Philippines study shows climate science-to-practice disconnect more than simply an information deficit

Dr. Carrie Mitchell, School of Planning

In 2010, the international community committed to mobilize $100 billion USD per year by 2020 to “address the needs of developing countries in responding to climate change.” Planning for adaptation, implementing adaptation projects, and developing adaptation policy in low- and middle-income country cities are now burgeoning activities for international development organizations, national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, private enterprises and civil society around the world.

Despite an influx of funding earmarked for climate change, and a growing body of new climate science, effectively translating this science to planning practice remains a significant challenge. The difficulty of governing climate change adaptation in cities in North America and Europe is well documented, as are the challenges of communicating climate change science. However, much of the currently available research may not necessarily be transferable to cities in low- and middle-income countries, due to differences in governance. Moreover, there is a significant gap in research regarding the opportunities and challenges of bridging climate science with rapid urban development in the Global South. This paper begins to fill this critical gap by exploring the information- related challenges planning professionals in the Philippines experience while working to adapt to climate change.


In this paper we ask two simple, but important, questions: 1) What information do planning practitioners currently use to develop adaptive responses to climate change in the Philippines? and 2) What additional knowledge or resources do planning practitioners believe they need to effectively plan for climate change in the future?

The study consisted of an online survey (n = 49) and semi-structured interviews (n = 25) with officials representing local government throughout the Philippines. Interviewees included planners, environmental managers, staff involved with disaster risk reduction and city mayors.

We present and analyze our data within existing literature on urban development trends in Southeast Asia. Our results are exploratory in nature, and not necessarily generalizable to the country nor the region. To our knowledge, this is the first study of its kind undertaken in Southeast Asia generally, and the Philippines specifically, and thus represents an important contribution to the fields of climate change communication and adaptation planning in the region.


The survey results on the information needs and challenges of planning professionals in the Philippines are varied, but generally fall within three categories:

Access to, and sharing of, information

The results highlighted the challenges of access to, and sharing of, information across government departments, and between institutional scales. Local governments frequently referenced feelings of disconnect between their local department and higher levels of government when dealing with guidelines and policy for climate change plans. Conversely, survey results also indicated that 34 out of 47 local governments incorporated consultation with provincial or national level governments in their current climate change plans. Upon closer examination, it is unlikely that there is a lack of information, as key documents are available online. The variance between viewpoints may reflect problems and inconsistencies in the way information is shared between local government units and across institutional levels.

Financial and technical deficiencies

Results highlighted the lack of financial capacity, technical deficiencies (for example, lack of internet connection) and insufficient or overlapping staff time to effectively adapt planning practices to address climate change. Curiously, these challenges are perennial issues noted by environmental management scholars in the region, and somewhat surprising given the recent influx of climate-related funding to the region.

Insufficient or overlapping staff resources

While results identified overlapping roles within local government as a constraint, it is difficult to evaluate since not all local government units have the same administrative titles, or the same number of officials employed. The perception of overlapping job responsibilities may, however, stem from staff resource limitations. Some small local governments do not have the staff resources to have identical positions and titles as large cities. Instead, positions may be combined to fit resource limitations.

Previous research on urban development trends in Southeast Asia suggests incomplete decentralization processes, haphazard urbanization, and the privatization of planning can thwart effective environmental management in the region. Upon further analysis of the survey and interview data, several issues that were identified may be a function of incomplete decentralization processes. Introduced across Southeast Asia in various forms over the last few decades, decentralization processes can create uncertainty regarding the division of roles and responsibilities across levels of governments, and may limit the financial and human resources to manage these new responsibilities. Similarly, we believe that the failure to prioritize climate change adaptation at the local government level is a function of both incomplete decentralization processes and competing urban development priorities.


While Southeast Asian countries have received large sums of climate finance, multiple and compounding challenges of planning and governing complex, rapidly urbanizing cities challenge the effective implementation of adaptation initiatives. Without a nuanced understanding of 1) the social, institutional and political complexity of planning for adaptation in situ and 2) the context-specific information needs of planners and related professionals, the millions of dollars earmarked for climate-related research and adaptation initiatives will fail to improve the capacity of cities to adapt to global environmental change in the region.

The climate science-to-practice disconnect should be viewed as more than just an information deficit. Urbanization and governance trends in the region shape how information is produced and consumed. As such, we argue that planning for adaptation to climate change requires more than just more and better information. We contend that the disconnect can be tackled by donors, development practitioners and local governments if they are cognizant that planning for adaptation to climate change requires understanding of the fundamental contradictions of planning in, and governing, complex, globalizing cities.

Future research on adapting to climate change in Southeast Asia generally, and the Philippines specifically, should explore alternative governance arrangements, including the relative power of citizen groups for advocating the adaptation agenda in cities. Moreover, the role of the private sector in adaptation has been under-explored in the literature, and deserves more attention given its critical role in shaping development and infrastructure in Southeast Asian cities. Finally, we would welcome additional studies on the climate science-to-planning practice conundrum that examine how information is used, scaled-up and mobilized in cities in Southeast Asia. 

Mitchell, C.L. & Laycock, K.E. (2017). Planning for adaptation to climate change: Exploring the climate science-to-practice disconnect. Climate and Development.

Contacts: Carrie Mitchell, School of Planning

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