Turn Tragedy in the Philippines to Adaptation Action

I mourn with my Philippine kaibigans about the incalculable death and destruction wrought by Typhon Haiyan on that beautiful country and its people.  I lived and worked in the Philippines in the mid-1990s while at the U.S. Agency for International Development. I consider the country my second home.  I feel a deep sadness that so many lives were lost. Yet, I do not feel hopeless.  I know that  ways exist to increase the Philippine’s resiliency, and the solutions lie within the country, the corporate sphere and the development community. When a climate-related disaster strikes, I turn to ND-GAIN to help provide me with answers to how to prevent future calamities.   It probably isn’t a surprise to those who have seen the Haiyan destruction that the Philippines ranks 99 of 176 countries on the ND-GAIN index..  When looked at from the perspective of the country’s vulnerability to climate disruption and its readiness to adapt, it is in the highly vulnerable and not-ready quadrant of the Readiness Matrix. It possesses a great need for investment and innovation to improve readiness as well as a great urgency for action.

Since 1995, however, the Philippine’s’ relative GAIN score has headed in the wrong direction, initially ranking 87th of 176 countries.   Several factors related to ND-GAIN account for this deterioration, including the growing perception that political unrest will trigger a destabilized government or an actual coup by unconstitutional or violent means. Other factors: its rate of population growth in urban centers and the natural-disaster risk for populations living in cities of more than 750,000 people.  If they reflected awhile that they rank with Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire and Iran in terms of their political stability and nonviolence score, they might strive to strengthen the institutions that hold the government accountable.

Several initiatives could help the Philippines in the near and longer term.  First, simply assume that decreasing the country’s exposure to extreme events involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that the Philippines always will lie in the eye of the storm during typhoon season regardless of the extent of climate change.

The real opportunity lies in decreasing Filipinos’ sensitivity to climate disruption, increasing their adaptive capacity and boosting their economic, social and political readiness. These will increase their resilience and keep them on a path to market growth, human thriving and a caring and outward-looking world view for which they’re famous.

Based on ND-GAIN, here are three places from which to start. None are easy, but all generate hope for both the Philippines and the global community:

  • Shore up the political stability of local, regional and national government.
  • Increase the percentage of paved roads to trigger more expeditious travel on islands within the archipelago during the monsoon season.
  • Improve sanitation facilities and access to water to strengthen the population and decrease disease while freeing up community energy for commerce.

The Philippines is nababanat, or elastic, as well as resilient, and Filipinos face many more typhoons ahead.  Working together, we can save lives and improve livelihoods there and in other vulnerable regions.  As an adaptation professional deeply immersed in questions of how, I employ ND-GAIN to guide the way.


The Auto Industry's Real Climate Risk

An article caught my attention last week from the Auto Industry Action Group, entitled “How Climate Action May Impact the Auto Industry.”   Initially, I thought it might tell the story of an industry that has seen significant disaster-related setbacks taking charge to prevent future problems. Actually, it proved to be a polemic about how to protect the industry from climate-related regulations.


Like the finance industry, which gained important business-continuity planning lessons from 9/11 and more recent disasters for example, Goldman Sachs’ stellar disaster-recovery preparations that enabled it to keep its lights and power on in lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy). I presumed that automakers were also familiar with risk mitigation, drawing lessons from disruptions to their supply chain after Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.


I bet there are a few leaders in the auto industry who are assessing the realities of the climate-change issue  and are mulling risk evaluations that, for instance, include a look at the relative vulnerability by country of origin of their major suppliers – China Japan, Korea and Mexico.  As of 2011, Japan and Korea possessed a similar level of readiness, and Mexico and Japan’s vulnerability matched, but China was the least prepared and most vulnerable of all of them. (Check out the vulnerability/readiness matrix here to compare countries.)

Others closer to home may be thinking about these risks. The environmental choir, namely The American Sustainable Business Council, published an interesting article about small business risks from climate adaptation.

I can only assume that many car dealerships, which stand at the tail end of the industry’s value chain, consider themselves small businesses. Without climate-adaptation leadership, they could find themselves in trouble.  Among several compelling statistics noted in the article, an estimated 25 percent of small- to-mid-sized businesses don’t reopen after a major disaster, and 57 percent of small businesses have no disaster-recovery plans.

These small businesses represent our American jobs and the backbones of our communities. As climate-related risks grow at home and abroad, we should make it a priority to find the right tools to help all business owners manage for a dramatically changed future.


The Next Silk Route

Seeing this map of the melting Arctic Sea and subsequent shipping routes in the Economist a few weeks ago startled me.  I was programmed to think of voyages and conquests by the Economist’s cover picture of a ruddy Viking. And this triggered, at least for me, a profound reality: Everything we know about shipping is about to change because of climate change.

