Strengthening institutional capacity to adapt to climate change in the Philippines

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A shorter version of this lesson has been featured on the booklet produced by the MDG-F Environment and Climate Change window "Seeds of Knowledge - Contributing to Climate Change Solutions". - Read more about the booklet or download it in English / Spanish / French / Arabic.



The lesson learned is about using a participatory approach for successful bridging of climate science and community adaptive behaviour. This is based on the experience of the Philippines JP, which had the objective to design and pilot test climate change resilient social infrastructure for vulnerable urban community in a coastal city. It was deemed that a key success factor of the demonstration project lies in its participatory approach and information campaign. There was ownership of the project by the Local Government Unit (LGU) and cooperating families because they were involved in the planning and implementation process. The information campaign made the target audiences aware of climate change and its potential impacts to their houses and livelihood thereby motivating them to participate in the retrofitting component of the project. Considering that climate change is a technical subject, “laymanizing” (using layman’s terms) the information materials was able to facilitate understanding of the target audience. With settlements identified to be located in risk zones, the project has proven that displacements is not always the solution. It was also found that retrofitting housing structures will work best especially for socialized housing units where dwellers own or have the opportunity to own their houses. For informal settlers who intend to move and/or for relocation, what would work best is to hasten and facilitate participatory processes to define the resettlement agreements guided by the local government’s shelter development strategy and action plan.. Implementation and potential replication of house structure retrofitting became more viable with the participation and investment of funds by specialized partner agencies. Partnership with UN Habitat expedited the preparation of plans, design and local standards for climate-resilient settlements. Drawing the interest of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) on the demonstration projects increased the possibility of its replication elsewhere; and collaboration with an NGO specializing on community mobilization and shelter development resulted in more feasible and pragmatic housing plan and design. Sustainability of the retrofitting project was made possible by providing subsidy and establishing an acceptable repayment scheme for cooperators. Only half of the total cost of retrofitting will be collected in installment payments from the owners of retrofitted houses. The amount collected will then be used to retrofit other vulnerable houses. Mainstreaming of climate change risk assessment and adaptation measures in the Barangay Development Plan will serve to refine the local level plan and encourage bottom-up planning process in the locality. Furthermore, the integration of the Shelter Plan in the Barangay Development Plan is an important input in the preparation of the municipal CDP. Proper documentation of the Sorsogon demonstration project including the processes, toolkits, structural assessment for dwellings, standards and design of resilient settlement makes it easy for other government agencies, NGOs and private organizations to replicate and upscale them. Knowledge products can be packaged from the outputs of the demonstration project to make them accessible to the public.

Purpose of the activity

The demonstration project has the following objectives:

  1. To design and pilot test climate change resilient social infrastructure for vulnerable urban community in a coastal city;
  2. To try out innovative climate mitigation and adaptation technologies in the urban/coastal setting; and,
  3. To codify a set of adaptation options for vulnerable settlements.

The main targets of the demonstration project are to produce guidelines and local standards on climate change-resilient human settlements development that are applicable for coastal cities; to develop standards for resilient housing for adoption by the city government of Sorsogon; to retrofit vulnerable housing structures (of the poor) based on the locally agreed minimum standards demonstrated in pilot urban climate change hotspot barangays.

Original issue addressed by the activity

Many urban poor living along the esteros, rivers and coastal areas are highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as typhoons, flooding and storm surges. Most of them live in shanties made of light materials that can easily be destroyed and swept away by natural events thereby exposing them and endangering their lives and destroying their properties. The other segment of the urban poor lives in socialized housing subdivisions that are also exposed to the same natural hazards. In light of this situation happening nationwide, a project component of the MDG-F 1656 - Outcome 3.3, was developed to showcase how vulnerable human settlements can adapt to climate change through the adoption of resilient design for houses and basic infrastructure. Resilient design that includes retrofitting of vulnerable houses was demonstrated in selected sites in Sorsogon City. This city was selected as a demonstration site because it has crowded coastal settlements that are highly vulnerable and at risk to the impacts of climate change and attendant natural disasters.

Strategy / approach chosen to address the issue

The participatory Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment (VAA) was applied in Sorsogon City. This included a community analysis of climate change exposure and sensitivity by risk areas, which can be people, places, sectors, and so on. The UN-Habitat City Consultation Process and Community Action Planning process or People’s Process were used. It banked on multi-sector consultations and neighborhood level dialogues, discussions, assessment, and planning as a tool to engage communities and stakeholders. The personal experiences of the people were used as an entry point to discuss climate issues thus making it practically related and linked to their realm. To ensure inclusiveness, there was a complete enumeration/survey done right at the onset so that the baselines would be reflective of the social characterisitics of the community. Such facilitated the identification of the vulnerabilities of women, children and families with differently abled members. This participatory approach became an eye-opener for the residents. Other strategies/approaches implemented were:

  • Formulation of a City Shelter Plan
  • Site selection for the model climate-resilient coastal settlement/community
  • Design of a climate-resilient coastal settlement/community
  • Construction of demonstration projects on climate change-resilient houses
  • Documentation of a well-designed, climate-resilient human settlement
  • Formulation of guidelines on green infrastructures

Implementation of the strategy / chosen approach

The projections of climate change exposure were made relevant to the community by a participatory ground truthing of the projections. The process was unique in that several focused group discussions (FGDs) first asked long-time residents (50 years old and above) about their experiences of the previous environmental conditions, how these have changed and affected their livelihood, how long they stayed at the sea, the volume of fish catch, and whether they experienced sea surface warming, rain volume changes, and sea level rise. The approach started with the climate changes local residents experienced in the last few decades. Then the PAGASA-generated projections were shown. It was not too difficult to convince the men and women of the validity of the projections because they themselves have experienced the dramatic climate changes. As a result, climate change mitigation and adaptation actions were suggested by them, after the science of climate change adaptation (CCA) was related to their experience. This was an entry point for participatory shelter planning. Taking off from the VAA results, the city called a multi-stakeholder meeting to validate the findings and agree on the long list of issues and priorities. Four issue working groups or IWGs were formed to take the lead in the four priority issues identified in the city consultation: 1) environmental management, 2) mainstreaming climate and disaster risk reduction; 3) housing and basic infrastructure; 4) livelihood and economic development.

