Glenn S. Banaguas is a multi-awarded prolific scientist, diplomat, educator, and one of the leading experts on environment, climate change, and disaster risks. He analyzes conundrums brought by climate change/variability and extreme events using scientific models, mathematical simulations, and data analytics; applies participatory methods to program development; and recommends science-based policy solutions.

He is the first and only Filipino individual awardee of the prestigious United Nations Sasakawa Laureate for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2022. He is also a recipient of various awards such as Asia Leader Award for Sustainability Leadership, The Outstanding Filipino Laureate in the field of Environment Conservation and Science Diplomacy, Outstanding Young Scientist of the Philippines, and many more.

He is the founder of Environmental and Climate Change Research Institute (ECCRI) and two highly recognized ASEAN events: 1) ASEAN Science Diplomats Assembly (ASEAN Science Diplomacy Program, now Asian Science Diplomacy), a training and capacity building for Outstanding Scientists and Engineers in South East Asia, which helps the scientists to engage with decision-makers from Executive and Legislative Branches to broaden their perspectives on how science and policy can interact to improve decision-making.; and 2) Climate Smart and Disaster Resilient ASEAN, which brings together leading academic scientists, researchers, scholars, government agencies, non-government organizations, and other stakeholders to share their experiences and research results on aspects of climate change and disaster risks in South East Asia.

He studied Climate Change and Energy at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University and took Sustainability Leadership from the Center of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale University. He also took Applied Remote Sensing Technology from the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA).

1.You have recently received the UN Sasakawa 2022 award for disaster risk reduction. Could you tell us what this award represents and what it means to you?

The UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction is one of the three prestigious prizes established by the founding Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa (the other two prizes are the World Health Organization Sasakawa Health Prize and the UN Environment Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize). This award is given to individuals or institutions that made an impact in reducing disaster risk in their community through inclusive and resilient approaches that are aligned with the UN Sendai Framework.

Out of the 200 nominations all over the world, we are lucky to have åconferred as one of the six laureates – Myriam Urzúa Venegas (Mexico), Rajib Shaw (Japan), and me from the Philippines in the individual category – and three organizations – the Pacific Disaster Center (US), Save the Children (Philippines), and SEEDS (India).

This is the first time that a Philippine representative was recognized in the individual category. In the past, the Municipality of San Francisco, Camotes Islands and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s Typhoon Committee won in the organization category in 2011 and 1988, respectively.

I am very grateful and humbled that an international organization like the United Nations has recognized our efforts. It is one of the partners of the Environmental and Climate Change Research Institute (ECCRI), which I founded, who submitted my name for the award. He said “Oh Glenn, you have done a lot already, it is time for you to be nominated!”.

2.What motivated you to establish Environmental and Climate Change Research Institute (ECCRI)? Could you give us a bit of background about its flagship program — Climate Smart Philippines?

I created ECCRI to bring “science and policy” to the poorest communities and marginalized sectors in the Philippines through cutting-edge research projects. Under its flagship program, the Climate Smart Philippines, we provide research, training and capacity building to all the stakeholders in the country to combat climate change and disaster risks, which focuses on food security, sustainable energy, water sufficiency, human security, ecological and environmental stability, knowledge management and capacity development, and climate-smart infrastructures and services.

The idea came from a combination of two organizations I’ve been part of in the past – the Manila Observatory (a non-profit research institute that conducts weather forecasting and earthquake research, among others) and the Institute of Social Order (whose mission is to promote faith that does justice through grassroots empowerment, etc.). I initially shared this goal with my colleagues in the university, but they were not too keen about it for they were too busy with their work already. So, I turned to my students and asked them if they could join me in this endeavor. And in 2010, we established the ECCRI, a student led research group that combines technical and social aspects that impact policy making.

We have done several projects all over the country. We have travelled and worked with different partners in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Our stakeholders include officials from the national, provincial, and local governments, universities and colleges, civil society groups, non-government organizations, people’s organizations such as of farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, youth, women, church leaders, people with disabilities, and private sector.

In our training, we follow four steps: track assessment, risk assessment, impact assessment, and policy analysis. Usually, projects provided in the community by local government heads are mismatched with the needs of the people. We teach them the importance of assessments before proposing a project or program. In assessment, we look into the history of the municipality, the likelihood of hazard occurrence and vulnerability, as well as the lives and livelihood that will be exposed to these risks. In terms of policy analysis, we check whether the projects and programs are aligned with the international and national framework such as the Philippine National Climate Change Action strategic priorities.

Some of the projects we did are found below:

3.Why is climate change a problem? What specific issue related to environment and climate change should be addressed quickly?

When I talk about climate change, I usually look at its impact – basically, food security. Philippines has vast agricultural land and ironically, the poorest of the poor in the country are the farmers and the fisherfolks. It is in my advocacy to reach out to them, and I always tell our junior researchers to never create a project that will not make an impact to peoples’ lives and livelihood. For the past years, the beneficiaries of our projects are the farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples, and we make sure we involve local government officials for the implementation, and civil society groups to link the projects to the communities – a multi-stakeholder approach.

4.Having an active role in pushing for science-based policy making, what is the major challenge you have encountered so far?

I’d like to say commitment instead of challenge. My commitment is to train and to share with my co-scientists the importance of science that is well communicated and integrated in policy making. We have to get out of the silos – what is the use of our work if it is not going to be utilized by our countrymen? We have to start providing technical assistance to our policy-makers.

5.You wear multiple hats in the industry, how do you manage your time?

It can be hard, but I see to it that I attend to important matters. So, how do I prioritize? I have to think which event am I really needed? My priority is always those who are vulnerable and more at risk. Moreover, scientists are also educators, we have to transfer our knowledge to others. For example, if there is training and our researchers can do it, I’ll let them do it. I delegate the tasks so in a way, they can also share the same knowledge with others as well.

6.Any advice to inspire action for environment?

Climate Smart Philippines is about bringing the people together not only to be trained to be resilient but also to inspire to serve the country and humanity wholeheartedly. Every time we go on the ground, I would always hear – “Sir Glenn, we are just farmers, we are not lawyers or environmentalists…”. One does not have to be a scientist to make a difference, one does not have to be a lawyer, or an environmentalist to make a difference. Regardless of your status in life, as long as you put your heart into action – to help the poor – you can make a lot of difference. I believe it is everybody’s responsibility to let everybody feel that regardless of one’s status in life, we can all do our part to protect the environment.

Author: Lucil Aguada

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