Abridged transcript of panel discussion: How to Overcome the Challenges and Build Capacity for Local Adaptation Actions

21st Jul 2011 - 22nd Jul 2011

The following are key comments from a panel discussion on capacity, awareness and resources for climate change adaptation that took place on the second day of the meeting in Ho Chi Minh City.


  • Mr. Suppakorn Chinvanno (Southeast Asia START Regional Centre)
  • Dr. Bach Tan Sinh (National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies, Viet Nam)
  • Dr. Clemens Grunbuhel (CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences)
  • Mr. Rob Hulme (Bayer CropScience)
  • Ms. Nguyen Thi Yen (CARE International Viet Nam)

On awareness and capacity

Mr. Suppakorn Chinvanno

We have increasing numbers of people involved in climate change now but we still don’t have a clear understanding about the climate and weather events. Are we talking about a change of climate or climate change? These are terms that have specific definitions and we have to align ourselves with international context to at some point be incorporated into international negotiations, in court, in the IPCC, and many authorities in the international arena.

In a way disaster risk management and climate change adaptation have a lot of similarities, but they are not the same. So we have to think carefully whether we use disaster risk reduction within a proper context or not. Both of these points in my view lead to a requirement for a structured education programme to support the region.

Dr. Bach Tan Sinh

Viet Nam is one of the first countries in which the Prime Minister approved a national country programme to respond to climate change; such a target programme is difficult to pass, but what’s even more difficult is how to implement it, actually how to teach the sector and project team to implement it. The first challenge is limited awareness and capacity both at national and local levels; that is something already touched upon over last two days by many presentations. Another challenge that we are facing is that there is insufficient guidance and support to help the (project teams).

We have to move from awareness to understanding and to action, and if we need action we need technical guidelines and support to implement it. The third challenge we are facing is that climate change has been treated as something in which sectors stand alone, and requires a new approach to deal with it. In Viet Nam we need closer sectoral coordination, and that is also quite limited in our experience.

Dr. Clemens Grunbuhel

I’m not sure whether it’s always necessary to understand the science of climate change. When I bring my car to the mechanic, I don’t have to know exactly how the car works and what the components of the car are to tell my mechanic what to do. Rather, I would expect for him to make an assessment of the car, propose what to do about it and tell me what the cost is. So I think what we can expect from the scientists is to make an assessment of climate, of society, how it can adapt, and also tell us what the cost of change is. The example with the mechanic cannot be stretched too far because the difference is that the mechanic will go about and fix the car all by himself, but scientists are not going to fix climate change or the adaptation process. The adaptation process has to be a co-development among society, where scientists fulfil a particular role.

On awareness, there was a worldwide study conducted in 2008 and it came out that two thirds of the world’s population are aware of climate change, and most of them link anthropogenic activities to climate change. So awareness isn’t that low; yes, in Asia it’s much lower than anywhere else, but then again the Mekong region countries it’s actually better than in the rest of Asia.

So I’m not sure if it’s a problem of awareness, it’s actually a problem of societal change. It’s an issue of understanding the adaptation process necessary, it’s not a matter of making a few changes on the technical side, it’s actually a profound societal change that we have to go through. It’s the way we use resources, and it’s the way we go about leading our lives.

Mr. Rob Hulme

As country head for Bayer CropScience in Viet Nam, 70 percent of our business is based out of the Mekong, so if we have impacts five, ten, fifteen years out that are going to impact the development of our products or our seed development programmes, then we need to know about them now.

I think there are two levels of awareness. There’s awareness at a macro level that we have today, where we have scientific experts from around the region collating data and sharing experiences. But when you talk to farmers there’s a separate level of awareness, all they’re worried about is how they’re going to get their crop off; what are they going to do to control that insect? How are they going to control that disease? What price are they going to get for their rice?

So I think it’s important that we bridge the information gap. We as a seed industry can help by making sure we have a consolidated and consistent message that’s in line with government objectives, and more broadly that it’s consistent with the strategy not just for Viet Nam, but all of the countries on the Mekong. There are plenty of opportunities to really get ourselves aligned here and build some capacity to help farmers in particular, where the agricultural sector is the most exposed in terms of value and in terms of the number of people that are going to be impacted, to help them adapt.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Yen

I also think that local knowledge about disasters and climate change is not a big problem; it depends on the way that you ask the question, if you just ask about climate change the information will be very general and derived from the TV or radio, but if you use (Community Based Participatory Approach) tools, you will be surprised at the detailed information they can provide about disasters and unusual local changes in the climate. Most are aligned with scientific information or scenarios about that area, so awareness is not a really big issue here, the thing is how to present (information) in a way that is familiar to them.

