Mekong River Commission Secretariat

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Signing Ceremony: Between the Government of Australia and the Mekong River Commission to support MRC Climate Change and Adaptation initiative


Opening Statement by
Jeremy Bird, CEO, Mekong River Commission Secretariat

Vientiane, Lao PDR
2 November 2009

Distinguished Development Partners from AusAID

Ladies and gentlemen

Colleagues and friends

Like many developing regions, the Mekong River Basin stands to suffer more from climate change compared to developed countries, due to intensification of flood and drought conditions; fewer resources for mitigation measures; and a higher proportion of people living a subsistence lifestyle.

Although no-one knows exactly how rising world temperatures will impact on the basin, according to global climate modelling that has been downscaled to basin level by the MRC and its partners, the following is likely:

  • A change in rainfall patterns, which could increase the risk of flooding in some areas; as well as effect agriculture;
  • An increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events, such as Typhoon Ketsana, which affected the region early this month and caused severe flooding, damage and loss of life in the tributary rivers of the Mekong;
  • An increased risk of extremes of hot and cold in different parts of the basin. This could make drought more likely and increase the risk faced by farmers in what are already poor areas;
  • Sea level rises of up to one metre are predicted, making the Mekong Delta – an important area for agricultural production - one of the five most vulnerable deltas in the world. If salinity and inundation were to increase there could be significant displacement of people and migration into urban areas such as Ho Chi Minh City. Some estimates are that more than one out of every 10 Mekong Delta residents could be displaced; and
  • Changes in the flow of the river and tributaries, which could influence fish migration patterns, run-off and alluvial deposits.

Although it is important to focus on long-term reductions in carbon emissions and the establishment of a global low carbon economy – and this region can play its part in this by protecting watersheds and re-affirming commitments to low carbon growth; perhaps more urgent for the 60 million people in the Mekong Basin in the near future will be strategies to adapt – to reduce the impact – and try to ensure that climate change doesn’t weaken efforts to reduce poverty or improve development.

Just two months from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, it is an issue that is on the agenda for all countries in the Mekong region and indeed the world.

That is why I welcome the opportunity for the MRC to formalize the second step in our regional Climate Change Adaption Initiative through a partnership with the Australian Government that began last year.

The MRC has already – in the last 12 months – done much work to estimate likely changes in temperature, rainfall and river flows for the basin based on global predictions of climate change. The next step which begins with the signing of the Initiative today, will be a programme that builds the capacity of Mekong governments to develop adaptation strategies – allowing them to deal with the consequences of the expected climate variations.

The MRC's Climate Change and Adaption Initiative will also link Member Countries into a regional framework to integrate many other climate change activities at national and local levels. The governments of the region have already begun to take climate change seriously. Already Viet Nam has done much to consider adaption strategies and this initiative will further strengthen that approach. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam have appointed climate change focal points and created mechanisms to work on climate change issues. Last month Cambodia started the first National Forum on Climate Change to discuss mitigation and adaptation, looking at best practices in other countries, and exploring how best to introduce similar measures into Cambodia. Lao PDR has carried out a number of activities relevant to the national response to climate change issues, such as preparation of an initial national communication on climate change, and establishment of the National GHG Inventory Committee and Technical Working Group. Thailand has begun projects to help the country reduce GHG emissions, establishing a National Climate Change Coordinating Unit that focuses on public awareness, education, research, adaptation and mitigation, capacity building, development and technology transfer.

And indeed, Australia has taken a leading role globally in the climate change debate, building dialogue and consensus around the world to establish partnerships to tackle this issue.

I would like to thank Mr. Richard Moore from AusAID for being here - and indeed the Australian Government for their support.






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