Voices from the field: Asia

IUCN talks to Geoff Blate, Climate Change Coordinator for WWF Greater Mekong about Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Asia’s Mekong River basin. WWF is a Member of IUCN.

Mekong floods 2008

Why is ecosystem-based adaptation important in your region?

Sixty million people in the Mekong river basin and 300 million in the Mekong sub-region both in rural and urban contexts, depend, directly or indirectly, on ecosystems for water, food and regulatory services. Degradation of the ecosystems, induced both by global climate change and local processes, will affect the livelihoods that depend upon them.

Considering the role of ecosystems in adaptation is therefore not an option, but an essential part of adaptation solutions. Ecosystem-based adaptation has the potential to increase resilience in the Mekong region and contribute to overall sustainable development.

What is being done?

A number of initiatives are taking place in terms of protection and efficient use of natural resources, which have relevance for adaptation. For example, there are a number of projects on sustainable community fisheries in Cambodia, Thailand, Lao (e.g. Wetlands Alliance, www.wetlandsalliance.org). WWF is implementing the Tram Chim project in the Plain of Reeds area in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The project works to restore natural fire and hydrological regimes in wetlands. Several community-level actions that have been put into place in response to climate variability elsewhere in the Delta are also adaptation measures, now responding to greater scales of change, such as the innovative solutions to flooding provided by building lower earthen dykes, which enable the harvesting of fish. These types of solutions can increase both ecosystem and human resilience in the face of climate change.

What more is needed?

Several vulnerability assessments have already been carried out, but actual implementation on the ground is what is really needed now. Political buy-in is also needed. Policy makers, investors, and other stakeholders need to be convinced that maintaining healthy ecosystems is a sensible means of adaptation and that we need to start moving away from investing all resources in hard infrastructure (dams, sea walls, etc.).

Financial resources are required to be able to appropriately involve multiple actors and to develop clear adaptation plans (with monitoring and evaluation, stakeholder engagement and commitment beyond project cycles).

Regional scale data and information sharing is required to understand what is happening at the larger ecosystem-scale and how adaptation solutions will impact the environment.

What are your expectations for the UN Copenhagen climate change meeting?

We need something that emphasizes the role of ecosystems in adaptation as well as the importance of an overall ecosystem approach to adaptation and mitigation. It is essential to avoid maladaptation and the negative impacts of mitigation responses, as frequently observed in the case of dams. The Copenhagen agreement should include such safeguards.

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