Challenges and innovations

The project encountered the challenge of having limited available data to be used by the city for the climate change assessment. To address this challenge, UN-Habitat has encouraged the local government to partner and engage other institutions who have key data and information needed for the assessment process. Also, the limitations in the availability of downscaled climate projection almost deterred the VAA activities. Regional climate change projections and national level data were first used and validated on the ground instead. When the PAGASA localised projections bacame available, the results using national data were just re-validated and adjusted accordingly.

Results and Impacts

The demonstration project completed a vulnerability assessment of human settlements in the coastal areas in Sorsogon City. The results were used in the preparation of the City Shelter Plan that integrates climate resilient measures. Likewise, the vulnerability assessment report were used in the updating of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Comprehensive Development Plan of the city. The UN Habitat assisted the LGU of Sorsogon in the production of hazards, land use and zoning maps and the use of Automated Weather Station (AWS) to improve their planning and monitoring related to disaster risk reduction and similar purposes. Mainstreaming of climate change in the local plans enabled the LGU planners to identify constrained-free areas for development and those areas that should be restricted to certain types of land use and development projects.

A number of personnel from the City Planning Office were also provided training on climate change and disaster risk related subjects. IEC materials were produced and distributed to about 64 barangays to inform coastal settlers about climate change impacts and the need for joint actions to implement adaptation measures.

The design parameters and standards for climate-resilient coastal settlement were prepared under the project. A checklist of the standards for resilient socialized housing structure was produced and distributed to families to assess their own structure. The main aim is to improve on the house’s structural integrity with the technical guidance of the city engineers and architects. This information made the families aware on how they can make their houses climate change-resilient.

The LGU adopted the standards and piloted these by retrofitting about 30 houses in five vulnerable urban barangays located on the coast. These barangays are Cabid-an, Sampaloc, Sirangan, Bitano/Dalipay, and Talisay which are highly vulnerable to flooding and tropical cyclones. In addition to houses, selected public schools were also retrofitted. Based on the design parameters and experience gained in the retrofitting of houses, a blue print of a prototype climate-resilient housing structure was produced. A supplementary activity supporting the resilient housing was the conduct of alternative livelihood training of about 100 coastal settlers. The final evaluation report of the JP noted that most of the participants who attended the training courses, particularly for masonry and food processing, were able to practice the skills gained. This also helped increase the incomes of the participants.


There is now a universal agreement on the usefulness and relevance of the demonstration project to the users or stakeholders. This is shown in the context of the replication of the same process now in other areas in the Philippines and other countries. Project ownership and acceptance is high, and the LGU support is consistent. Communities are amenable with the use of new technologies in projecting climate changes and translating the implications of these projections in understandable terms to them as coastal dwellers.

Next Steps

The technology developed in the demonstration sites in Sorsogon is planned by the DILG to be replicated in other LGUs with more or less similar situation. The processes, approaches, and templates (the participatory V&AA tool available on the UN-Habitat website, see Information Products section below) that were established with high level of acceptance and participation from the LGU and local communities are deemed worthy of replication because they were able to strengthen the institutional capacities of Sorsogon LGU and cooperating organizations on climate change adaptation.

Potential replication / application

The participatory V&A tool developed and pilot tested under the project will be adopted by DILG through a MOA and replicated in four (4) more cities for further refinements of the planning guidelines. Later on, the DILG will utilize the tools in mainstreaming CCA in local development plans. Similarly, risk-sensitive local shelter planning will be adopted by DILG and HUDCC and will be infused in the local development planning process for shelter.

For the development of resilient settlements and housing design, the lessons learned from the project will be adopted by LGUs through the issuance of local ordinance. Also, the HUDCC will pursue targets to issue policy guidance on CCA-sensitive socialized housing development. The development of planning standards and guidelines for CCA will be pursued by harnessing the support of different resource institutions such as the Philippine Institute for Environmental Planning (PIEP), selected academic institutions and local architects.

This lesson learned shows that a participatory approach can be used for successful bridging of climate science and community adaptive behaviour, in the specific case of buildingclimate change resilient social infrastructure for vulnerable urban community in a coastal city. However, certain conditions apply for this success:

  • Ownership of property and/or security of land tenure is essential to ensure dwellers have an incentive to spend for their houses retroffiting.
  • Implementation and potential replication of house structure retrofitting became more viable with the participation and investment of funds by specialized partner agencies.
  • Providing appropriate financing schemes, such as subsidies or acceptable repayment schemes, will also improve the viability of these retrofitting projects.
  • Participation and appropriate communication (information, awareness raising) are critical factors in ensuring appropriate levels of understanding and support for such activities.

Information products

Information and other knowledge products from this project can be accessed from the UN-HABITAT- Philippines website:


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