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Local Governments and Climate Change: Where is Bohol Going?

(Many thanks Liza of boholrepublic.com for the picture)

Recent debates on climate change has started to refocus measures from global and national playing fields to local spheres, with the belief that “the “local” is also an important site in governing global environmental problems” (Betsill and Burkeley 2006). The Stern Report in 2007 has clearly indicated that communities need to be empowered so that they can actively contribute in vulnerability assessment and implementation of adaptation. Further, it argues that climate change needs to be incorporated into development planning at all scales, levels, and sectors (Stern 2007).

The recent experience of Jagna, Bohol, where a tornado destroyed the homes of more than a hundred families takes to the fore the issue of how prepared are we as a province, and the Philippines, as an archipelagic country, in meeting the challenges of a changing climate and the threat of natural disasters.  While Jagna has its own Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan and an active and functional committee, there seems to be gaps in preparedness and in detection, things that education and scientific advancements may be able to deal with.

I take the view that the local leaders are critical actors in drafting, implementing, and evaluating development programs that address both strategic and short-term considerations of local government units.  How they perceive the necessity and the urgency of a policy agenda or a program of interventions is important to ensure that not only these are incorporated in local development plans but are also correspondingly allocated with development funds.  However, their perceptions of necessity and urgency are grounded on how much they know about a particular issue and concern.

In a review of local government plans, programs, and annual budgets in the municipalities of the
Bohol province in the Philippines in 2008 (Canares 2008), it was evident that the challenge of climate change was hardly responded to by local government units for two reasons – a very raw and shallow understanding of the causes, effects, and possible local solutions to climate change, and the pessimism that such a global solution can be addressed by local actors and actions.

However, very recently, climate change has become one of the pressing agenda bannered by the provincial local government units. I surveyed the reasons for the sudden shift in so short a time.

Local elections in the Philippines were held in May 2010, approximately two years after the first study was conducted.  This turning point is critical for two particular reasons.  Local elections are opportunities for the local electorate to choose a new set of leaders for both executive and legislative branches.  In this case, there may be ‘changing of guards’, where new politicians are elected to public office and would probably indicate new sets of priorities.  The other point which makes elections important in the context of this study, is the fact that as earlier indicated, the new set of officers will craft a new local development plan that spans their term of service (the Executive-Legislative Agenda, as opposed to the midterm Comprehensive Development Plan). As such, the possibility, or impossibility that climate change agenda will be incorporated into local development plans will in part be determined by results of the elections – whether newly-elected or newly-installed officials will put it as part of its priorities.

A review of local development plans was again conducted in the last quarter of 2010, and the review, this time, focused not on the CDP, but on the ELA which was then recently formulated. The review was limited only to 29 municipalities, representing 60% of the total number of municipalities in the province, and the same municipalities where CDPs were reviewed in the 2008 study. The review indicated that 6 out of the total plans reviewed mentioned climate change. These municipalities are geographically located in the coastal areas of the province, or had a number of islands as part of its municipal coverage.  Out of the 29 plans, 12 mentioned the word disaster or calamities. It is in the latter language, that climate change is incorporated into the local planning process. It is to be noted that the 6 municipalities where climate change is mentioned in the text are included in the 18 municipalities that mentioned disaster or calamities in their planning document. As such, it can be said that 41% of the municipalities in the province incorporated climate change concerns in the local development plants. However, words as mitigation and adaptation never entered into the lexicon of these documents.

It does seem that local stakeholders, and more particularly local chief executives and legislators become increasingly concerned on climate change issues, more particularly those revolving around the themes of disasters and calamities. But was this the case? Or was it a change in leadership in the municipalities covered that caused the sudden shift?

The study revealed that while recent events in the global spheres (e.g. tsunami, flooding, hurricane), accentuated by local experiences (e.g. landslide, typhoons, flooding, increasingly warm weather, and more recently the Jagna experience), made lawmakers and other stakeholders realize the exigency of the climate change phenomenon, it is the top-down elements that hastened climate change incorporation into local development plans.  The passage of a law and the implementation of the project made possible the inclusion of climate change issues, more particularly in the frame of disaster risk reduction, to local development plans. I would argue that for mainstreaming climate change to development plans of local government units, three challenges need to be addressed – information, participation, and ownership.

The results of this study, done over two periods resonate with the results of a similar study conducted at the level of national government. Lasco et al pointed out that the lack of mainstreaming of climate change issues in national development plans is caused by the fact that “national priorities are biased towards more pressing concerns” (or the challenge of prioritization) and that there is “the pervasive lack of awareness on the impacts of climate change to sustainable development” (2008:17) (or the challenge of information).   It is important that these challenges are addressed so that ownership of the processes and the expected results will be achieved at the local level.

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