Why Poznan Climate Change talks matter for development: evidence from Viet Nam

The Poznan ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP 14) climate change talks kick off today and Oxfam will be there in force, along with other development NGOs. Why? Because not only does climate change threaten to reverse decades of social and economic progress, but in some countries is already doing so.

Take Viet Nam, perhaps the greatest development success story of recent decades, reducing poverty from about 58% of the population in 1993 to 18% in 2006 through a combination of growth and equity.  A new Oxfam study argues that these achievements are now under threat because Viet Nam is at the sharp end of climate change. This is the second in a series of country case studies, (see here for the first report, on Uganda) due out over the next few months.

Map of Viet Nam showing likely impacts of climate change this century (click to zoom)
Map of Viet Nam showing likely impacts of climate change this century (click to zoom)

The report focuses on two provinces: Ben Tre in the south’s low-lying Mekong Delta and coastal Quang Tri further north, which is traditionally the most vulnerable to flooding in the country. People are used to living in extreme weather conditions, but all those questioned agreed that weather patterns had changed for the worse over the past 20-30 years.

In the Mekong Delta, where enough rice is produced to make Viet Nam the second biggest rice exporter in the world, rice production is being hit by salination, partly driven by rising sea levels. Typhoons have become more intense and have tracked further south, where they now regularly strike Ben Tre, which was once typhoon-free. Further north in Quang Tri, unpredictable weather means farmers have less time to grow crops, and seeds can be washed away by the heavier rainfall. Livestock has also been lost to increased flooding, while hotter dry spells further complicate farming.

Nationally, there has been an annual temperature rise of 0.1 degrees C per decade between 1931 and 2000. Although annual rainfall levels have remained largely stable, its intensity and unpredictability has increased, causing both severe floods and more and longer droughts in the south. The sea level has risen between 2.5 to 3.0 cms per decade in the last 50 years.

Detailed studies of how villagers in Quang Tri have coped in the past with extreme weather events, in particular devastating floods in 1999, have shown that poorer men and women have much less capacity to recover and adapt than better-resourced families. Those with a diversified household economy, off-farm work opportunities, larger boats and/or better health were much better able to cope.

But the Oxfam study shows that when villagers in Quang Tri got involved in local level disaster risk management programmes, they significantly reduced their vulnerability to frequent or heavy flooding. Disaster risk reduction works. Examples include building second stories on school buildings and platforms into house ceilings to provide a refuge against floods, setting up early warning systems and emergency food stores and adapting agricultural cycles to try and harvest rice and other crops before the main flooding season. This was helped by using a different type of rice seed that had a shorter crop cycle, or planting more resilient crops like lotus plants.

According to the UN, the 11 day Poznan conference should ‘provide the opportunity to draw together the advances made in 2008 and move from discussion to negotiation mode in 2009. In Poznań, Parties are expected to:

Agree on a plan of action and programmes of work for the final year of negotiations after a year of comprehensive and extensive discussions on crucial issues relating to future commitments, actions and cooperation

Make significant progress on a number of on-going issues required to enhance further the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, including capacity-building for developing countries, reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD), technology transfer and adaptation.

Advance understanding and commonality of views on “shared vision” for a new climate change regime

Strengthen commitment to the process and the agreed timeline’

For Viet Nam and Uganda’s sake, (and all the other developing countries that are already feeling the climate crunch), let’s wish them luck

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