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Coping with "New Normal" in Climate Change Print

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines, 5 February (Tebtebba Indigenous Information Service) – For years the indigenous Ivatan folk of Batanes islands in northern Philippines have learned to cope with strong typhoons, which have since become part of their lives every rainy season.

Long before climate change became the talk of the global village, the Ivatan, whose communities have long been regarded as the “home of typhoons,” had learned to live with and adapt to a hostile climate. They erected stone houses made of limestone, designed to keep them safe and warm amid pounding rains and howling winds.

Fortunately in recent years, Batanes has not been as battered by typhoons as badly as before. But unfortunately, the routes of typhoons lately have shifted to southern and central Philippines, a phenomenon which has caught many affected communities generally unprepared.

Typhoons Pablo (international name Bopha) and Quinta (Wukong) last December and Sendong (Washi) in December 2011 were the latest to devastate big parts of southern and central Philippines. And still reeling from the trauma of these strong typhoons, many parts of Northern Mindanao were recently flooded due to rains brought about by the tail-end of a cold front and amihan or northeast monsoon.

Despite official announcements and warnings from the official weather bureau, affected communities (particularly those affected by Sendong, Quinta and Pablo) lost hundreds of lives as scores were injured, thousands displaced, and wide swaths of farm lands and several infrastructures ruined.

And many of those who proved vulnerable lived in simple houses made of nipa (palm leaves), bamboo and wood. Wide swaths of forests converted into plantations or logged and unregulated mining activities have helped worsen peoples’ vulnerabilities to typhoons in Mindanao, say climate change analysts.

So those closely monitoring climate change trends suggest the need to find new and strategic ways of coping with these abnormal climate patterns in the country.

Holistic approach

When the abnormal has now become the “new normal” in recent climate patterns, the rest of the country might as well learn from other communities such as the Ivatan, whose disaster-preparedness has become a way of life, says Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, executive director of Tebtebba. A Baguio City-based a non-government indigenous institution, Tebtebba deals with the concerns of indigenous peoples such as their rights, climate justice and “self-determined development.”

But in seeking to help confront climate change-related issues, Tauli-Corpuz stressed what she calls an “integrated holistic approach.” This is Tebtebba’s overarching framework in helping address various indigenous peoples’ issues, which include climate change.

So Tebtebba has helped organize integrated-holistic-approach workshops where participants share their experiences, traditional knowledge and practices about how to cope with extreme climate change patterns. Through the workshops, participants would also identify the roots of their vulnerabilities and thereby devise appropriate short-term and long-term responses.

One strategic response to climate change-related concerns is formulating “comprehensive land use plans.” Tebtebba particularly cited the comprehensive land use plan project of its partner-community in Wangwang village in Tinoc town, Ifugao province in northern Philippines.

Through the comprehensive land use plan, village members along with their local government officials identified their primary and secondary forests, creeks, brooks, and agricultural and settlement areas. Also identified were areas not suitable for settlements, all of which were documented through a three-dimensional map that community members helped make.

The comprehensive land use plan’s significance cannot be understated. The land use plan, which was programmed to be replicated in all the villages in Tinoc, can be the basis for policies or ordinances in land zoning, disaster-preparedness, reforestation, watershed rehabilitation, and other related concerns.

Engagement in national and global arena

While simultaneously helping support partner indigenous communities become “climate change-resilient,” empowered and self-reliant, Tebtebba also continues to engage with concerned government parties and representatives in the national and international arena.

For example, Tauli-Corpuz has been actively engaged with government parties and representatives to the UN climate change talks.

As co-chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) working group on REDD Plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries), she has helped push for measures to address how indigenous peoples rights and traditional knowledge can be respected and protected.

“Indigenous peoples are the ones mainly responsible for saving the world’s last remaining tropical rainforests,” she said. “Thus, it is but right that the climate change convention recognizes the direct link of respecting indigenous peoples’ rights -- (which include their right to use their traditional knowledge in the conservation and sustainable use of forests) – to how they adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

At the 26 November-7 December 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, Tauli-Corpuz has pushed for programs, which will promote indigenous community participatory monitoring and information systems. While this concept has not been included in the decisions regarding systems of information on how REDD Plus safeguards are being respected, she believes that strengthening capacities of communities to do their own monitoring and to establish their information systems is the way to go.

Many governments are putting a lot of obstacles in establishing safeguard information systems. “In this context, enabling communities to do monitoring and reporting will allow them to be more aware of their own forests and forest resources and what needs to be done for more sustainable forest management and governance,” she said.

As a negotiator for the Philippine Government assigned to the REDD Plus negotiations, she also helped convince other climate change negotiators to agree on a decision, which recognized that the work program for scaling up results-based finance for REDD Plus include options to “incentivize” non-carbon benefits from forests.

Results-based finance worked on the assumption that what will be paid for will only be the carbon sequestered by forests.  She argued, however, that other non-carbon benefits, which include ecosystem services provided by forests, biodiversity and livelihoods should also be included in the payments. “Forests are not just about carbon, which now has a price tag,” she said.

She likewise helped add her voice to the strong call for rich countries -- which are the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and thereby affecting climate change patterns -- to contribute money to what is called the Green Climate Fund or GCF. The Fund will support climate change adaptation and mitigation programs of developing countries.

But engaging with and participating in international negotiations requires awareness of already established instruments. Tauli-Corpuz thus reiterated the need for those monitoring the UN climate change negotiations and the GCF Board to be aware of Section X of the GCF Governing Instrument on safeguards and Section Xl, which is on accountability.

Section X states that the GCF should have safeguard policies, which are consistent with existing internationally accepted environmental and social standards. “We interpret this to mean the rights of indigenous peoples enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be respected and environmental standards that have been agreed upon under environmental conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change should be adhered to,” she said.

She also cited Section X1, which calls for redress or grievance mechanisms if ever there are problems with projects or programs funded through the GCF. She urged the Board to establish this grievance mechanism as well.

“Most important of all is ensuring indigenous peoples’ full and effective participation in the GCF and direct access to the GCF, and not only for governments,” she said. “We are thus calling on the Board to establish a small grants facility that will allow indigenous peoples’ better access to these climate funds.”

She also called on the Board to include one or two indigenous peoples’ representative to be observers to the Board meetings.  As it is, only two representatives of civil society organizations and two representatives of the private sector are included as observers.

She hopes that the Board considers these proposals when its members meet in Berlin in March.

“When they (Board members) meet (in March), I hope they will elaborate on this Governing Instrument, which is going to matter a lot for indigenous peoples, especially if they are affected by projects funded by the GCF,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

She likewise underscored an underlying basic principle, which must guide governments in implementing climate change-related projects or programs.

“We call on governments to respect the human rights approach as this ensures that we, indigenous peoples, are not disadvantaged both by the impacts of climate change as well as by the proposed solutions that are put on the table to address climate change impacts,” she said.