Our cities’ climate-resilient future




The Manila Times



OVER 4.4 billion people live in cities around the world. The World Bank forecasts this number to double by 2050, making 7 out of 10 people living in urban areas globally. This will have an impact on the economy, the environment and human welfare. Leaders and policymakers must pay attention to the need to address the delivery of basic services, infrastructure and housing, among many other things. I am finishing a course in advanced environmental management at the University of Toronto. A big portion of the curriculum is focused on urban development and management. Most people associate the environment with nature, ecology and biodiversity. It’s about time policymakers think of the environment that includes the urban ecosystem. Decisions made in the megacity of Metro Manila directly impact the natural environment surrounding the greater urban area and vice versa. With the climate crisis affecting all cities around the world, the theme of all global socioeconomic forums is now focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Philippines is at the top of the list of the most vulnerable countries most affected by climate emergencies. We don’t need experts to tell us that. We have been facing stronger typhoons in the past 15 years. It is a reality we have been facing. The Philippines, together with 195 countries, agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions with targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goal is to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. In keeping with global trends, cities must work on being green, resilient and inclusive. This may be done through policy and investment choices. I came across a recent report by the UN OCHA Relief Web profiling Makati City’s efforts to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to Mayor Abby Binay, “As temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, low-lying coastal areas in cities like Makati have become more vulnerable to strong typhoons that bring floods and landslides. This will result not only in the disruption of public services but also the displacement of families and even entire communities.” She says we need thinkers, doers and movers. “We have heard the data. We have understood the science, and we are feeling its impact. Now is a crucial time to act, and we must act fast. We need thinkers, doers and movers.” And she is calling on all sectors to act together now with a “wholeof-society” approach to combat climate change. Makati is doing a number of mitigating and adapting mechanisms. Makati is implementing “green infrastructure” such as solar panel roofs on government buildings and public transport projects. They encourage the use of electric vehicles. Though until our national energy mix reduces its dependency on fossil fuels, the use of electric vehicles has very little positive impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Makati plans to introduce electric buses as part of a smart public transport system in collaboration with South Korea. It’s a good start. In an ambitious effort to be a pioneer city in using green energy to power schools and government buildings, Makati is installing solar panels in 25 elementary schools, 10 junior high schools, and eight senior high schools. Makati is also giving importance and awareness to sustainable tourism and is engaging residents and businesses about the impact of climate change. Being the premier financial and business hub of the metropolis, Makati works with the private sector as partners. According to Mayor Binay, Makati’s Investment and Incentive Code aims to incentivize green investments and business practices. This is in keeping with the global discussions of climate financing. We need more cities thinking ahead. We need to see cities as part of the ecosystem. In addition to the many technological investments, there are old-fashioned policies that we must utilize to make our cities resilient — good ol’ land use plans that limit and control the use and misuse of land, zoning bylaws that protect the poor and limit domestic activity in environmentally critical areas like shores and river banks, and the planting of native trees to avoid heat island effect. In the Philippines, our cities must also urgently address the needs of the urban poor who already live in informal settlements, while developing climate-resilient policies.