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The Final Decade

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The Final Decade

The Path We Propose

WE SUGGEST that as we plot our way out of the pandemic-induced recession, we look further afield and begin to proactively and aggressively pursue three crucial strategic imperatives: to systematize, scale, and shift our primary production activities to where our country and people would gain the best ecological support systems for our long-term survival and progress as a nation:

Strategic Imperative 1:  SYSTEMATIZE

  1. Design the Recovery Plan to be a foundation for long-term sustainability, by mainstreaming reduction of climate change vulnerability in the economic recovery agenda, in public investment programming, and in overall governance. With the need to reconfigure the Build, Build, Build program, public investments that will create employment in agriculture, fisheries and ecosystem services must be prioritized. Platforms, frameworks, and mechanisms must be created to pursue public-private partnerships on climate change mitigation and adaptation at the national and subnational levels of governance. Operationally, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) could (a) adopta “systems checklist” of key drivers of climate change vulnerabilities, so that NEDA Board approvals of major development programs would consistently consider their impacts on the drivers, and require integration of measures to reduce such vulnerabilities; and (b) formulate a Climate Change Vulnerability Reduction Strategy for the medium- to long-term, to serve as basis for the public sector fiscal program and annual budgeting cycles. Meanwhile, the Commission on Audit could expand its mandate to cover government fiscal performance against impacts on reducing climate change vulnerabilities nationwide, and ensure a systemic multifactor accountability of national and local government leaders across the range of drivers of climate change vulnerabilities.
  2. Make the ecosystem – not political administrative areas – as unit of development and basis for investments in sustaining the country’s natural capital at the local level where they are. This will entail establishment of platforms and frameworks for inter-LGU collaborations and public-private partnerships for the purpose of protecting, enhancing and sustaining primary productivity (fishing, farming) across political jurisdictions and within often broader natural bounds defined by the ecosystem. In the pursuit of employment and livelihood opportunities for workers massively displaced by the COVID crisis, job-creating initiatives could include developing and investing in environmental formations like coral reefs, sea grass meadows, watersheds, mangroves and others that provide critical ecosystem support services to primary production. Such investments would address short-term urgent employment challenges, while promoting enhanced ecological efficiency, and encourage more systemic community-based collective actions to address climate-related vulnerabilities of primary production activities.
  3. Systematically link reduction of climate change vulnerability to sustainable development. Climate change vulnerability reduction must be viewed as part of the nation’s collective efforts to make people economically and socially prosperous while also improving the country’s environmental security and ecosystem services, informed and enriched by historical and cultural traditions and knowledge, which are consciously upheld and preserved. This is what sustainable development is all about. When climate change vulnerability diminishes, sustainable development is better achieved.
  4. Systematize development planning across space and time. Development plans must be shaped to integrate highland-to-ocean (H2O) concerns into a unified sustainability thrust, across intergenerational interests. The plans toward achieving Ambisyon Natin 2040 must be tightened even more to focus on integrating across landscapes and generations the promotion, protection, and sustainability of key social, cultural, economic, and ecological needs: water, food and nutrition, public health, energy, incomes, social and cultural security, and building up our nation’s environmental capital.

Strategic Imperative 2:  SCALE

Limit the utilization of living resources to within their ability to naturally replenish their stocks and maintain the stability and health of the ecological foundations of their sustainability. Institute combinations of command-and-control and economic incentive mechanisms to:

  1. Keep fish catching efforts across space and time to within the sustainable yields of each species being harvested in any particular place, while also ensuring – through a range of alternative livelihoods and equity measures – that fish catchers’ incomes and their social and political well-being are being improved. As climate-related risks to oceans and seas get more severe, productivity would likely decline, and the stability and sustainability of marine species and ecosystems would likely diminish. It thus becomes even more crucial that human pressures on capture fisheries be reduced by way of redirecting the pressures toward alternative income, food and protein sources like aquaculture, mariculture, and fishery product value-adding. With fish still being the most common and healthiest source of animal protein, continued promotion of fisheries is necessary, but fisheries R&D and policy making must urgently address the need to scale fishing activity to within increa­singly constrained ecological limits and make the limits more elastic.
  2. Keep farming activity within the capacity of soils to replenish their natural fertility and moisture content. Farming techniques need to be redesigned to better conserve the necessary environmental capital for farming. Ecological conditions, not the pull of market prices, should determine the scale of farming a crop. Importation must be deemed a tandem measure to domestic farm production so that demand side pressures would not lead to breaching ecological limits. Science and technology must be harnessed to improve the efficiency of our use of available environmental capital for farming. Farmers must be capacitated to earn more and gain more from longer spans of the agriculture value chain.
  3. Ensure that downstream agro-industries maximize farm and fishery value adding in ways that efficiently utilize our climate change-vulnerable environmental assets, while raising fishers’ and farmers’ incomes and social/political equity.

