You are on page 1of 7




Rosa T. Perez

Natural Disaster Reduction Branch (NDRB)

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services
Administration (PAGASA), Department of Science and Technology
Weather and Flood Forecasting Center, Agham Road, 1100 Philippines


This paper describes the studies performed on the vulnerability and adaptation of the Philippine
coastal resources sector to climate change. The analysis is done by looking at the impacts on the
coastal areas of the present climate variability and expected impacts of future climate changes,
especially on the valuable ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves. Present and future response
measures in the context of sustainable development are also presented. The emphasis is centered on
community participation in the implementation of adaptation options. It is seen that information,
education and communication campaign will play a vital role in bridging the gap between policy
makers and the people.

1. Introduction

The Philippines is an archipelago with a total discontinuous coastline of 32,400 kilometers, the
longest in the world. About 70% of the countrys 1,500 municipalities share the coast, deriving
numerous benefits and opportunities offered by the coastal zone and near-shore areas. The natural
systems support major economic activities such as coastal lowland farming, fishing and tourism, and
provision of human settlements with essential life support and development opportunities. Coastal
fishing accounts for 40 to 60% of the total fish catch and represents about 4% of the GNP. The
countrys coastal and marine resources are varied and diverse, providing food and employment to over
one million Filipinos, half of whom are engaged in small-scale fishing. Fish and other marine products
supply up to 70% of the total animal protein intake of the populace.
Natural perturbations in the form of cyclones, tsunamis and coastal storms are part of the natural
processes that periodically affect most of the coastal regions, often times causing flooding and
inundation in low-lying areas. In addition to the problems of unsustainable coastal developments,
coastal zones can also be significantly affected by the impacts of human-induced climate change. One
of the most certain outcomes of climate change is accelerated rise in global mean sea level. The
second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in
December 1995 describes the global mean sea level rise from 15 cm to 110 cm, with a most probable
value of around 50 cm, by 2100. Wetlands are likely to be threatened, coastal erosion will increase and
coastal resources, populations and economies will be adversely affected. Other aspects of climate
change may bring serious effects; these include changes in the intensity, frequency and patterns of
extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, precipitation, evaporation and freshwater
At present, approximately 50 million people live in the Philippine coastal areas and are at risk from
the impacts of natural hazards and extreme climatic events, sea level changes and degradation of
coastal and marine ecosystems. Adding to these existing stresses are the impacts that would be caused
by sea level rise as projected. Accelerated sea level rise (ASLR) is expected to affect the physical and
biological properties of the coast as well as the lifestyles and traditions of the people.
Results from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC, 1995] indicate that the need
to implement strategies to cope with sea level rise is more urgent than thought. Natural systems, which
help protect marine and coastal resources, are already degraded by anthropogenic activities.
Mangrove, which buffer the land from storm surges and the sea from land based sources of pollution,
are being depleted. Uncontrolled or ill-conceived development schemes, over exploitation of living
marine resources and impacts related to urbanization, tourism and agriculture all contribute to decrease
resilience of coastal and marine ecosystems.

2. The Philippines Coastal Zones

2.1. Vulnerability to climate variability and change and sea level rise
Being in the Pacific Rim, the Philippines is a hot spot for natural hazard occurrences. It is highly
prone to storm surges (Figure 1) and riverine flooding, caused by storms and other environmental
degradation. This is due to the fact that an average of 20 tropical cyclones pass yearly through the
Philippine area and about nine of them crossed land (CAB, 1995). Flooding usually occurs in the low-
lying coastal areas, including most places in the
Metropolitan Manila during heavy rains. The
eastern side of the country is subject to heavy rains
during the Northeast Monsoon season (November
to February), while the western side during the
Southwest Monsoon season (from May to
September). The Southwest Monsoon season
coincides with the typhoon season as well.
Tropical cyclones bring about heavy damage that
seriously affect the economy of the nation. Year to
year climate variability affect greatly the amount of
rainfall in the country, with El Nio causing
drought (below average rainfall) and floods for La
Nia (above average rainfall). With climate change,

