Standing at the crossroards
  • | | December 18, 2009 05:43 PM

Climate change is not only an environmental issue, or for any single institution to deal with, it is mainly a sustainable development issue.

Thus, adaptation to climate change is considered as important as development issues. In this context, adaptation means adaptation to the impacts of climate change and mitigation of its impacts.

Climate change has many impacts on people, especially in terms of water, food, energy, health and environment. Hundreds of millions of people in the world could be at risk from food and water shortages because of global warming and sea level rises.

Floods cause huge losses each year.

Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and it experiences extreme natural disasters annually. Most of the disasters are a result of climate condition fluctuations, with uncertain frequency between dry and rainy seasons. The combination of typhoons, floods, droughts and unpredicted climatic events - all as a result of climate change - leads to annual losses in lives and property.

Climate change, referred to as “global warming”, will add more or less severe national disasters every year. Average rainfall will increase during the rainy season and decrease during dry months. Droughts will occur more often.

In recent years, typhoons have become more frequent and stronger, with a southward tendency. Surface coastal area temperatures will increase, that will lead to more typhoons in the northeast Pacific region, affecting Vietnam. Typhoons will be stronger, especially during El Nino years. Climate change is not about changes in averages alone, but also about fluctuations that will become more challenging to the country’s sustainable development.

Currently, Vietnam experiences an average of six to eight typhoons annually. The most affected areas are the Red River and Mekong deltas - the nation’s two main agricultural regions. Most of the land in these two deltas is only one metre higher than sea level and even lower in some parts. Consequently, these two deltas will be most severe affected by climate change and sea level rises.

It is important to note that sea level rises, when combined with storm surges, big waves and high tides, are becoming a real danger to Vietnam’s coastline. Sea level rises will threaten the sea dyke systems, industrial infrastructure, transportation and national security systems.

It is very likely that big hurricanes and whirlwinds with ever increasing intensity will occur more regularly. This will require the strengthening of these structures or the construction of more concrete dyke systems, which will be costly.

Sea level rises will cause drastic impacts to coastal and oceanic ecosystems, such as lagoons, bays, small islands, sand banks, aquaculture lakes and seabeds, each of which have very different, yet important roles and functions. Besides that, rising sea levels will also affect fishing and coastal agriculture activities. Millions of fishers will find their livelihoods threatened. In order to manage such complex issues, Vietnam needs to have appropriate policies to respond to long-term climate change impacts.
Adaptation to climate change is a very broad concept. It is a process through which humans lessen the negative impacts and seize the opportunities that a changing climate brings them. Adaptation means adjustments, whether they are done passively, actively or with precaution, to reduce negative impacts caused by climate change.

To adapt means to have reactions to climate change to reduce the vulnerabilities. Trees, animals and humans, with climate change underway, cannot continue to exist as simply as before. But, they can change their behaviour to adapt to and reduce the risks caused by a changing climate.

In addition to these, adaptation also requires the assessment of different technologies and measures to avoid the harmful consequences of climate change, whether by preventing or restricting them, or create an effective resilience to negative impacts, or by taking advantage of positive impacts.

Adaptation also needs to be considered from the opposite view, i.e. no adaptation. No adaptation means that there is no action to respond to, or to recover from, or to compensate for the negative impacts. For example, one may need to consider the cost of letting these impacts materialise with the cost of adaptation and may find out that it is more beneficial to accept the risks and not to have any adaptation measures, through a cost-benefit analysis.

Studies on current adaptive capacities show that the present adaptation measures are not as successful as they are supposed to be. Major natural disasters and catastrophes, which are often related to abnormal atmospheric phenomenons, are causing more and more damage. It is important to note that inadequate adaptation policies will also play a part in worsening damage caused by climate change.

Adaptation happens in natural and socio-economic systems. Life on earth has always been about adapting to climate. All socio-economic sectors have to adapt to a changing climate to a certain level and even this adaptation is shifting to match the new conditions. For example, farmers, those who work for them, those who consume their products and agricultural policy-makers, are all relevant stake-holders and need to have their own adaptation measures to ensure the effective development of agriculture. And so a similar thing happens in other socio-economic sectors.

Adaptation to climate change requires intensive investment in the long-term and on large-scale (e.g. dykes constructions, irrigation projects, coastal defence systems, bridges and water run-off systems during storm seasons). If adaptation is considered right after the investment decision, spending on adaptation measures will be much less costly than modifications after a project is completed or underway.
As a result, long- term adaptation is a continuous process and directly intertwines, in a holistic way, with the ecosystems and the socio-economic systems. Adaptation, in its essence, is a process leading to evolution and advanced development. In theory, everyone and every living thing, has the capacity to adapt.

Adaptation to climate change in Vietnam

In Vietnam, although the nation’s priority is to achieve fast economic growth, the Vietnamese government has also realised that the mitigation and prevention of drastic consequences caused by natural disasters is a key challenge and has developed an action plan and a national agenda for disaster prevention and mitigation. However, this action plan has only limited its focus to the current climate extremes and not considered future climate changes.

Vietnam is currently implementing various climate change adaptation studies. These activities aim to provide answers for a variety of questions such as which regions will be most seriously impacted by climate change and which measures will reduce vulnerabilities.

Traditional measures to adapt to climate change, such as the strengthening and/or construction of dyke systems, irrigation canals, flood regulation and flood detention and weather forecast systems are being utilised extensively. However, in consideration of the current and future situations, Vietnam’s climate change adaptation strategies need to take into account various active prevention measures, i.e. consider the potential impacts of climate change as an important index for policy formulation, in addition to the traditional ‘wait and see’ method.

Adaptation measures should focus on the country’s areas and sectors which are likely to be most easily be affected by climate change in the future, including water resources, agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, energy, transportation and health and the coastal areas.

Specific adaptation options can be varied from sector to sector. It also depends on the priorities of the country and existing natural resources and human resources. In general, a ‘policy that enables the mainstreaming of adaptation into national development plans’ at national level may lead to the successful development of people’s and sectors’ adaptation strategies, thus strengthening the nation’s adaptive capacity and link it with other national priorities.

Mitigation policy

In order to support its socio-economic development, Vietnam will need to continue to expand its energy sectors and energy consumption. Specific conditions are needed to develop and implement measures to reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions through the national GHG emissions reduction strategy, part of the National Target Programme to Respond to Climate Change.

GHG emission reduction strategies face two major issues. First, utilising low emission technologies in production and consumption and effectively using and saving energy. Second, introducing policies and management measures to minimise carbon emissions, e.g. through maintenance and protection of forests and afforestation.

The fundamental strategy of Vietnam’s energy sector is to ensure the supply of sufficient energy for socio-economic development and people’s well-being with priorities for the country’s industrialisation and modernisation through development and exploitation of various domestic basic energy sources. It is also important to minimise the energy sector’s environment impacts to ensure the economy’s sustainability.
This strategy has been demonstrated through a number of policies on efficient use and saving of energy, development and exploitation of domestic energy sources, particularly clean and renewable energy such as geothermal, solar, wind and nuclear energy, application of emission standards and assessment of environmental cost-benefits for energy projects.

Also, an action plan to mitigate climate change via various political, scientific and awareness raising activities are being developed. Additionally, cohesion of agriculture and forestry projects to reduce GHG emissions in Vietnam is also important. The objective is to increase national forest cover from 37 per cent in 2005 to 42.6 per cent in 2010 and to 47 per cent in 2020, and to apply Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to afforestation.