Highlights from the First Meeting of Climate Change Adaptation Demonstration Projects in the Lower Mekong Basin: sharing lessons and experiences, July 21 -22, 2011, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

21st Jul 2011 - 22nd Jul 2011

Climate change adaptation is a fast developing field in the Lower Mekong Basin, with many projects and activities underway throughout the region to find ways of coping with potential impacts like flood and drought, heavier and more frequent storms, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion.

One of the main efforts of MRC’s Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative is to create a network of these projects to pool lessons learned and experiences, so that actors can share knowledge and replicate successful adaptation practices in locations facing similar impacts.

Representatives of the MRC member countries, government agencies, NGOs, civil society, the private sector and international environmental groups met in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, from July 21-22, 2011 to present their experiences on actions to help vulnerable communities in the Lower Mekong Basin adapt to climate change.

The conference gave a platform for participants to discuss lessons learned about planning and adaptation practices, and was the first step towards forming a basin-wide network on climate change adaptation.

Over 120 people participated in the meeting; many directly involved with climate change adaptation activities at demonstration projects throughout the Lower Mekong Basin.

Participants included senior government officials and climate change representatives of the MRC member states, development practitioners, international experts, representatives of the private sector, development partners and the MRC Secretariat who work on demonstration projects in climate change adaptation in the LMB.

The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Vitoon Viriyasakultorn, Technical Coordination Advisor to the MRC Secretariat.

Highlights from Day 1: Opening remarks, keynote addresses and presentations on good adaptation practices

Excerpts from opening remarks

Dr. Truong Hong Tien, Deputy Director General of Viet Nam National Mekong Committee Secretariat

“Extreme weather events have become more frequent in many parts of the world, and the Lower Mekong Basin is particularly vulnerable to these hazards. Over the past few years we have witnessed an increase in damage due to weather events in the Lower Mekong Basin itself.

“From the mountainous areas of northern Laos to the low-lying Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, the change in climate is being felt thoroughly. We can hear news more often about floods, droughts and storms which affect the well-being and livelihoods of weather-dependent communities.

“Sharing experiences and exchanging information will certainly contribute to our understanding on how to deal with climate change, and enable us to mainstream climate change and disaster risk reduction into development planning and implementation.”

Dr. Tran Duc Cuong, Officer-In-Charge of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS)

“The Mekong River Commission’s Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative has been formulated as a cooperative regional initiative to assist member countries to better adapt to climate change, by providing knowledge, tools and capacity building.

“In parallel with the Mekong River Commission, there are huge numbers of existing, on-going and planned initiatives and activities related to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, managed and implemented by government agencies, international organisations, civil society, as well as the vulnerable communities themselves.

“The meeting today aims to provide a platform for sharing experiences, knowledge and lessons learned on climate change adaptation at demonstration sites of the MRC and by all partners within the Lower Mekong Basin.”

Highlights from keynote addresses

Participants heard keynote addresses from adaptation projects and research studies throughout the region, which gave the following core messages.

‘Breaking dilemma on climate change adaptation planning’

Mr. Suppakorn Chinvanno, Southeast Asia START Regional Centre 

  • Uncertainty is inherent in climate change impact projections, which are the typical starting point for adaptation planning; a paradigm shift is needed.
  • The conventional impact-based approach should be replaced by a risk-based approach, which includes development strategy, socio-economic changes and climate change in the adaptation planning process.
  • Development strategies should incorporate climate-associated risks, enabling resilience through localised/community based approaches.

‘Building Community Resilience to Climate Change through Ecosystem-based Adaptation: Case Studies in Bhutan and Nepal’

Ms. Dusita Krawanchid, Stockholm Environment Institute Asia Centre

  • Communities facing socio-economic stresses become increasingly dependent on local natural resources (in the highlighted cases, forests).
  • Participatory planning and management of resources yields positive results, but coordination with government can present significant challenges.

