WWF: Climate Adaptation Opportunities for Santiago City

Climate change is a reality all Filipinos must face – but lives and businesses can be saved through proper preparation.

To remain competitive, Philippine cities must act before stronger typhoons, floods, droughts and storm surges cripple economic viability. Fortunately, a new study aims to help the country’s largest cities and economic hubs prepare ahead.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation have completed Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts – a four-year, 16-city study to prepare Filipinos for escalating climate change effects. Results were unveiled on December 5, 2014 at the Zen Hotel in Santiago City.

Initiated in 2011, the study’s first phase covered the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Iloilo. Its second assessed Cagayan de Oro, Dagupan, Laoag and Zamboanga. The cities of Angeles, Batangas, Naga and Tacloban were evaluated in 2013. For 2014, Butuan, General Santos, Puerto Princesa and Santiago were covered.

Vulnerability scores were generated from 20-year historical city-level data on climate exposure, socioeconomic drivers, and adaptive capacities. Multi-stakeholder Scenario Building Exercises that looked 20 years into the future also contributed to the scores. Think-tank Brain Trust, Inc. facilitated the exercises. All in all, the study looks at a 40-year timeline.

“The Philippines is our shared gift. Preparing it for the impacts of climate change is our shared responsibility. Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts is a powerful tool that provides socioeconomic safety nets and long-term solutions as we look at the future through the climate lens,” says WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.

BPI Foundation strongly encourages local leaders and business groups to make use of the study. Says BPI SVP and BPI Foundation Executive Director Faye Corcuera, “We can climate-proof our cities if we act decisively. By gearing up for climate change, we can protect businesses and save lives.”

WWF & BPI Study Sites (WWF Infographic)

WWF & BPI Study Sites (WWF Infographic)

Turning Risks into Opportunities in a Climate Future

Santiago City forms the southernmost gateway to and from Isabela, hemmed in by three mountain ranges. Trade from Cagayan, Southern Luzon, and the Cordillera defines the city, whose primary agricultural output is rice and corn. A third of the city’s land area is dedicated to palay production. Corn production in the province has increased by an average of 11% per year.

This reliance on monocrop farms, however, spells a concentrated risk. Santiago must diversify beyond grain and shift from monocrop to mosaic farms, considering that it has the lowest water supply per capita. Santiago scored the highest vulnerability rating of 6.04 among the four cities assessed this 2014.

Butuan City, once the seat of a powerful kingdom over a thousand years ago, guards the mouth of the Agusan River, the longest of Mindanao’s navigable waterways. The city sits within a high-risk zone – right at the Agusan River delta, where rains are a daily occurrence and regular floods are expected. Its precipitation figures are the highest in this assessment. It is apparent that the numbers will go higher.

Butuan is the economic core for trade and services of the CARAGA Region. To ensure its continued economic viability in a climate-defined future, Butuan’s opportunity is to establish an integrated river basin management system and strengthen multi-community alliances. The city logged a vulnerability rating of 6.03, the second highest among the four cities evaluated in this phase.

Puerto Princesa City, the ‘city in the forest’, serves as the economic gateway of Palawan province. Palawan is the hub for a host of superlative natural attractions. The entire island is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve – no major heavy industries are allowed. The Underground River and Tubbataha Reefs are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourism in Puerto Princesa has boomed over 23 years.  The number of hotels within the city stand head-and-shoulders above all else.

With its population expected to skyrocket from 130,000 to 320,000 in the next 20 years, Puerto Princesa is another a migratory sink.  The city also logged in a spike in tourist arrivals and number of air passengers. However, the city’s airport, seaport, plus the majority of its developments are confined to its eastern coast – where storms blow.

Seeing Puerto Princesa’s high dependence on air and sea transport, the city has an opportunity to diffuse risk by creating redundant land, air and sea options on both coastlines of the city. Puerto Princesa logged a vulnerability score of 5.89 in the study. “It is time to get down to the nuts and bolts of climate-smart planning,” says Tan.

General Santos City’s population density is higher than the cities of Butuan, Davao, and Zamboanga. This is a primary driver for land conversion and consumption. Its proximity to areas whose futures hang in the balance also makes it a migratory sink.

In extreme weather events, many people will be drawn to the warm promise of General Santos. The country’s tuna capital must prepare for the impacts of migration and its increased pressure on limited resources. At one point in history, General Santos was one of the stars of East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). As ASEAN countries integrate in 2015, General Santos – which posted the lowest vulnerability score of 5.75 – has an opportunity to play a key role.

Patterns and Solutions

A resilient city takes responsibility for renewing its scarce resources. This stabilizes shared value chain and creates new wealth. Says Tan, “A city has to look at sustainability founded on balanced growth that feeds on shared value. This will translate to greater competitiveness. But, it must be founded on renewal. We must replace what we have taken out.”

In many of the 16 cities assessed, it was evident that local initiatives were by and large reactive, rather than pro-active. Within these Philippine cities, the study shows that the level of preparedness of local governments, businesses and residents requires further improvement.

The four-year study also observed that a combination of predictable weather and vast lands create migratory sinks – creating hubs that attract population, including refugees displaced by climate change impacts and conflict.  In anticipation, cities that are already showing abnormally high rates of in-migration should be undertaking in-depth reviews of their land use plans.

As urbanization advances, agriculture retreats. This pattern underscores the vital importance of urban-rural linkages – particularly for larger cities that have become almost entirely dependent on external sources for essential supplies of food, water, energy, as well as their work force.

There is a need to balance urban development and agricultural self-sufficiency, while investing in a multi-sourced supply of resources. As we face a climate-defined future, our collective challenge is to figure out how to sustainably produce more with less.

Another key pattern observed was the need to ensure the viability of access and transport. A great deal of the infrastructure, existing in and around cities, was not designed to cope with extreme weather episodes. This includes major arteries, airports and seaports, as well as many commercial and residential developments.

Cities must also stabilize their resource base, invest in proactive reconfiguration, and build up reactive reserves. Ample financial reserves, strong governance, increased investment in building human capital, plus the sustainable management of resources are critical for resilience and competitiveness.


IN PHOTO: From left to right are Muneer Hinay (WWF Project Manager), Arch. Julius Viron (United Architects of the Philippines Charter President), Ms. Faye Corcuera (BPI SVP and BPI Foundation Executive Director), Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan (WWF Vice-chair and CEO), Arch. Armando Tan (Santiago City Planner), Atty. Gia Ibay (WWF Climate Unit Head), Joaquin Del Rosario (WWF Project Officer), Louie Caraan (WWF Project Manager). (Gregg Yan / WWF-Philippines)

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