Figure 1: Historical storm surges in the

it is foreseen that the Philippines coastal
resources sector would be exposed to more
frequent and more intense impacts of these
phenomena. Rising sea level due to climate
change could aggravate the situation, as many
low-lying places in the country are usually
flooded during the monsoon seasons and tropical
cyclones occurrences. In Metro Manila alone,
several coastal cities along the Bay suffer floods
during high tides even without any weather

2.2 Coastal ecosystems

The most valuable coastal ecosystems consist of mangrove and coral reefs. Mangrove forests are a
unique feature of protected coastal shorelines of the tropics and subtropics; their root systems stabilize
sediment, dampen wave energy, provide habitat shelter for numerous organisms and provide the basis
for the near shore marine food web (Vicente, et. al., 1992). The best-developed mangrove forests are
associated with the areas of high rainfall and upstream runoff. Thus in terms of climate change, future
changes in rainfall pattern and runoff will have severe impacts on mangroves. Mangroves grow best in
moderately saline environments and could keep up with sea level rise of up to 12 cm/100 years.
However, the current rate of mangrove loss by over cutting, land clearing and habitat conversion
suggests that climate change may be a minor factor in considerations of the fate of this important
habitat. The mangroves that we have now have steadily decreased in quantity and quality over the
years. The present total area is about 100,000 hectares compared to 450,000 hectares at the start of the
20th century.
Corals are affected by rise in sea surface temperature (viz. the 1983, 1987 and 1997 bleaching
events during El Nio episodes), but it is expected that other man-made stresses will be more
important. The most serious anthropogenic stresses include sedimentation, pollution and physical
alteration of coral reefs. Sedimentation is usually caused by poor land use practices including
deforestation. Pollution and over nitrification come from domestic agricultural and industrial wastes.
Physical alteration of coral reefs can occur during coastal construction projects, destructive fishing
practices (e.g., poison and blast fishing), ship grounding and coastal tourism, which bring millions of
eager divers snorkels to coral-rich areas. Scientists predict that within the next twenty years, more and
more coral reefs will succumb as the intensity and frequency of the anthropogenic stresses increase
along with the size and density of coastal human populations.
Today, the Philippine coral reef cover is about 27,000 square kilometers within 15 to 30 kilometers
deep. These contribute to 10 to 15% total annual fish yield, equivalent to between 5 to 24 metric tons
per sq. kilometer fish production. Further destruction of the coral reef covers would have serious
socio-economic consequences. The following table summarizes the present status of the Philippine
coral reefs.

Table 1: Status of the Philippine Coral Reefs.

Status Percentage Remarks
Excellent condition 5.3% 75 to 100% live cover
Good condition 25.2% 50 to 74.9% live cover
Fair condition 39% 25 to 49.9% live cover
Poor condition 30.5% 0 to 29.9% live cover