‘Successful community-based approach: a combination of traditional knowledge utilisation, community ownership and gender empowerment in Central Viet Nam’

Ms. Nguyen Thi Yen, CARE International Viet Nam

  • Integration of mangrove regeneration with local livelihoods yields a wide range of benefits, from raising awareness on community forest management to strengthening climate change resilience in the target community.
  • Taking into consideration the importance of empowering women, community mobilisation saw 80% of involvement by women, who received training, shared local knowledge and ultimately took on leadership roles for the project.
  • The combination of utilisating traditional knowledge, stakeholder involvement and creating sense of ownership of the local community brought about a high level of community awareness on environmental protection, acceptance by local authorities and other community benefits including strengthened food security and coastal defence.

‘Agricultural productivity and food security in the lower Mekong Basin: Impact of climate change and options for adaptation’

Dr. Mohammed Mainuddin, Surface Water Hydrology Programme, CSIRO Land and Water

  • Based on IPCC climate change scenarios A2 and B2, modelling forecasts potential for significant crop yield increases in Laos and Thailand but a slight decrease in Viet Nam and Cambodia, relating to changes in rainfall patterns and atmospheric CO2 levels.
  • Adaptation by altering planting dates, supplementary irrigation and use of fertilisers could offset negative climate change impacts on food security. But extreme events, such as heavy storms, as well as sea level rise will have great impacts on agriculture, especially in the Mekong Delta.
  • Climate modelling has limitations in terms of uncertainties and bias of the scenarios; a flexible planning framework is needed to minimise these gaps.

‘Building a network of local demonstration projects and potential benefits to the Mekong River Basin’

Dr. Tran Mai Kien, Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI), MRCS

  • A network of institutions and projects working on climate change adaptation can help increase collaboration and knowledge sharing while reducing overlap between activities, addressing communications challenges as well as facilitating up-scaling and replication of good practices.
  • Practical action is as important as assessment and study – learn through doing.

Good practices

Each presenter shared the practices, results, experiences and lessons learned from their climate change adaptation demonstration projects currently underway in the Lower Mekong Basin, under the following headings:

Impact and vulnerability assessment for climate change adaptation

Identification and selection of adaptation options

Highlights from Day 2: Further good practices presentations, panel discussions, keynote and closing address

Day 2 began with further experiences and sharing of lessons learned on climate change adaptation demonstration projects underway in the Lower Mekong Basin, under the following headings:

Enhancing adaptive capacity

Participation and gender mainstreaming in Climate Change Adaptation

Keynote presentation

‘Synthesis of good adaptation practices and challenges in the Lower Mekong Basin’

Dr. Vithet Srinetr, Environment Programme Coordinator, MRCS

Dr. Vithet Srinetr summarised the lessons from the four Good Practice sessions with the following key observations:

  • Good practices on local climate change adaptation presented at the event were from various types of organisation, i.e. development and intergovernmental agencies, research institutes, national and local government, and international and local NGOs, demonstrating broad involvement in adaptation projects and planning.
  • A wide range of adaptation practices and approaches are in use throughout the basin, many showing considerable progress on climate change adaptation mainstreaming.
  • The sectors covered in good practices were mainly agriculture, flood and drought management, implying that these are the perceived priorities for climate change adaptation in the region. Issues of irrigation, ecosystems, navigation and transportation, tourism, disaster risk reduction and preparedness, as well as fisheries were also covered to some extent.
  • Recent studies and efforts are mainly focused at local/community levels, some linking to municipality/provincial levels. Few had national or trans-boundary/basin-wide scope at this stage.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of adaptation options may be required to accomplish mainstreaming adaptation into development planning.
  • Challenges ahead relate to achieving long-term capacity for climate change adaptation at different levels throughout the Lower Mekong Basin.

Panel discussion 1: How to Overcome the Challenges and Build Capacity for Local Adaptation Actions

Panellists responded to questions on capacity building, community awareness on climate change and resource-needs for adaptation at the local level.

Panellists:

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

Key points made by panellists:

Mr. Suppakorn Chinvanno

  • Climate topics are not always relevant to the end user, and projects must be more selective over what effects are important to different population groups.
  • Donor funding cannot be relied upon forever. One potential alternative could be a subsidised climate change insurance scheme linked to global money markets. This would enable those suffering the heaviest impacts to claim financial help to manage climate change risks.

