Cimatu cites role of ASEAN urban centers in fight vs climate change

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu on Tuesday urged member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to focus on building sustainable cities and urban areas which, he said, could play a vital role that is truly effective in the face of climate change.

Cimatu, in his message read by DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs Jonas Leones during the ASEAN Forum on Urban Resilience to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Strategies held in Laoag City, said that achieving sustainable urbanization will be key to adapting to and mitigating climate change impacts.

“Recognizing the critical role that our cities play as the centers of innovation, we need to harness potentials for innovations in ways that will enable us to build our capacity to withstand shocks while sustaining the services that urban ecosystems provide us — more so in the face of uncertainties,” Cimatu said, quoting world-renowned urban ecologist Dr. Henrik Ernstson.

Cimatu noted that in the past 10 years, ASEAN countries became highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change as they are now experiencing more frequent extreme weather events — floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

As early as 2009, he said the World Bank warned that the Philippines topped the list of countries most vulnerable to storms, with Vietnam the second most vulnerable to rising sea levels, and Thailand and Vietnam among those most threatened by flooding.

Last year, the Global Climate Risk Index of GermanWatch listed four out of 10 ASEAN countries — Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — as among the 10 nations most affected by climate change from 1995 to 2014 based on annual averages.

Cimatu said other ASEAN countries are also vulnerable to climate change at varying degrees with Brunei Darussalam suffering from heat-related stress, low coastal scopes in Indonesia likely to be affected by a small increase in sea level, and Malaysia’s Sabah frequently experiencing floods and drought.

Cimatu said that climate-induced natural disasters recently experienced by ASEAN countries, such as the 2013 Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that caused massive loss of lives and properties in central Philippines, underscores the need for proactive policy and action for urban resilience.

He said that pursuing urban resiliency has become an urgent agenda for all nation as the world’s urban population is expected to balloon to 2.5 billion by 2050.

“Urban areas, where half of our population lives, drive global warming and consequently climate change,” Cimatu said.

“The effects of our decisions and actions as part of an urban ecosystem transcend the boundaries of space, politics, ideology, economics, and even social strata,” he added.

Cimatu said the three-day regional forum, organized by the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, serves an important venue for discussing plans for attaining, building and reinforcing urban resiliency.

“We are here today because we all take urban resiliency seriously. We realize the need to holistically discuss the issues and challenges that make our cities vulnerable. And the time is now,” Cimatu stressed.

He then called on everyone — from the scientific community and urban planners to manufacturers and consumers — to enhance their participation toward solutions so that ASEAN policy and decision makers and resource managers can work together to achieve sustainable urbanization in the region.

Research and development experts gather in Laoag City on December 5-7 for the regional forum to discuss plans on attaining urban resilience to climate change and disaster risks in Southeast Asia.

The forum was part of the events celebrating the 50th founding anniversary of the ASEAN, which is being hosted by the Philippines. ###