we hoped to provide an enabling environment for good governance, peace, and development. We partnered with local government units, including the barangays (the smallest administrative division in the Philippines), municipalities and provinces, as well as peoples’ organizations and other community stakeholders.    

The process of implementing the project moved these stakeholders from simply being participants in the CRM project to being CRM practitioners. In the beginning, the communities found managing their MPAs truly burdensome, as they needed to dedicate some of their time to helping patrol the MPAs on top of finding alternative areas to fish. But as they persevered with the project they began to observe a decrease in illegal fishing activities, an increased awareness among local folks on the significance of MPAs, and eventually a witnessed increase in their fish catch.    

Even though the MPA project was successful at many levels, at an informal meeting with the MPA managers and local chief executives of some of the recipient municipalities last year, I realized that we had failed to sufficiently prepare the recipient municipalities for future change. All of the recipients are small island municipalities, and as such are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  The managers shared that they have observed some changes in the weather condition of the islands.  There has been an increased incidence of extreme weather events (e.g. severe storm surges).  Storm surges have severely damaged their MPAs, their water sources (developed under a project of another organization), human settlements, some of their social infrastructure (e.g. social hall, day care center), and tourism investments (e.g. cottages) that were built near the shoreline. The long dry spells were almost always coupled with coral bleaching in most parts of their reefs, and shifting rain patterns have confused farmers as to when and which types of crops to plant. (Agriculture projects are managed by yet another NGO.)    

In effect, their current barangay and CRM policies alone cannot respond to the complex problems facing these communities. In municipalities where poverty incidence and human insecurity are high, for development projects to be sustainable they must not only respond to one particular need at a particular time, but should also increase community resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of unpredictable weather conditions and a changing climate.  Thus, my first insight:      

Integrated development planning is the only way to go. Partner or perish. Governments, local and national, should be communicating and working closely with communities and social development non-governmental organizations. NGOs should take into consideration not just the objectives of their funders, but more importantly the needs of the communities. They also have to make sure that their projects will lead to improving the communities’ adaptive capacity and are in line with the local governments’ development plans.      

But how can this be done when these communities do not have access to scaled-down information and projections on climate change impacts (e.g. sea level rise, warming of the seas, long dry spells and drought, rain patterns) or detailed vulnerability assessments?  Being at an academic research institution, I found this to be a good research topic.  Universities and colleges can work closely with barangays and municipalities in doing community-based vulnerability assessments.  Community-based climate change vulnerability assessments can provide the much needed scaled-down information on the impacts of climate-related risks to local communities.  In addition, community-based data gathering and information analysis will help build local knowledge on climate issues. Finally, the collaborative and participatory processes in the data gathering will provide communities with the opportunity to link local knowledge and practices with available scientific information on climate change (an opportunity for science-based organizations like WWF).      

The direct involvement of the municipality and the community and barangay leaders in the formulation of their Climate Change Adaptation Framework and Plan will ensure that development planning, adaptation advocacy, and adaptation strategies, in all levels of government, will be based on identified local needs and targeted at facilitating the rights of the community. The framework will provide the basis for “climate-proofing” projects, plans, and activities of all actors in community development (traditional leadership, barangay, city, NGO partners, and other sectoral leaders) that lead to initiatives that reduce a community’s vulnerability to climate risks, address poverty, ensure sustainable livelihoods, and build resilience.      

The local chief executives also expressed their difficulty as to which of the required government plans they should prioritize given very limited government funding. One of the mayors expressed, “Our people are poor. How can we think of planning for the next 50 years when what our people need is what to put on the table for their next meal?”  This brought me to my next realization:      

Government officials must understand that climate change adaptation is a process, not another plan. Understanding the municipalities’ vulnerabilities (e.g. social, economic, cultural, etc.) to climate change is a pre-requisite to integrated development planning. These vulnerabilities ought to be considered as one of the crucial factors or as a crosscutting theme (as much as poverty alleviation, gender equality, environmental sustainability, etc.) in policymaking and development planning. Climate change adaptation planning means mainstreaming the municipality’s climate change adaptation framework into the development planning process.  The framework should also be rights-based and ought to take into consideration disaster risk reduction, climate resilient livelihoods, ecosystem-based planning, addressing cultural integrity, capacity development, and the underlying causes of vulnerability. In the case of the Philippines, climate change adaptation can be mainstreamed into the following government plans and regulations:  the executive legislative agenda, comprehensive land use plans, disaster risk reduction plans, building codes, and the municipalities’ and barangays’ 10-year development plans.  It may also be a good idea that funding institutions require their implementing partners to consider mainstreaming CCA into project/program plans as one of their funding criteria.       

Further reflection on my conversations with the local chief executives brought me to a third insight:

Inaction is more expensive than being pro-active NOW. It is critical that local chief executives and community leaders understand this. Mainstreaming CCA into policymaking and development planning as early as possible will ensure that the peoples’ tax money will not be squandered on non-resilient or maladaptive projects and programs.     

In summary, this reflection on mainstreaming climate change adaptation into local development planning would like to present three key insights:      

  1. Integrated development planning is the way to go. Partner or perish.      
  2. Climate change adaptation is a process, not another plan.      
  3. Inaction is more expensive than being pro-active NOW.      

As an initial step towards mainstreaming CCA into local development planning, our office is partnering with the Commission on Higher Education Regional Office 9 to hold the 1st Regional Conference on Climate Change with the theme “Reducing Risks, Adapting to Change: Mindanao’s Response to Climate Change” on June 23-24, 2011 at the Carlos Dominguez Hall, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, La Purisima Campus, Zamboanga City, Philippines. Researchers, community development workers, teachers and professors from both public and private educational institutions together with climate change professionals from the different national and local government and non-government conservation and development-oriented organizations will convene to (a) present studies conducted by Higher Education Institutions (HEI), government and non-government institutions on climate change; (b) share learning from other HEIs and institutions on how climate change can be integrated in the curriculum, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, community extension programs, and in the research agenda; and (c) discuss how higher education institutions can partner with local government units, communities, and other institutions to improve our response to the challenges of climate change, reduce risks, and promote sustainability. We also look forward to finding funding for capacity building initiatives to prepare local governments and ODA partner agencies in climate proofing projects and policies.