Dr. Bach Tan Sinh

  • Climate change adaptation mainstreaming requires better coordination across social and government sectors and proper technical guidelines.
  • Knowledge needs to be more strongly targeted; climate change has implications in terms of society and justice as well as on the environment.

Dr. Clemens Grunbuhel

  • At-risk communities need help co-developing adaptation tools more than they need in-depth understanding of the science of climate change.
  • Awareness is already stronger in Lower Mekong Basin countries than elsewhere in Asia; knowledge to be communicated should aim for behavioural change and understanding of the adaptation process.

Mr. Rob Hulme

  • A bridge is needed between climate change awareness at the macro level within the scientific community and micro-level awareness among farmers, whose primary concern is how to continue growing their crops.
  • People become de-sensitised to climate change if bombarded with information that does not always relate to them. This causes the view among farmers that there are no long-term solutions, so they continue reacting day-to-day and week-to-week as need dictates.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Yen

  • Community awareness of climate change already exists, and livelihoods are adapting; the issue is how to include this in local government planning, and harness existing knowledge through action research.
  • Resources are needed most acutely at the local level for communities to prepare and plan.

Panel discussion 2: Replication and Up-Scaling of Good Practices in the Lower Mekong Basin

Panellists responded to questions on the challenges of up-scaling local adaptation initiatives to wider areas, entry points for adaptation, how to use knowledge and practices from other parts of the world and how to transfer local adaptation into strategic planning.

Panellists:

  • Ms. Huong Huynh Lan (Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment)
  • Ms. Dang Thuy Trang (WWF Greater Mekong in Lao PDR)
  • Dr. Kai Kim Chiang (Institute for Social and Environmental Transition)
  • Dr. Supaporn Anuchiracheeva (Earth Net Foundation)
  • Mr. Yim Sophors (Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture)

Key points made by panellists:

Ms. Huong Huynh Lan

  • Local and provincial staff need to be more involved in the processes of up-scaling adaptation projects, and training language has to be more user-friendly to enable better understanding and increase the likelihood that trainees use the skills they are taught.

Ms. Dang Thuy Trang

  • Questions of scale present challenges to replicating local adaptations at national and regional levels; local issues vary greatly within and between the Lower Mekong nations, and successful adaptation depends on local contexts.

Dr. Kai Kim Chiang

  • Identifying best practices is in itself a challenge, as is applying lessons in different contexts, and resources are limited to bring benefits to other stakeholders.
  • IT can be used to more effectively share information among actors and with communities – particularly internet ready mobile-phones which are seeing rapid uptake in developing countries. Previous generation mobile phones are also widely used by farmers, presenting SMS as another communication option.

Dr. Supaporn Anuchiracheeva

  • Cost/benefit should be taken into account when considering climate change adaptation options – can the farmer run an approach by themselves? Is funding needed? Is up-scaling appropriate? What kind of government/institution/policy change is needed to assist farmers?

Mr. Yim Sophors

  • Cooperation is limited between Lower Mekong Basin countries, particularly on trans-boundary issues.

Closing address: next steps

Dr. Tran Mai Kien, Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI), MRCS

A network for sharing climate change adaptation knowledge in the Lower Mekong Basin will be highly beneficial to future adaptation projects, as well as replicating and up-scaling those currently underway. The network will draw together existing activities and challenges, reducing overlap and enabling shared knowledge resources, to allow actors to benefit from the expertise of others in the network.

A mechanism can be created using mutual focuses, which could take several forms:

  • Geographical – focusing on areas that many partners are interested in, such as the Cambodian flood plain, the Mekong Delta and northeast Thailand.
  • Sector-related – community, local/provincial/national government.
  • Issue-related – capacity building, gender, disaster risk reduction, sustainable livelihoods.
  • Such a mechanism may vary depending on situation and need, and participating projects would not only share knowledge but also offer or receive technical assistance, support to follow-up implementation, or continue implementation previously carried out by other partners.

Further meetings are planned to bring participants in the network together, potentially on a biennial basis, to continue sharing lessons and track up-scaling of demonstration projects to provincial level.