World Resource Institute

Improved Decision-Making Necessitates Referencing the Past, Problem-Solving for the Future, and Public Participation

By Tony La Viña, Ateneo School of Government

Commentaries were commissioned by the World Resources Report to react to the Expert Perspectives series. This commentary responds to Question 1: Does climate change require new approaches to making decisions?

This edition of the World Resources Report is a timely initiative to assess the decision-making process in climate change. The authors should be congratulated for sharing their views and insights on said topic. Undoubtedly, these efforts make an excellent contribution to the discourse and practice of climate change policy. 

All four papers provide a good blend of response to the question posed by the research project. Some focused on strategic and macro issues, while others provided practical guides. Allow me, however, to highlight various points articulated by the authors, which I think will create most value in improving current decision-making and planning processes.

(1) Old planning practices are still reliable for tackling new problems such as climate change, but adjustments are needed. I agree with two authors who made it clear that we need not reinvent the wheel. Current processes and structures are still reliable but to apply them, without necessary adjustments, would result in ineffective adaptation policies and measures. To continue with their current state would be like fitting a square peg in a round hole because, simply, climate change is a complex issue.  The breadth and depth of its impact have altered the way government leaders are approaching the issue of development.  Authors aptly pointed out the required adjustments: reframing of climate change, paradigm shift (from reactive to proactive approaches particularly in managing disaster risks), integration of flexibility mechanisms (e.g. autonomous adaptability), knowledge and capacity building (e.g. climate literacy) for government leaders and bureaucrats, and increased public participation in planning processes.  From this menu, I believe that government leaders will need to start appreciating how massive and lengthy the process will be for introducing change in the way we think and plan.  This only suggests that we act NOW. 

What I consider as the "monkey wrench" in this scenario are uncertainties that characterize climate change, which in turn underscores the importance of quality information and accurate data in the planning process.  The responsibility of unlocking these uncertainties is no longer just with the planners who have been trained to prepare forecasts and projections on say, how big the population will be in five year's time, what the level of illiteracy is in ten years, or how much supply of energy is needed to meet a 2.2% growth in demand.  It has become the domain of our scientists who, aided even with the best and most modern technology, are careful to offer precision and accuracy in communicating their assessment and instead make use of probabilistic assessment and rely only on certain levels of confidence in rendering their expert judgment.  Therefore, one huge challenge that needs to be addressed is how to bridge the gap between scientists and planners"”transforming what science tells into a clear, strategic, and sound policy, and translating data and scientific studies into concrete plans and programs.

(2) Adaptation problems are dynamic and new ones are on the rise.   Recalling the Philippines' experience with Typhoon Ketsana where Luzon (including Metro Manila) was submerged in floods and Filipinos suffered multiple stresses from lack of shelter, food, water and sanitation, and medicines, I realized that climate change happens not in a compartmentalized but a webbed manner.  Problems are cross-cutting and trans-boundary.  I appreciate, however, Someshwar's paper for stressing another point that "climate risks are not solely attributable to climate parameters," but can be attributed to factors that are "long-term in the making." Like the case of Mumbai flooding in 2005, the massive flooding in Metro Manila was caused by other factors such as poor land use planning, inadequate drainage systems, poor management of solid wastes that clogged many drainages, and weak policy implementation.   This reality of diverse causality also holds true for other sectors "“ agriculture, water, health, etc.  But it drove home the point that decision-makers should not lose sight of non-climate issues/factors that can potentially exacerbate risks that, at first glance, are taken as a climate change issue.  Further, decision-makers should start widening their radar for new and emerging problems such as those cited by Huq: slow onset hazards and relocation and migration of vulnerable communities (which may eventually result in the increase of refugees).  These are just a few examples.  I do agree that there's a need for "anticipatory risk management systems" but I equally subscribe to the idea of having flexibility mechanisms in decision-making processes designed to respond to unforeseen events.  The autonomous adaptability proposed by TERI and IISD is a commendable formula that may be employed by policy-makers/planners.

(3) Public participation is crucial in the planning process.  I consider myself a strong advocate of engaging stakeholders in climate change processes.  I have seen its value in decision-making processes even as high level as the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen where I chaired the REDD+ negotiations and I welcomed informal consultations with stakeholder groups such as  indigenous peoples, environmental advocates, good governance advocates, conservation groups, etc.  Hence, I am glad that our authors have highlighted the need to create spaces for the public to participate in planning processes (e.g. multi-stakeholder deliberation and decentralization of decision-making).  For effective engagement, I completely agree with Huq that there's a need for building the stakeholders' awareness and understanding of climate change, including their capacity to address it.  There is no exception even for grassroots communities because as vulnerable groups they are the first to feel the brunt of climate change and are therefore deserving of information on how climate change will affect their way of life, livelihood, and ecosystems.  The business sector must also be engaged as pointed out by Mehra. I would like to stress the idea however that the form of engagement is not for government leaders to teach or prescribe to their stakeholders and/or constituents but to have a genuine and constructive dialogue with the objective of fostering learning and innovation, and nurturing a sense of ownership of plans. In this age where we are finding ways to effectively adapt, there is opportunity to learn from indigenous or community-based practices or management techniques in fighting climate change effects and there is ample room for including these practices in our list of solutions. More importantly, stakeholders' ownership of plans contributes to more effective implementation of solutions and results in better management of climate risks.