Just hearing that certainty alone sends an Arctic chill down my spine.  I’m not ready to give up that icy white at the top of my son’s globe. Or all the mystery, epoch history, science and beauty locked up there simply to buy get cheaper toys, clothes, solar panel parts, fish protein, energy and the list goes on and on.

But ready or not, the draft National Climate Assessment suggests we already are registering a decrease in sea ice, snow cover and glaciers, as well as an increase in ocean temperatures. Indeed, reflecting the physics of glaciers, they are retreating faster than most models originally had predicted.

So the climate has created an opportunity for this era’s Genghis Khan to open up trade routes that were a mere child’s dream of racing boats across a plastic globe only a few years ago.  I’m heartened to see that a multinational collaboration is taking the lead.  The Arctic Council comprises adjacent countries: the United States, Canada, Denmark (representing Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.  Corporations are chomping at the bit for the new shipping, fishing and extractives possibilities and a responsible policy will help to ensure safe handling.

Time has given the Vikings and Genghis Khan a romantic and heroic reputation as adventurers. Let’s hope the heroism of this new era of profound geologic change leads to two developments: the halt of other climate events through employing greenhouse gas mitigation and a careful and considerate approach to the use of our new geographical landscape.




Ports: Staying Competitive Through Climate Adaptation

Climate change will impact longstanding infrastructure, such as our ports. And since the vast majority of non-service-sector corporations rely on ports for some part of their supply chain, I encourage you to read Climate Risk and Business Ports, a framework for both evaluating and mitigating the risks of climate change on port operations. Its summary can help us find ways to evaluate risk. The report notes that climate change is likely to impact:


• Demand, trade levels and patterns affecting total trade through the port

• Navigation and berthing

• Goods handling

• Vehicle movements inside the port

• Goods storage

• Inland transport beyond the port

• Environmental performance

• Social performance

• Insurance

Suggested solutions include raising causeway road heights, paving unpaved surfaces, increasing bridge clearances, increasing culvert diameters, reconsidering road underpasses, improving drainage, managing refrigeration’s energy intensity, developing trade in climate-resilient commodities, protecting storage areas from flooding and adding additional insurance.

Generally, building to a higher standard is now a viable climate adaptation for long-life infrastructure. Ports that begin now to increase the reliability of their infrastructure can improve their economic performance and attractiveness to investors and users.

A UN Resource for the Private Sector:

If you haven’t yet checked it out, spend some time online with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Adaptation Private Sector Initiative. Most of the material deals with agriculture in emerging economies, and at least a dozen situations posted there deserve a look. The website comprises a treasure trove of case studies from a wide range of regions and sectors. Of course, many relate to agriculture, a UN focus. But you will find other items of interest as well.  I particularly enjoyed:

Tomorrow’s railway and climate adaptation

Hurricane Katrina: A climate wake-up call

Adaptation and the legal sector


If any of them inspire you to write a guest blog, let me know!

Climate Adaptation and the Car Behind You

Recently, I heard Paul Pisano of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) give an inspiring talk sponsored by the University Center for Atmospheric Research about how high tech helps to keep us safer on snow-swept and other climate-changed highways.  (His talk, incidentally, was at the Boulder Chautauqua in Colorado where I was vacationing with my family, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about it was that residents paid $10 to attend, illustrating the high degree of interest in learning what's new in climate.)

Paul manages research and development programs that address the effect of weather on all aspects of the highway system, including winter maintenance, traffic management and traveler information. He noted that in 2010, 7,130 people died on America’s highways from adverse weather conditions. Indeed, one in four of the nation’s 1.5 million-plus crashes annually (24%) is due to bad weather. (See chart.) In addition, trucking delays due to weather cost more than $3.1 billion annually for the 50 largest U.S. cities. And, lost productivity from snow closures can cost up to $10 billion a day.

The FHWA employs many tactics to keep the roads as safe as possible in adverse weather, but the one I find most compelling relies on the cars that drive the roads. Cars can gather data on air temperature, barometric pressure, headlight status and windshield-wiper use, among other measures. Sharing such data with FHWA allows the agency to determine everything from whether precipitation is falling to whether standing water exists on the road. These mobile-data sources offer a thorough picture of the weather, informing decisions about what sort of equipment and chemicals are deployed, what warnings are shared with drivers and, in the event of an accident, what weather impact might have contributed to it.

Given the mass of vehicles on the roads and how many miles they’re driven, the amount of data about them can prove overwhelming. And driver anonymity also is a factor. Still, I’m hopeful that as we enter an era of more severe and unpredictable weather, vehicle data will combine with traditional meteorological observations in intelligent ways to reduce delays and accidents on our highways.