Eleventh Hour: Why we need climate accountability

By Paula Bernasor


The Philippines has the highest disaster risk among 193 countries around the world in 2022, according to a global risk index.

The WorldRiskIndex (WRI) measures countries’ disaster risk from extreme natural events and the effects of climate change. It calculates each nation’s exposure or the extent the population is exposed to disasters such as storms, flooding, droughts, and sea level rise; and vulnerability — or its susceptibility, ability to cope, and ability to adapt to these events. The Philippines scored high in its exposure, vulnerability, susceptibility, lack of coping capacities, and lack of adaptive capacities in the face of disasters.

Many of those countries determined most vulnerable to the most visible effects of climate change — drought, flooding, storms, or rising sea levels — are also countries where experts perceive high levels of corruption in public services. None of the 20 countries deemed most vulnerable to climate change score more than 3.6 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), indicating significant risks of corruption.

There are more than 1,500 climate laws or policies globally. These laws and others relating to human rights, environmental protection, land use planning, corporate governance, and even financial regulation are powerful tools to change the system and protect our planet. But only if they are properly enforced. 

To date, the Philippines already has the following:

  • Presidential Decree No. 1566 creating the National Disaster Coordinating Council;
  • Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 and its amendment law Republic Act No. 8185;
  • Philippine Agenda No. 21 (response to fulfill its commitments in the historic Earth Summit in 1992);
  • Republic Act No. 9729 or Climate Change Act of 2009 and its amendment law Republic Act No. 1017, which created the People’s Survival Fund; and
  • Republic Act No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

The Philippines must deal with about 20 typhoons a year, some deadly and most destructive. In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana (locally known as Ondoy) obliterated 46,000 homes and left thousands stranded. Although the Climate Change Act is supposed to oversee building flood control defenses, the effective flood control system is allegedly suffering from neglect.

In addition, corruption in the granting of permits and licenses means that land development projects that do not meet building codes and zoning restrictions are nevertheless approved. In these cases, corruption has the potential to undermine adaptation efforts and puts lives at risk. We still have a long way to go in establishing transparency, participation, and accountability.


Transparency is a characteristic of governments, companies, organizations, and individuals that are open to the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes, and actions. As a principle, public officials, civil servants, the managers and directors of companies and organizations, and board trustees have a duty to act visibly, predictably, and understandably to promote participation and accountability.

Simply making information available is not sufficient to achieve transparency. Large amounts of raw information in the public domain may breed opacity rather than transparency. For that to be achieved, several qualifying criteria must be added to the definition.

Information should be managed and published so that it is:

  • Relevant and accessible: Information should be presented in plain and readily comprehensible language and formats appropriate for different stakeholders, while retaining the detail and disaggregation necessary for analysis, evaluation, and participation. Information should be made available in ways appropriate to different audiences and at minimal or no cost.
  • Timely and accurate: Information should be made available in sufficient time to permit analysis, evaluation, and engagement by relevant stakeholders. This means that information needs to be provided while planning as well as during and after the implementation of policies and programs. Information should be managed so that it is up-to-date, accurate, and complete.


Citizen participation

With empowered participation, stakeholders are invested in decision-making power and influence, such as having citizen representatives on boards that oversee local public service delivery.

Citizens may participate through local associations, social movements and campaigns, formal participatory governance spaces, and multiple approaches which employ several of these strategies. Participation is key to making transparency and accountability directly meaningful to citizens.


For participation to be meaningful, there must be accountability.

Broadly speaking, accountability refers to the process of holding actors responsible for their actions. More specifically, it is the concept that individuals, agencies, and organizations (public, private, and civil society) are held responsible for executing their powers according to a certain standard (whether set mutually or not).

Accountability is an institutionalized (i.e. regular, established, accepted) relationship between different actors. One group of people/ organizations are held to account (accountees), by other groups (accounters). It is useful to think of an accountability relationship as having up to four sequential stages:

  • Standard setting: setting out the behavior expected of the accountee and thus the criteria by which they might validly be assessed;
  • Investigation: exploring whether or not accountees have met the standards expected of them;
  • Answerability: a process in which accountees are required to defend their actions, respond to questions, and generally explain themselves. This applies both to negative as well as positive feedback; and
  • Sanction: a process in which accountees are in some way punished for falling below the standards expected of them, or rewarded for achieving or exceeding them. 

Most accountability sequences are not as formal, and/ or do not include all these stages. More informally, one can think of accountability as not only a set of institutional mechanisms or a checklist of procedures but an arena of challenge, contestation, and transformation.

To drive transformational change, three major building blocks need to be addressed simultaneously, which would translate increased transparency and participation into real accountability and would rebalance power relations:

  • Transparent public policy and risk management tools 
  • Civil society and citizen participation in national policy processes
  • Direct citizen accountability through tackling political lobbying

Transparency and accountability play a critical role in rebalancing power and building trust through:

  • Strengthening national action to lay the foundation for mutual trust, enabling greater ambition of a future multilateral agreement on climate change;
  • Shifting the balance of power in defining national (self-)interests and responsibilities toward citizens; and
  • Providing a basis for more comprehensive and effective policy making.

Governments have pledged at least US$100 billion per year by 2020 to be spent on projects and incentives to meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard against the effects of climate change. How well this money is used and how these measures are managed will determine the effectiveness of global efforts to combat climate change.

With so much at stake, it is imperative that all actors involved — governments, civil society, and the private sector — build transparency and accountability into the system from the start. 

How can you contribute to boosting transparency, participation, and accountability?

  • Is my barangay directly involved with municipal and city governments in prioritizing climate change issues and in identifying and implementing best practices and other solutions? 
  • Is our local government the frontline in the formulation, planning, and implementation of climate change action plans in our area? Is their plan consistent with the provisions of the Local Government Code, the Framework, and the National Climate Change Action Plan?
  • Is climate adaptation integrated into the regular function of our municipality or city government?
  • Does our provincial government provide technical assistance, enforcement, and information management in support of municipal and city climate change action plans?
  • Is inter-local government unit collaboration maximized in the conduct of climate-related activities?
  • Does our local government regularly update the action plans to reflect changing social, economic, and environmental conditions and emerging issues?
  • Does our local government mobilize and allocate necessary personnel, resources, and logistics to effectively implement the action plans?


If you cannot answer all these questions, it is time for you to reach out to your local leaders and ask them the same questions. 

Transparency and accountability are not an end per se for climate change, but they are at the heart of the critical strategies. If we want to lessen the loss and damages, we need to push for more transparency, participation, and accountability in our community and the rest of the nation.



Paula Bernasor is the Visayas Coordinator of The Climate Reality Project Philippines. She is a Climate Reality Leader and mentor, chapter director for Startup Grind Cebu, and a volunteer for Project Sharklink and Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project. She previously worked as an associate for partnerships for Rare Organization’s Fish Forever in the Philippines. She started Project Library in the Philippines, a grassroots movement that helps underprivileged communities in remote areas gain access to books and reading materials, as well as Ocean Love Philippines, which uses social media to spread awareness on pressing environmental issues and to promote a sustainable lifestyle and the circular economy. 



This article was originally published on The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ weekly column for the Manila Bulletin called Eleventh Hour.

This column serves a digital space to discuss our organization’s work on supporting the country’s just transition into a clean, affordable, and self-sufficient energy system; advancing sustainable urban mobility to highlight the issues of equity and democracy; and raising public awareness about the need to phase out single-use plastics. It also serves as a platform for Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders to share your stories, promote your climate initiatives, and provide critical insights to issues that matter to climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.