3. Vulnerability Assessments: Case Studies

The Philippine Country studies used (1) Manila Bay coastal zone (see Figure 3) as pilot area. Local
action planning for climate change were performed in 7 provinces, namely (2) Pangasinan, (3)
Camarines Sur, (4) Eastern Samar, (5) Surigao del Norte, (6) Bohol, (7) Misamis Oriental, and (8)
Palawan. Various approaches were used to analyze the occurrence and the degree of impacts of
climate change and sea level rise, which was recognized to vary with regions and locations depending
on natural conditions and vulnerability. Principally, the IPCC-CZMS (IPCC, 1992) prescribed
common methodology of vulnerability assessment was used during the country study. In support of
the common methodology, an aerial video-assisted vulnerability analysis (AVVA) as developed by
Leatherman, et al (1994), may also be done to get an approximate status of the coastal environment
under study. The AVVA is a low-level reconnaissance on the implication of land use in response to
sea level rise. This method consists of unrectified oblique aerial video recording of the coastal area
taken from a height of 50 to 500 meters.
In applying the IPCC common methodology for assessing vulnerability of the coastal resources to
ASLR, the number one constraint is the availability of suitable topographic maps to delineate the areas
to be affected by the scenarios1. Traditional photogrammetric approaches are costly, both in terms of
funds available and time allocated for V&A activities.
Satellite imageries can also be prohibitively expensive.
In the case of Manila Bay area2, the highest resolution
topographic maps and bathymetric charts available are
in the scale 1:10,000 with 4-km contour lines. For
other places, it could be as low as 1:50,000 or
1:250,000. The technique developed by Leatherman
(1992) known as the Aerial Video-assisted
Vulnerability Assessment (AVVA) helped in assessing
the implications of the present land use in response to
sea level rise. In the assessment of the extent of land
to be submerged under the specified ASLR scenarios,
ground truth measurements have to be established in
order to update the information since the last
topographic maps were made. Supplementary
measurements were established in areas where low
elevations extend significantly inland, such as
riverbanks. Socio-economic information is available
from different national agencies but these are only in
the next ten years time frame. Projections of
population or GDP growth, for example, should be made to fit the same time projections with ASLR
scenarios, which is at 2100.
In the specification of the ASLR scenarios, IPCC (1995) has prescribed the values based on the
IS92 assumptions: 0.3 m as the low estimate and 1.0 m as the high estimate by the year 2100. In the
vulnerability assessment of Manila Bay, Perez et al (1996) added a worst case scenario3 of 2.0 m.
However, computing for the monetary value of projected losses is most difficult. Land value first
of all depends on its present and future usage, location and ownership. There is also a great difficulty
in putting direct monetary values to coastal ecosystems, say mangrove forest or sea grasses.

3.1 Alternative methods

Other methods may consist of semi-empirical assessment, review of past works, limited coastal area
ground surveys, data collection from different governmental agencies on coastal resources and their
management and focus group meetings with GOs and NGOs. In the planning workshop held in several
provinces in the Philippines between April and August of this year, semi-empirical assessment or
expert judgement was used. Based on the data required and collected, trends are established to get
appropriate indicators of vulnerability. Table 2 was used as the three steps-criteria to evaluate the
degree of vulnerability of each of the provinces included planning workshops on climate change and
coastal resources.
The analysis of the coastal vulnerability starts with some notions of the natural systems potential to
be affected by (or susceptibility to) the different biogeophysical effects of sea level rise (see column 1
in the table below), and its natural capacity to cope with these effects (resilience and resistance).
Ideally, coastal vulnerability assessment would require a detailed quantification of the listed impacts,
based on an extensive knowledge of their space and time dynamics. However, unavailability of basic
data would pose difficulty in determining accurately the impact zones, such as coastal topography.

(0.3 m and 1.0 m, corresponding to the IPCC low and high ASLR scenarios)
The pilot area used in the Philippine Country Study.
The worst case scenario could be more than 2 m as some scientists foresee that sea level could rise by 5-6 meters if the West
Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses.
Likewise, the potential impacts of climate change in the coastal zone could include the danger of
worsening of some current coastal problems as well as the emergence of new ones. Hence, it is most
wise to begin consideration of the potential impacts of climate change by focusing on the current
impacts observed within the context of the present day climate variability. The logic of this view is, if
one can document the effects of the present day climate and respond to current vulnerability, one will
be in a better position to deal with future changes. Also, any attempts to reduce the vulnerability to
current climate can bring immediate or near-term benefits, which are unlikely to be regretted. We
could also look at current vulnerability problems, which one would expect would be exacerbated by
climate change.