Strategic Imperative 3:  SHIFT

Relocate the center of gravity of our primary production sector from its current concentra­tion on coastal and irrigated lowlands, up toward rain-fed uplands and out to our oceans and seas.

  1. Relocate the center of gravity of our primary production sector from its current concentra­tion on coastal and irrigated lowlands, up toward rain-fed uplands and out to our oceans and seas.
  • •  Coastal farmlands are increasingly at risk of sea level rise and saltwater intrusion. Together with inland flatlands, they are most at risk of experiencing severe flooding and exposures to extreme heat and rainfall episodes. Their viability to provide sufficient ecological platforms for sustained production of food and fiber for a rapidly increasing Philippine population will likely soon plunge. It is most urgent to begin redirecting soonest S&T and development investments on primary production to higher uplands for land-based crops. Some examples: Use the RCEF to establish large (500-1000 ha) upland rice estates (“rice haciendas”). Provide housing and support services for erstwhile lowland rice farmers belonging to the 3rd and 4th income quartiles of the population. Install wind and pest breaks with sufficient capacities to reduce sheet erosion and improve soil water holding capacities. Include 3-5 ha rainwater collection ponds and tank impoundments spread across the estate.
  • •  We have over 200 M hectares of seas and oceans. It is most urgent as well to begin redirecting S&T and development investments on harnessing the potentials of our seas and oceans for food and fiber. In short, we must shift the bulk of our primary productivity from the area-limited brown to our much vaster blue
  • •  Because it is equally urgent and necessary that any move to relocate the backbone of our primary productivity to uplands and marine areas be done with utmost care and concern for expending ecological capital, it is necessary to begin soonest building up of greener uplands and bluer seasa “blue-green” economy – as a major effort to future proof the Philippines in an emerging age of warmer and higher seas, drier and hotter lands, and rising vulnerability of our islands to a climate crisis.

Relocate investments on settlements and infrastructure to elevated areas. This is to induce faster relocation of concentrations of human population to areas that are less vulnerable to sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and flooding. Core infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals, power plants, telecommunication facilities, and water collection, storage, and supply complexes like impounding dams and tanks – all of which tend to draw settlements around them – must be shifted soonest toward higher grounds with accompanying investments on (a) “green design” and principles (like “build with nature”), and (b) strength­ening protective and supportive environmental formations (like forests and grasslands), all with careful consideration of ecological limits.

To systematize will call for no less than a mindset change to overcome persistent silo mentality and compartmentalized thinking along economy-ecology-society divides, which keep efforts fragmented and ineffective; shed paradigms to view looming threats under an entirely new light; and reinvent age-old structures and mechanisms to uphold the principles of subsidiarity and close horizontal coordination, over traditional top-down governance.

To scale would entail recognition that the rule of the market falls short in allocating scarce resources efficiently across time and across generations; that increased economic production can be delinked from increased resource use; and that the base of our inherent wealth extends well beyond our shores and flatlands.

To shift would involve an overhaul of physical plans at the national down to the local level; redirection of public investments in unfamiliar directions and into out-of-the-box solutions; and fixing our physical planning perspectives much farther afield in spatial and temporal terms, well beyond the coasts and plains, and well beyond leadership tenures.

Faced with a future laden with real and daunting climate and environmental risks, we must do no less. The COVID-19 crisis is a mere foretaste of the wider global threat we all face, and has shown humanity that the threats we face are likely to come much sooner than we think. The time to act is now.

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