For these past weeks, the COP22 in Marrakech and the Paris Agreement have hogged the headlines and social media. But why is it so important for the world and specifically for the Mekong Region? Making its modern history in a growing number of the hydropower dams to supply its rapid economic development, the well-beings of the people and environment are at stake. Climate change impacts are here. For the past decade, the Mekong Region has been facing with severe drought, floods, and sea-level rising. Specifically, the Mekong Delta is considered to be one of the world’s three most vulnerable deltas in the world.
By Arianna Flores
What is the Conference of Parties (COP)? The COP is identified by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention where all states that are parties to the Convention are represented. Every year there is a COP in order to review the Convention’s implementation.
The last three COPs are very important to understand where are the climate change negotiations going. The COP 20 in Lima is known for the important negotiations towards a universal climate change agreement, COP21 in Paris was the COP of the agreement, and the current COP in Morocco, from 7 to 18 November 2016, will be the one that translates those agreements into concrete action and focuses on the implementation.
On April 22nd 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed by 193 countries. Up until last week (11/14/2016), 109 parties have ratified it. Even though the Mekong Region is considered as one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts, not all the countries of the Mekong Region have ratified the Paris Agreement. China (3 Sep 2016), Laos (7 Sep 2016), Thailand (21 Sep 2016) and Vietnam (3 Nov 2016) already ratified the agreement, Cambodia and Myanmar, are still in the process.
But why should the decision-makers in all Mekong states be interested in the Paris Agreement and in the COP22?
The COP 21 and the Paris Agreement are a big deal for developing countries as the ones in the Mekong Region. The Paris Agreement is an important tool for mobilizing finance, technological support, and capacity building to help developing countries have a smooth transition to greener economies, and to cope with and tackle climate change. Some of the most important component of the agreement, that will be discussed and pin down are:
- Temperature target: This component of the Agreement is of great importance for the small island states and other vulnerable nations facing the major direct climate change related impacts. The agreement sets a goal of limiting the temperature increase below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and to pursue efforts to keep it to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F)
- Financial assistance: This is one of the most important points for developing countries such as the ones of the Mekong Region. Developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion per year from 2020 to 2025 to support low-carbon growth and climate resilience in developing countries. A concrete roadmap for this financial mobilization is being finalized and should be presented in the COP22. This is a very sensitive and complex topic. For more information you can click here.
- Adaptation: As said in the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index (2017), “The climate summit in Marrakesh is giving the “go-ahead” on developing the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement, including the global adaptation goal, adaptation communication systems, and finance assessment systems for building resilience”.
The Mekong Region countries have already delivered the climate change action plans and strategies, however, how much do they consider what is happening in the Mekong?
The western coastline of Myanmar and the Cambodian Mekong lowland region (the two Mekong countries that have not ratified the Paris Agreement) were identified as the most vulnerable areas in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Kuntiyawichai, et al., 2015). Additionally, according to the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index (2017), Myanmar is one of the three countries most affected by extreme weather events between 1996 and 2015. However, in Myanmar’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2030, the mention to the Mekong limits of its use in the agricultural sector, and its potential for expanding and reinforcing the transport axis.
Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014 – 2023 considers ensuring climate resilience of the Mekong River one of its main eight strategic objectives. In order to achieve this objective, the Kingdom of Cambodia recognizes the importance of promoting and encouraging community-based, ecosystem-based approaches and eco-tourism as cost-effective ways of addressing climate change, as well as promoting payment for ecosystem services including REDD+.
In Viet Nam, the potential impacts of climate change are likely to be most serious in the agricultural and water resources sectors, more in the large cultivation areas in the Mekong and Red River deltas which are likely to be affected by salt water intrusion due to sea level rise. Because of the sea level rising, the Mekong Delta is considered to be one of the world’s three most vulnerable deltas in the world.
The National strategy on climate change of Viet Nam recognizes the importance of designing a scheme for socioeconomic development and takes into consideration the climate variability in key and highly vulnerable regions, including the Mekong Delta, Red River Delta, central coastal region, marine reserves and marine biodiversity parks.
The Strategy on Climate Change of Lao PDR recognized that even when the country is not a major contributor to climate change, it is likely to be disproportionally affected by it. Regarding the Mekong River, the strategy identifies the urgency to assess climate change effects given the growing importance of the hydropower industry in the national socio-economic development.
Additionally, they identified a series of priority actions such as to establish a reliable National Early Warning Systems and encourage environmentally sustainable transport system, sustainable energy efficiency, sustainable forestry management and conservation systems.
Thailand’s Climate Change Strategy and Master Plan focuses on building capacities to adapt and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change impacts by encouraging research, raising awareness, and supporting international cooperation. Also, since 2008-2009, the city of Khon Kaen, in Northeastern Thailand, has developed a roadmap of towards the Low Carbon City to support Khon Kaen’s Declaration on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in 2020.
On the other hand, China is a very complex case. First of all, the county is one of the world’s two largest GHG emitters. Secondly, China has a very complicated role in the Mekong transboundary management and negotiations. China has been known for many years as the “big tyrant” of the Mekong. Just in 2014, China had seven hydropower dams on the upper Mekong River and was planning to build 21 more. This type of dams prevents flood waters from reaching Vietnam’s Lower Mekong Delta, which results in severe drought for the region. Additionally, the China’s Policies and Actions on Climate Change (2015) does not mention the Mekong or includes any strategy in this regard.
Hence, the COP22 and the Paris Agreement are a big step for Mekong Countries towards achieving a sustainable development that includes adaptation to climate change and a smooth transition to greener economies. This event will promote the exchange of success stories, encourage negotiations, alliances and the development of innovative strategies to address climate change. The Mekong Region countries need the access to climate financing in order to accelerate solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is necessary that these countries continue working on the transparency, and start encouraging solutions through education, training and public awareness. Hopefully the policy and decision makers of the Mekong Region will understand the importance of participating and collaborating on this regard.
The Conference of Parties (COP) is the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It currently meets once a year to review the Convention’s progress and establish the rules of its implementation.
Note: The earlier version of this article titled “COP22 and Paris Agreement: Should the Mekong Region be interested in these topics?”
About the author: Arianna Flores is a Climate Tracker, “the next generation for climate journalists”, for this COP22. She is also a graduate student in Master’s Program on Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University in Thailand.
Anh, V. (2016). Chinese dams a threat to Lower Mekong River. VN Express International. Retrieved from http://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/chinese-dams-a-threat-to-lower-mekong-river-3456038.html
Lao People’s Democratic Republic (2010). Strategy on Climate Change of Lao PDR. Retrieved from http://mirror.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/12679_1_595432.pdf
Ministry of Environmental Resources and Environmental Conservation (2016). Myanmar´s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2030. Retrieved from http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf
National Climate Change Committee (2013). Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014 – 2023. Retrieved from http://www.bb.undp.org/content/dam/cambodia/docs/EnvEnergy/CCCAProjects/Cambodia%20climate%20change%20strategic%20plan%202014-2023.pdf
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