‘Very, very serious’: Understanding climate change

Robert Borje is worried.

The vice chairperson and executive director of the Climate Change Commission said the unusual change in weather patterns, especially the last typhoon, is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

In a recent interview with Daily Tribune Editor-in-Chief Gigie Arcilla on Straight Talk, Borje explained his office’s role in helping find solutions to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Daily Tribune (DT): What is the simplest definition of climate change?

Robert Borje (RB): Climate change is about temperature that’s above the natural threshold. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas produces greenhouse gas.

Dahil sa greenhouse gas, na-ta-trap ‘yung sunlight na dapat sana ma-release, so umiinit lalo ang mundo. ’Pag umiinit ang mundo, nagbabago ang klima… ‘Yung summer may mga episodes ng rainy season, sa ibang bansa nag-kaka-heatwave ng mas matagal.

Climate change is not just a one-time thing. Ang sinasabi ng experts, it’s cumulative, it’s been happening in the past centuries. ‘Yung industrial revolution. Yung paggamit ng coal… It has led us to this tipping point in history. Kailangan talagang i-address natin ito at kailangang malaman ng tao. Climate change is serious issue and it’s happening now. We’re all affected by it. The recent typhoon shows how worrisome climate change is. From category 2 or category 3 biglang naging category 5 over 24 hours.

That’s very, very disconcerting, and very, very, very serious. Because that timeframe of 24 hours may not be enough for people to prepare. Ang climate change is an issue of buhay at kabuhayan, lives and livelihoods at stake.

DT: Give us a background what the Climate Change Commission is.

RB: The Climate Change Commission was created by virtue of Republic Act 9729, or the Climate Change Act of 2009. It is the lead government agency in charge of policy, coordination, and formulation of all issues regarding climate change.

The law recognizes climate change is not a sectoral issue, it’s not an agency issue. It’s a multi-government or multi-agency issue. The solutions to climate change require the whole of society, the whole of government — the whole world approach to effectively address it.

Climate Change Commission ang nangunguna sa pag-coordinate ng ating mga ahensiya ukol sa mga polisiya to address climate change and also to provide recommendations on what to do. It’s many things, including our negotiations at the international level.

Nangunguna din ang Climate Change Commission when it comes to monitoring and evaluation. May mga dapat tayong ginagawa para maipakita sa mundo ‘yung level of commitment, understanding, at implementation ng ating international commitments.

DT: Climate change din ba yung previous years, ’pag nagkakaroon tayo ng typhoon that lasts for days? Parang ito kasi (Typhoon “Karding”), in one day there was an announcement and then people were expecting the following day medyo umaaraw na. Is it still climate change?

RB: We can say the weather is continuously evolving. And there are climate change drivers that make things happen. We want people to know it’s not just quick onset events like typhoons. It’s also slow onset events, for example, drought sa Northern Asia. In China, the rivers are drying up. That’s attributed to climate change… Sa atin, typhoons. Sa ibang countries, floods. In the northern hemisphere, it’s the melting of glaciers. All of those are connected.

DT: How challenging is it to make Filipinos understand the effects of climate change and practical ways to deal with it?

RB: I have a communications and diplomacy background. If we want behavioral changes, we have to come up with effective communication strategies. Hindi naman natin mababago ang ating mga polisiya kung hindi naiintindihan ng ating mga leaders. Kung hindi naiintindihan ng ating lokal na pamahalaan, hindi naintindihan ng ating mga citizens kung ano yung problema.

Ang maganda lang ngayon is that President Bongbong Marcos has been very clear about the importance of addressing climate change, the commitment to work not just with the government and stakeholders, but in the international community.

We want to assist our LGUs to make sure they come up with their own climate adaptation plans… Gusto rin nating merong supporting mechanisms, including the people’s survival funds, para may budget para sa mga nangangailangan na LGUs. Ang importante diyan is to strengthen our partnerships, not just within the Philippine government, but also with other sectors, including higher education institutions and state universities and colleges. And of course, our partners in media. I was a former member of the media. We’ll work closely together to really make sure our strategy and vision for a climate-resilient and smart Philippines is achieved.

DT: What are the current priorities and initiatives of the Commission?

RB: We’ve resolved to be a working Climate Change Commission. It entails strengthening our partnerships with other stakeholders… We’re working with the Department of Interior and Local Government especially now, because we just got off from an election cycle. So, the new leaders have to know what they have to know about climate change and what we need to do, because climate change adaptation plans are required, na gusto natin mapataas ang submission.

In the same manner, we have to strengthen our partnership with government agencies because, as I said earlier, we need a whole of government approach. What we want is ma-identify ang budget within each government institution, and we’ve successfully increased it. It’s now around P420 billion in the national expenditure program, yung na-allocate ng NGIs or national government institutions for climate change.

Importante rin ang partnerships with strengthening the national panel of technical experts at maging available sila especially for local government units that do not have the capacity to undertake projects. And importante dito, when it comes to this people’s survival fund, it’s a P1 billion fund that is available to LGUs to bolster their funding para sa climate change adaptation programs.

Right now, the utility rate is about 35 to 36 percent. And we want to increase it and we want na magamit yung fund na yun very quickly for their adaptation projects. It all boils down to energy use. So, yun yung focus natin and we’re strengthening our mechanisms right now, our coordination with government agencies, particularly with those that are preventive in nature.

We’re working very closely with the Departments of Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Agriculture, DILG and DepEd for information and education campaign.

So, again, it’s a multipronged approach. Puwede kang malula, or you can embrace it, and make sure that our country is able to respond to these challenges.

DT: For ordinary Filipinos, what do you think are the practical ways for them to help address climate change?

RB: Of course, importante ang individual responsibility. For example, we have to address the issue of the culture of waste. Kailangan masinop tayo at hindi waldas at maaksaya. Kailangan alam natin na inaalagahan natin ang ating environment, dahil pag hindi natin ito inalagahan ay hindi rin tayo aalagaan.

‘WE have to be willing to do our part to contribute to the adaptation mitigation of climate change and its impact.’ | photograph courtesy of UN

For example, the Sierra Madre, we need to protect our forests and our mountain ranges because they’re there for a reason.

About plastics, in the production of plastics alone, may greenhouse gas emission. Now, nakita sa Typhoon “Karding” yung dami ng garbage, that’s an indication of our profligate and wasteful human behavior. Sabi ko nga when we were at the International Coastal Cleanup, maganda na we get to clean up together our coast, but maybe the more important question is, why do we have to clean up when we can clean in the first place?

We have to be very conscious of what we can do. If we can walk, bike, you know, but again, it becomes a whole of government issue and whole of society problem because people will say, ‘You want us to do this pero anong options meron tayo? You want us to use mass transportation… All of these are being addressed. It will require time. So, in the meantime, while we work on fundamental changes, we have to be willing to do our part to contribute to the adaptation mitigation of climate change and its impact.

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