Table 2: Guide for vulnerability assessment based on expert judgement

Sensitivity of areas, Consider relative magnitude of Assess vulnerability based on general
population and resources to potential damage (if data are characteristics
erosion, Values of damage to land low lying coastal areas
inundation and property small islands with limited
flooding Irreversibility of damage resource base usually tied to
Uniqueness of coastal ecosystems
salt-water intrusion
resources(e.g., coastal reclaimed lands on river deltas
coastal hazards plain, coral reef atoll, areas subjected to various coastal
rising water tables river delta or wetlands) hazards (tropical cyclones, storm
surge, liquefaction, etc.)
size of population and coastal
resources/habitats to be affected

4. Response Measures

4.1 Present initiatives in the coastal areas

Some of the coastal areas in the Philippines are already doing ICZM such as those along Lingayen
Gulf, Davao Gulf, Cebu and Batangas Bay, particularly those which constitute sound environmental
management, wise use of resources and to a lesser degree, to address coastal disaster preparedness and
emergency response. ICZM addresses several issues and concerns that include the change of resource
use patterns from single to a few or multiple uses. Still lacking to these plans are appropriate responses
to present day climatic variability and natural hazards, and eventually, to climate changes and the
impacts to the coastal resources.
Local action planning to address climate change concerns in the provincial levels (Perez, 1999)
revealed that most of the prescribed responses to the identified issues are non-structural. That is, they
invoke the creation, enhancement or strict implementation of coastal laws (e.g., implementation of RA
8550 or the Fisheries Code of 1998, mining laws), regulations (e.g., on land use, zoning, setbacks etc.)
or programs (e.g., Disaster Management Program, Coastal Environment Program, Coastal Zone
Management etc.). Some provinces cited programs for information campaign and advocacy. One
province (i.e., Palawan) has exceptionally identified the use of indigenous plant, the ipomea, as a least
cost method to stabilize the coast in place of a more expensive engineering solution to coastal erosion.

4.2 Recommended future responses to address climate change issues.

The increase in management areas, jurisdiction and cumulative environmental impact concerns
would require the need to integrate the often conflicting demands being placed in the coastal resources
as well as the emergence of new issues including the potential impacts of ASLR and global climate
change. Several coastal sectoral policy gaps need to be addressed. These include the assessment of
current practices on crisis management, as climate change may exacerbate extreme events such as
droughts, floods or storms. Awareness of climatic variability and change, which are not well
understood by the public or decision-makers, must be promoted. Increasing sensitivity to climate
issues will facilitate adoption of measures to prepare for climate variability and eventually to climate
Guidelines and legislation for the implementation of an integrated coastal zone management for all
coastal zones in the Philippines should be formulated. Land use planning in coastal zones will help
reduce vulnerability to a rise in sea level. Mechanism for coastal zone management must include:
requirement of setbacks, allocation of low-lying vulnerable land to lower value use such as parks
rather than housing, requirement of compliance with construction standards or post-storm
reconstruction standards. These policies reduce the risk of living in coastal areas from current climatic
variability and protection against potential sea-level rise.
Mangroves resources development could be institutionalized through the formulation of additional
policies and regulations or amending existing policies and regulations to allow effective and
sustainable mangrove management highlighting the massive reforestation of degraded mangrove
systems through a community based approach.
Public easements and buffer strips should be treated as separate lots during land surveys. These
should be excluded from tilling or private ownership. Local government units (LGUs) should be
required to reserve foreshore areas that are critical areas for recreation/ tourism purposes and other
public use and be excluded from disposition. Inclusion of wetlands, swamps and marshes in the
National Protected Areas (NIPAS) with a category of wildlife sanctuary or unique ecosystem may be
necessary. Preservation efforts should be made to maintain wetlands, swamps and marshes that are
A multi-hazard mitigation or protection plan for natural coastal hazards must be developed with
priority on the maximum reduction in threat to life, structures and economic production. New
anticipatory approaches are needed to increase the resilience of vulnerable areas to and improve their
recovery from future disasters.
Mining laws and reforestation of denuded watersheds must be strictly implemented to reduce river
and coastal erosion. Geological, hydro-meteorological and structural engineering evaluation must be
required as part of the environmental impact assessment prior to coastal development. Government
subsidies or tax incentives to support development of land sensitive to sea level rise, such as barrier
islands, coastal wetlands, estuarine shorelines and critical wildlife habitats, must be discouraged. On
the contrary, insurance and banking industries maybe encouraged to factor risks of climatic variability
into investment decisions, thereby, reducing reliance on government-subsidized insurance and disaster
Climate change impacts on coastal zone systems are not well understood by the public or decision-
makers. Hence, promotion of awareness about erosion, sea level rise, flooding risks and storm and
earthquake standard building codes could be a cost-effective means of reducing future expenditures.
These are only among the more general strategies to address future impacts of sea level rise in the
coastal resources sector. Detailed actions should be site specific and must be done after a thorough
impact analysis of the area involved.