About capacity for adaptation, actually local people have been adapting to climate variability, we can see from our experience that in drought areas people change their crops to drought-resistant rice, to maize or sugarcane; they have different ways to cope. Of course these are to cope in the short term and may be unsustainable, but people have to cope with the issues that they are facing immediately. The issue is how the local authorities and technical (staff) at the district and provincial level get confirmation about long-term (climate) tendencies and how they consider that in general planning at the local level, as well as economic and sector planning.

Comment from floor (Dr. Robert Mather, IUCN Thailand): I very much agree with the example of the mechanic, most of us are quite happy for climate scientists to play that mechanic’s role, we don’t all need to understand climate science. But when we’re talking about adaptation on the ground there are other sciences that need to be brought in, including crop science, animal husbandry and ecosystem sciences that are not necessarily evident in a lot of the presentations we’ve heard over the last two days.

If you’re saying “let’s raise pigs and let’s raise chickens” as climate change adaptation, have you looked at the future climate implications for pigs and chickens? Unless you do that, I don’t think it’s really climate change adaptation.

Comment from floor (Dr. Kai Kim Chiang, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Thailand): One thing we need to keep in mind is that there is a continuum of adaptation activities that are ongoing. One of them relates to how you address specific climate risks, looking at what the impacts are and what the responses to potential changes in climate should be. But at the other end of the scale you also get projects that deal more specifically with addressing underlying vulnerability, and ways that reducing overall vulnerability will contribute to the ability of people to deal with changes in the future. What we’re trying to introduce is a whole new way of thinking and working together which we might be able to apply to other issues as well in the future. That’s one thing we’re doing as part of climate change adaptation, that regardless of what the change might be, is a contribution to the way that we work and perhaps will lead us in a direction that can be more sustainable.

On resources

Mr. Suppakorn Chinvanno

When we talk about the concept of risk management and resources, it goes to the issue of who will pay, how can we finance climate change adaptation? I think everybody is aware that we can’t really rely on donor money forever, and we may have to look at climate change from a different perspective.

We may have to look into some sort of system of climate change adaptation assistance that would go on by itself. The example of using insurance would help coping capacity not only for rural people but also city people. This has to be some kind of subsidised or special scheme insurance, and with that insurance in place, governments may have to use this as a theme in international negotiations and use adaptation funds to support such an insurance scheme.

The main cases that have been implemented are pilot projects, like in Malawi and Ethiopia, where if the drought index reaches a certain threshold (the insurance company) can claim the money and pay back the farmers. Or Mexico has the disaster bond attached to the international monetary market, and these are the kinds of financing mechanisms that we need to look beyond, something that can give money to the people in the villages to do something.

Dr. Clemens Grunbuhel

Climate change adaptation is determined by a series of adjustments to the way we lead our lives, our lifestyles and the way we use resources. I think effort has to be dedicated to developing so called “no regrets” solutions, localised answers that bear in mind there’s a lot of uncertainty involved here, we don’t really know how climate change is going to pan out in society.

I very much agree with the point made that we have to critically look at development policy and development intervention, and actually question whether they are climate change-adapted. All of the development policies to my knowledge in this area have growth indicators written into them, and with this comes additional resource use. Raising income won’t do the trick, it just uses up more resources and that’s happening the world over.

Mr. Rob Hulme

There is no money tree that’s going to keep bearing fruit with PPP or investment from the private sector. But I do think that there’s a lot of investment that already goes on and will continue to go on that can be collaborated with other research efforts that are happening in the public domain, where there’ll be a closer association I think between public and private research efforts and we’re already seeing that today. So it’s not so much about finding more money, but using the money we have more effectively.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Yen

Resources are very important (for project implementation), but resources are also needed at the local level. People have already talked about providing scientific information, but in the short term people still need accurate forecasts, as that’s very important for preparation of their crops. This is something that our colleagues have already shared in Thailand, providing the community with forecasts is very helpful and local farmers in Viet Nam also need that. They need better forecasts of how the drought will be this year so they can prepare better.

Dr. Vithet Srinetr, Environment Programme Coordinator, MRCS, who facilitated the discussion, summed up the panellists’ comments as follows:

We have heard that every panellist recognises that we have challenges ahead on climate change adaptation, and regarding surrounding topics such as awareness, capacity building and financing of climate change adaptation that we need to overcome, all panellists have very positive views that we have to try to find a way to go ahead, overcome these challenges and somehow build capacity in different ways.

The panel and the floor recognise that climate change is a very complex science; it is not just climate science but includes a number of disciplinary sciences and needs many more efforts to understand. Climate change also includes social science and we have to have further thoughts on how we can bridge the knowledge gap between local, community knowledge and the scientific community.

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