The People and Ideas of Bellagio/

Ronald Law

Bellagio Residency: March 2022

Project: “Enhancing Climate and Health Resilience of High-Risk Coastal Communities in the Philippines Using Data-Driven Program Planning”

Ronald Law is a 2019 Fulbright U.S. – ASEAN scholar, a professor of public health at leading universities in the Philippines, and a member of the WHO Thematic Platform for Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management. During his Bellagio residency in March 2022, he developed a project to inform strategies in the health sector on how to respond to climate and health threats affecting high-risk and vulnerable communities in the Philippines. Currently the Chief of Preparedness at the Philippine Department of Health’s health emergency bureau, Law has led the response to major emergencies and disasters.

Filipino-led Collaborative Strategies to Build Climate Resilience in Health Systems with Ronald Law 

After 20 years of working in Metro Manila’s health sector, Ron is keenly aware of how climate change and economic inequities work together to push health systems to their limits. As the Chief of Emergency Preparedness and the Lead of the Health and Climate Change Unit for the Philippine Department of Health, he is driven by these experiences to discover solutions that will protect communities like his own from the devastating impacts that climate threats can have on health and well-being. During his time at the Bellagio Center, Ron studied this complex relationship and ideated solutions that would help safeguard communities’ health against the climate crisis in the Philippines. 

In what he considers his “life’s mission,” Ron leads his country’s approach to addressing climate change, disaster and health inequities. A resident of Manila, Ron not only studies the effects of climate change – he lives them. Climate change disproportionately impacts the country, as frequent extreme weather events, soaring temperatures, and rising sea levels profoundly affect life on the islands. These factors make the Philippines central to the global understanding of the effects of climate change on human health and how solutions can be scaled to meet major needs. 

Last December, Ron and his colleagues brought this conversation to the world stage at the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, UAE, which, for the first time, had an intentional focus on health. Furthermore, last March, he represented the Philippines at the first global meeting of the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) in Madrid, Spain. The Philippines had recently joined this community of practice to jumpstart its program on health and climate change. The momentum for these solutions is alive, but Ron says a major challenge lies in implementation.

Ron is currently focused on strengthening the organizational capacities of his department to implement health and climate change programs and working hand-in-hand with other sectors and partners at the national, regional, and global levels. To address implementation challenges, he is also developing localized solutions for climate resilience in health care, including development of adaptation plans and implementing models for “Green and Safe Health Facilities,” a design approach that enables hospitals and clinics to use environmentally friendly practices that make more efficient use of resources, lessen carbon emissions, and protect people and infrastructure during extreme weather events. Several Metro Manila and regional facilities have adopted the model and the program continues to grow. These and other activities are being pursued as part of the department’s roadmap and action plan for climate-resilient, low-carbon and sustainable health systems.

Ron knows there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the Philippines – each of the 2,000 inhabited islands has its own customs and norms that designers and implementers must consider. He is encouraged, however, by the spirit of “Bayanihan” that is shared throughout the Filipino culture and embraces communal unity and cooperation. He recalls seeing allegorical images of Bayanihan come to life in photos of disaster responses throughout Filipino communities, and he knows this spirit is something to count on. “Those capacities are inherent to us,” he shares. 

Ron has learned the importance of customized solutions for the various local contexts in the Philippines, but this common principle of unity shows up in each approach. “We have to involve everyone at the outset,” he says. From involving academia to validate their approaches, to bringing together public and private institutions for partnership, to catalyzing collaboration across different government ministries, Ron understands the critical value of an intersectional approach to creating change. It will “greatly facilitate important collaborations and drive the outcomes that we want in the health sector,” he says. 

The need for intersectionality became increasingly clear during Ron’s time at Bellagio in 2022 when he joined a cohort of experts across vastly different sectors to study, explore, and imagine together. Ron calls the experience “magical” and says it opened his mind to involving sectors that are not traditionally present in health and climate conversations. “I got amazing insights from my fellow residents that I considered and implemented in my project,“ he shares, “and now my thinking is more diverse.” “From cohort members in arts, literature and humanities, I learned that coming up with a strong narrative is important to convey technical issues to lay people and that emotions influence behavior and actions…From political science practitioners, I learned that we must reimagine global governance mechanisms that address complex issues.”

As Ron looks to the future, he is energized by how the Philippines is showing up in the global climate and health discourse and solutions development. “We have lots of talent and a diverse culture,” he shares, “we’re resilient in many different ways.” He hopes that the world can take lessons from the Philippines’ innovation in climate resilience and develop smarter global health systems that can stand up against the biggest challenge of our time. “We’ve always been optimistic that we can share solutions from our part of the world, like indigenous ones,” Ron says, referring to the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSPs) that have guided communities’ approach to environmental conservation for centuries, ensuring they continue to thrive despite the changing climate. “There is innovation here,” Ron affirms. 

Ron looks forward to connecting more with Bellagio alumni who are working in sectors that touch health and climate change to continue the rich collaboration he experienced during his residency. Connect with Ron on LinkedIn to learn more about his trailblazing work to build climate resilience in Filipino health systems.

  • It’s been two years since my transformational experience at Bellagio. The time I spent with my cohort directly inspired the intersectional approach I’m working on that will equip our health sector in the Philippines with new practices to protect against climate-related health threats and advance our environmental sustainability.
    A Note from Ron