Speech at the workshop on climate change and climatic extremes in Viet Nam

17 Aug 2012

Speaker:    United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Pratibha Mehta
Date:          Friday, 17 August 2012
Event:        “Workshop on climate change and climatic extremes in Viet Nam” to discuss the implications for Viet Nam of the “Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (SREX report of IPCC)
Venue:        Hanoi Club, Ha Noi

Excellency Minister Nguyen Minh Quang, MONRE;
Dr. R K Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC;
Distinguished participants from Government; research organizations, development partners and NGOs;
Colleagues from the UN;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by warmly welcoming all of you to discussion of “climate change and climatic extremes in Viet Nam”. I am also very pleased to welcome Dr Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who will be delivering a key note speech on the recently launched “Special Report” on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation”. This report has many implications for management of climatic extremes and disasters in Viet Nam, and this workshop is very timely.

The report reminds us that no one can avoid exposure to climatic disasters and the terrible losses they cause. Extreme climatic events can wipe out the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Just recently, we have witnessed the heat wave in the US and flooding in China and the Philippines. There are increasing numbers of extreme climatic events also in Viet Nam.

Dr. Pachauri and other experts will today elaborate on the global, regional and national trends, particularly from a scientific perspective. I would like to stress three challenges related to policy that have great implications: first, Viet Nam is highly exposed to extreme climatic events; second, these events are very difficult to predict; and third, the trends require a very strong legal framework as well as major investments.

Firstly, Viet Nam is highly exposed to extreme climatic events and disasters.
Viet Nam is a disaster prone country and particularly affected by climate-related hazards. Over the past two decades, climate related disasters in Viet Nam have caused an average annual loss of USD 1.8 billion, or 1.2 percent of GDP (in PPP), and an average of 445 deaths. In the Mekong Delta in 2011 alone, 89 people lost their lives, and sadly 84% of deaths were children.  And although the number of deaths is decreasing due to better disaster preparedness and response, the economic losses are increasing.

Based on historical observations Viet Nam ranks sixth in the world on climatic risks, according to the 2012 long-term climate risk index of Germanwatch. Various future projections show a sharp increase in the number of people as well as the capital value at risk from climatic extremes.

Some climatic extremes have been non-existent or very infrequent in the past, meaning that people are not used to coping with them yet. The Mekong delta experienced typhoon “Linda” in 1997 which caused major devastation. The people and systems accommodate the regular river floods such as those in 2000, 2001 and 2011 with the “living with floods” approach, but they are not well prepared for tropical storms which could occur more frequently in the not-so-distant future.

Furthermore, 93 percent of the Mekong delta land is less than 1.5 meter above mean sea water level and saline water already intrudes 30-40 km inland. Low-land cities are vulnerable to sea level rise which affects the poorest residents in the most exposed areas. These events not only cause death and disease but also reduce job opportunities and increase food prices.

Secondly, extreme climatic events and disasters are very difficult to predict
Recent years have seen storms in the South much earlier than in the past. There has been an increase in flash floods and landslides in mountainous areas, for example in Ha Giang and Yen Bai provinces in 2012. We are witnessing historical high floods in the central coast due to the combination of limited storage capacity of the dams upstream and flood inundation downstream, especially in Quang Binh and Quang Nam provinces.
Climate change scenarios show clear changes in wet-season rainfall that will further exacerbate such flooding.
Economic development and population increases are putting additional pressures on natural resources and result in changes in disaster patterns and risks, but they are also very difficult to predict. Deforestation in the uplands, dam building upstream in rivers, and mineral extraction from river beds have altered the water flow and discharge of rivers. The Mekong delta has seen reduced water flow in the dry season and serious erosion in the flood seasons.

The increasingly extreme climatic events will do much damage but are very difficult to predict. Combined with social economic changes the forecast and projections of damage is even more challenging. Therefore the role of climate science is evident for agreeing strategic responses and investments – and policy makers must take note of the analysis.

Thirdly, a strong legal framework and major investments are needed to cope with extreme events and disasters
We are very happy that the final draft Disaster Management Law has been submitted to the National Assembly. The law should aim to encompass all components of disaster risk management – from mitigation and preparedness, to long-term recovery and development. The law should also aim to deal with the fact that climatic extremes are getting worse.

It is very encouraging that the draft law includes a proposal to establish a natural disaster trust fund. The law could also set a state expenditure target to ensure sufficient capital for disaster proofing of investments. International experience shows us that every dollar spent in disaster preparedness may save seven dollars in response efforts. In Southeast Asia, about 3-5% of state budgets is earmarked for disaster risk reduction, mainly for preparedness.

But adaptation to climatic extremes is broader than that. Climate change adaptation needs to be reflected in all large public and private plans and infrastructure investment. To make that cost effective requires scientists to translate the projections of climatic extremes into design parameters, which demands additional efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today is a great opportunity to share your ideas and to agree on a the preparation of a possible “Special Report” on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation in Viet Nam”. I hope you will have fruitful discussions and a productive workshop.

Thank you.