Vietnam - the hazards of a changing climate

I visited Vietnam recently.

When I arrived, colleagues in the Embassy told me how heavy rain the previous day had caused severe flooding: “the water was up to my waist”, “in the end I had to put on a pair of shorts and wade through the water”, and “a 20 minute journey took me 3 hours”.  The next morning (15 July) I opened the Vietnam News, the main English language newspaper to see a sobering set of  headlines: “Ho Chi Minh City promises to end most flooding”; “Heat, drought kill, damage 100,000 ha of rice”; and “Hai Phong to spend extra $110million on rain water drainage”. International headlines included “Twenty die as typhoon cuts across the Philippines”, ”Rising Indian Ocean seas threaten millions”, “Japan rain leaves 1 dead, 3 missing”, and “Rescue bid intensifies along flooded Yangtze”.

All these climate-related headlines were from just one day. Increased disruption as a result of climate impacts is being felt across Asia, and nowhere more so than in Vietnam. Of course, you cannot say that one particular flood, or one particular storm, is the result of climate change - after all, the country has experienced such phenomena for a long time. But research shows that floods and tropical storms are becoming more frequent. Vietnam has a very long, low lying coastline which is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. For example, a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) study shows that tropical storms are traditionally rare in Ho Chi Minh City - but over the last 60 years, the city has seen 12 large tropical storms that have caused serious flooding, sometimes up to 1.2 m high. The issue is particularly important in areas like the Red River and Mekong Delta, crucial areas for rice production. A recent World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report estimates that by the end of the century, rising sea levels could see half the Mekong Delta being lost, while a sea level rise of 1m would flood a quarter of Ho Chi Minh City.

Faced with these facts, you could expect Vietnam to concentrate solely on adapting to climate change. The Government is of course taking steps to improve the country’s infrastructure and alter cropping practices. But it is noticeable that it is also taking significant steps to move to a “low carbon” pathway.  It has signed up to the Copenhagen Accord, the document produced at the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009. It is trying to support the production of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. And (with support from the UK and World Bank) it is about to begin a study to examine how the country can grow economically in a low carbon, sustainable manner.

This is a good example of how many countries in South East Asia, even though very vulnerable to the effects of climate change, still realise the need to move to a low carbon growth pathway as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about climate change in Vietnam, look at the WWF report on climate change in the Greater Mekong, or the Asian Development Bank report on Ho Chi Minh City.

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