5. Conclusion

The full impacts of climate change may not fit within the political or economic planning time
frames of the country. Nevertheless, adaptation measures must be put in place in anticipation of the
potential effects. Considering that many coastal resources in the Philippines are in highly stressed
conditions, vulnerability is high which could further lead to unsustainability.
The Philippine coastal zones are already experiencing multiple problems. Among these are
declining ecosystem (coral reefs, sea grasses, mangroves), low yield fish stocks, fast growing
populations, human settlements (informal settlers) and conflict in use of the coastal zones space and
resources, among others. An integrated coastal zone management is proposed to address the short- and
long-term problems. The short-term problems are usually demand driven while climate changes and
impacts fall in the long-term time realm.
The issues and concerns on both the short and long term needs should be brought to the attention of
the community who are the direct targets of the impacts, and of the policy makers who will direct the
strategies to adapt to these impacts. Hence, information, education and communication are essential
along with the technical and scientific efforts to achieve a well-balanced adaptation plan.
There is an urgent need to review and integrate all measures, policies and management plans to
avoid costly duplication and increase the coordination between and among all the coastal stakeholders.
The involvement of the communities or the so-called grass-roots will serve as the strongest cohesive
factors that will ensure the success of any sustainable use programs of the government. The LGUs
should be equipped with the proper technical know-how, together with the power to execute all rules
and regulations pertaining to the utilization, development and rehabilitation of resources.

Climatology and Agrometeorology Branch (CAB), 1995: PAGASA Tropical Cyclone Statistics,
Information Brochure, 10 pp.
IPCC, 1995: Climate Change: The IPCC Second Scientific Assessment, Cambridge University Press,
339 p.
Leatherman, S. P., R. K. Nichols and K. C. Dennis: 1994: Aerial Videotape-Assisted Vulnerability
Analysis: A Cost Effective Approach to Assess Sea-Level Rise Impacts, Journal of Coastal
Research, SI No. 14 15-25, Fort Lauderdale (Florida). ISSN-0749-0208.
Natural Disaster Reduction Branch (NDRB), 1999: Loose materials on natural disaster information.
Perez, R. T., L. A. Amadore, and R. B. Feir, 1999: Climate change impacts and responses in the
Philippine coastal resources sector Climate Research, Vol. 12: 97-107.
Perez, R. T., 1999: based on Papers presented during the Local Action Planning for Climate Change
Impacts in Selected Provinces. (Cooperative efforts with the Foundation for Philippine
Environment and Institute of Climate, Energy and Environment)
Post, J. C. and Landin, C. G., 1996: Guidelines for ICZM, World Bank Monograph Series No 9.,
Washington, D.C., 16 p.
Vicente, V., P. Singh, N. C. and Botello, A. B., 1992: Ecological implications of potential climate
change and sea level rise, Ch. 4.2, Climatic Changes in the Intra-American Sea, G. A. Maul (ed.),
Edward Arnold Publishers.