Adapting to climate change

Marwaan Macan-Markar

Three years after a devastating tsunami flattened Banda Aceh, the mayor of that coastal town on Indonesia’s northern tip reckons that restoration work is far from over. He now needs to adapt to threats posed by climate change. A shortfall in funds since the December 2004 tsunami, which killed close to 60,000 people in Banda Aceh alone, is an issue of concern. “We wanted to create a green belt along the coast and encourage people to stay in the higher areas. But this has not been properly done, because we have had a shortage of money for land acquisition,” says Mawardy Nurdin, the mayor.

But in other areas, the local government has pushed ahead with planting mangroves and introducing a tree-planting campaign with local community support, he said. “Each household has been given trees to plant and schools have also got involved. The students have planted 17,000 trees like mango and other varieties.” What brought the mayor to Pattaya, south of Bangkok, was to pick up more programme ideas and policy tips during a three-day meeting for local government officials from East Asia to deal with the new challenges posed by climate change. Such a quest is shared by other officials shaping local government policies across East Asia.

In Vietnam some 13 million people, living in the country’s southern delta region, are threatened with untold hardship if there is a rise in sea level. “It is a big area and we have already begun preparing people for floods like we had last year, where five million people were affected,” says Che Trung Hieu, head of the architecture and planning department at the Urban Planning Institute of Haiphong.

Among plans are dikes to protect urban centres that could be hit, Che revealed. Ho Chi Minh City tops the list of the large urban centres that could be swamped by river and sea water.

“The estimate cost for these parts of Vietnam to adapt and prepare for the impact from climate change is very high. It could be about five billion dollars,” Che added.

This week’s meeting in Pattaya points to an emerging trend for local governments to take the lead in preparing their communities to adapt to the dramatic change in the weather caused by greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions. “The climate change negotiation has so far focused 90 to 95% on mitigation to reduce greenhouse gases. That can only be done through the central governments,” says Jerry Velasquez, senior regional coordinator of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, a UN body.

“But since last year there has been a shift towards adaptation. Because of this, we are seeing an important role that local governments have to play,” he said. “Ultimately, the activities that need to be done to combat and adapt to climate change have to be done locally.” The lead taken by some local governments confirm that a “bottom-up approach” is being gradually embraced, rather than waiting for national governments to point the way, Velasquez added.

To guide local government officials from the region, the World Bank released a blueprint for action at this week’s ‘Green Cities Workshop’. The 149-page ‘Climate Resilient Cities — 2008 Primer’ was aimed at “initiating a dialogue” for city governments in East Asia to “better understand and how to plan for climate change impacts and impending natural disasters” to reduce vulnerabilities.