Press Release
June 24, 2011

Speech of Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri
Asian-German Dialogue
For Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Scholarship Alumni
Hotel Parkroyal, Singapore

Allow me to extend my thanks to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for inviting me to this conference. International gatherings like this provide instructive insights and widen opportunities for engagement toward addressing some of the most urgent issues of our time.


It has been eleven years since the United Nations Summit adopted the Millennium Development Goals. It set specific targets on poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, HIV/AIDS reduction, and a "Global Partnership for Development. Its seventh pillar is directed at ensuring environmental sustainability.

Four years from our target year of 2015, can we comfortably say we are nearing our goals considering the fact that many of our development gains are constantly threatened, if not unprotected, from the risks and impacts of climate change?

Climate Change and Its Impacts

Climate change is said to be the defining issue of our time. Everyday, we see its impacts. Its environmental, economic and political implications are profound. Our ecosystems have not been put in greater risk than now. Many low-lying cities in Asia-Pacific are gravely threatened by climate change. Our once fertile lands are threatened by drought and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable.

Not a day passes without anyone talking about the dangers it presents to human life. In all these discussions, we seek one thing - that is to limit the impacts of climate change and to enable each one of us, in ways that we can all one day adapt to the changes that climate change will, with utmost certainty, bring upon our lives.

The rise in the number of disasters has been linked to global climate change.

New evidence suggests that climate change is likely to change the nature and behavior of many natural hazards, including floods, windstorms, droughts and even land slides, heat waves, and disease outbreaks. From what we are witnessing thus far, such influences are evident in the intensity, duration, and magnitude of these events.

In the midst of the destruction and chaos brought about by these events and the disasters, others still claim such links are not conclusive.

For many of us who have experienced the destructive effects of these events, the relationships between climate variability, climate change, and extreme events are just difficult to dismiss. The arguments establishing such links are even more compelling if we factor in the loss of human lives and the destruction they bring to countries and communities.

Various international and regional agencies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have generated significant body of evidence on possible climate change impacts on droughts, sea level rise, extreme precipitation events, and forest fires. To dismiss such findings would not only be irresponsible, it would be fatal.

Many countries in the region, including the Maldives and the Pacific Island countries are threatened by sea-level rise. Warming ocean is threatening fisheries, coral reefs, and mangrove habitats. Drought is the second most significant disaster after flooding in the region in terms of affected population. Over the past twenty years, the risk to disasters and hazards has increased. The Asia-Pacific region has the world's top 10 most exposed countries as far as flooding is concerned.

How can we afford to turn our backs on these realities?

Climate Change: A Compelling Case for Asia-Pacific

The Asia-Pacific region is faced with a very compelling case for action. Let me tell you why.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), in its The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2010, revealed the following findings:

The number of global disaster events more than doubled during the period 1980-1989 and 1999-2009. From 1,690 disasters in the 1980s, the number of disasters increased to 3,886 during the 10-year period of 1999-2009. Forty-five percent (45%) of these happened in Asia and the Pacific;

The people of the Asia-Pacific region are four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe or North America;

While Asia-Pacific generated only one quarter of the world's GDP, it accounted for a staggering forty-two percent (42%) of total global economic losses due to disasters over the last three decades;

The impacts to life, property, and the economy for the region are massive. From 1980-2009, sixty-one percent (61%) of the world's disaster-related deaths occurred in the region. It is alarming to note that from 2000-2008, the region's share in global disaster deaths increased to eighty-three percent (83%).

Effects in the region have been massive, with eighty-six percent (86%) of the population reportedly having been affected by these disasters.

I am all too familiar with these realities, as my country, the Philippines, accounted for the third highest number of disasters in the region and the fourth in terms of the number of its population affected by the disasters from 1980 to 2009.

Three successive typhoons that struck the Philippines over a period of one month in late 2009 provided a telling sign of the impacts of climate change:

10.2 million individuals were affected by flooding or landslides; Nearly a thousand perished; Total damage and losses amounted to USD 4.4 billion or the equivalent of 2.7 percent of the country's GDP.

Climate change affects everyone, but as you can see from the statistics I shared earlier, Asia-Pacific seems to be at the receiving end of much of its impacts. It becomes even more riveting if we are to consider the soaring prices of staple food and basic necessities that almost always follows a disaster. For a region that has 690 million of its population surviving on a $1 a day budget, the impacts are daunting.

Adaption versus Submission

Disaster risks, by all indications, are increasing exponentially. Amidst these realities, we may ask ourselves, "Are we prepared to face more of these challenges?"

Governments pay attention to climate change with a great sense of urgency. It is for good reason, but in our haste to find ways by which to adapt to climate change, we sometimes overlook the broader social and economic issues.

Climate change impacts upon people in ways that it can destroy their livelihoods and perish communities. Vulnerabilities are diverse across countries as much as they are among communities.

Climate change places at risk many of the basic things people need to live dignified lives. For those who struggle to meet their basic needs, climate change presents a life or death proposition. For many communities in the region, they have accepted their vulnerabilities to climate change as an integral part of their existence, and therefore, they have learned to live with it, but not adapt to these realities. This situation of utter submission to climate change realities is something that we need to alter.

The first step to altering the dangerous passivity and resignation starts with the recognition that climate change is inextricably linked to our environment.

The build-up of green house gas (GHG) contributes to climate change. At the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750, there were just 280 parts per million (PPM) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Today, it stands at 390 PPM of CO2. Such increases in the level of GHG would have a concomitant effect on global warming and sea level rise.

The latest global population estimate is placed at 6.9 billion. The UN Population Fund projects the population to reach 9 billion before it starts to decrease. It has been said that global warming caused by human activities could lead to "abrupt or irreversible" impacts.

This presents a cogent argument for all of humanity to reduce our climate footprint. Such an approach will also lessen the strain on our ecosystem on which we depend a lot for our well-being.

An Agenda for Survival

Climate change is an issue that should matter foremost to everyone. It is an issue rooted on survival. Existence of island nations and communities is at stake. Food security is at risk. Displacement of people affected by disasters hampers political security. More importantly, it deprives people the opportunity to live in dignity and in a secure environment.

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) estimates that the mortality risk for people exposed in low income countries is nearly 200 times higher in OECD countries. This makes it imperative for Asia to incorporate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as core policy objectives in national and local planning processes.

The Hyogo Framework for Action acknowledges that "efforts to reduce disaster risks must be systematically integrated into policies, plans and programmes for sustainable development and poverty reduction, and supported through bilateral, regional and international cooperation, including partnerships."

Five key challenges have been identified for action:

(a) Governance: organizational, legal and policy frameworks; (b) Risk identification, assessment, monitoring and early warning; (c) Knowledge management and education; (d) Reducing underlying risk factors; (e) Preparedness for effective response and recovery.

This conference presents a perfect opportunity to heighten regional cooperation in addressing the challenges I enumerated.

National Legislative Framework

In the Philippines, we have adopted a Climate Change Act which mandates the formulation of national and local climate change action plans. We have also passed a twin measure on National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.

The implementation of these measures has not been without challenges. For one, the inclusion of risk and vulnerability reduction as a key feature of development planning is at its infancy. We continue to strive to make vulnerability reduction a part of mainstream goals of national and local government agencies.

We recognize the fact that certain vulnerabilities are generated by the development projects undertaken by some government agencies as in the poorly-planned relocation sites for informal settlers, road construction, school buildings, among others. We need to correct this.

We acknowledge that the poor are more vulnerable in terms of experiencing the worst impacts of climate changes and disaster; therefore, we need to integrate disaster and climate change policies and socio-economic policies with the view to reducing poverty and inequities.

Innovative Financing

The second call for action is on financing.

Funding remains to be a major constraint. Governments tend to spend less on climate change adaptation, disaster prevention and risk reduction as the benefits of these projects are not immediately seen. Governments spend more for disaster response than for measures that are intended to anticipate future eventualities.

Because of this, there are measures filed in our Congress that will create a supplemental funding source for our climate change initiatives. This will provide our local government units the funding source by which to finance local climate change adaptation initiatives.

Budget tracking needs to be institutionalized as well. We learned this lesson soon after our own disaster experiences of 2009. The private sector, government, and international donors came together to assist in the rehabilitation efforts. To sustain donor confidence in our projects, we need to show progress in our efforts.

Disaster Risk Reduction

A third crucial point is on disaster risk reduction.

Disaster risk reduction cannot be pursued in isolation from climate change realities.

In the Philippines, we have passed a legislation that mandates the establishment of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Framework and Plans. Having this law and the Climate Change Act provides us the necessary legal and policy framework for action. The bigger challenge, however, rests in harmonizing the implementation of these legislations to achieve greater efficiency and generate broader impacts to communities.

A key challenge also rests in the ability of governments to generate comprehensive and accurate data on disaster-related losses and impacts. Assessments of disaster situations need to be undertaken to provide basis for designing relief and reconstruction programmes. The documentation of impacts will provide accurate basis for designing disaster risk reduction measures and resilient infrastructure designs to meet future contingencies.

Vulnerability mapping will likewise have to be undertaken to provide basis for developing well-targeted plans. The importance of this initiative also rests in the all-important task of advocating for and creating a culture that would facilitate risk reduction.

Low emission development strategies need to be put in place. The success of such strategies rests in the ability of the general public to extend its support over efforts that include energy efficiency measures, the adoption of renewable energy technologies, and massive switch in energy consumption behaviors and lifestyle.

Building Capacities

A fourth action point is in the area of capacity building.

Central to these initiatives are capacity building measures for climate change adaption and reducing vulnerabilities. Crucial to an effective climate change adaptation program and disaster risk reduction are strong and capable institutions.

We need to depart from a response-based approach and shift to risk reduction and mitigation. Capacities of people, good infrastructure, strong economic fundamentals, and effective governance can significantly diminish the climate change risks and impacts.

Social protection measures will likewise have to be put in place to enable the poor to adapt to climate change and reduce their risks to disasters.

Community and Stakeholder Participation

A fifth action point involves community and stakeholder participation.

Governments need to undertake planned actions and processes to reach, influence, and involve all relevant stakeholders. Such engagements are needed at the national and local levels with the view to creating an enabling environment for responsive climate mitigation and adaption measures as well as disaster risk reduction and management programs.

Our time requires resilience building. Such cannot be achieved without community engagement.

In engaging communities and stakeholders, it is important to note that consultation is just the first step to enabling participation. They need to be empowered through inclusive planning and decision-making processes. More importantly, the vulnerable groups will need to be given a voice and a role in these processes.


Climate change presents a compelling case for action. For many countries in Asia Pacific, such actions are not just essential. They are urgently needed.

The destruction of our environment, sometimes in the name of development and progress, is happening at an alarming pace and scope. On the other hand, the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change into development planning and practice has been frustratingly slow.

Understandably, these processes take time. A massive advocacy initiative at the various levels of government, communities, businesses, schools, and other stakeholder groups need to be undertaken. Legislative, institutional, and policy frameworks need to be developed and implemented. Resources need to be provided and capacities need to be developed. More importantly, partnerships need to materialize.

All of these, we need to do this in the name of achieving resiliency and sustainability. Climate change places at risk many of our basic needs. It threatens our survival. Nothing should be more compelling than this. It is time to move ahead. It is time we work together to find lasting solutions to these challenges.

Thank you.

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