Sunday, April 3rd 2011, 2:24 PM EDT
The World Meteorological Organization reported that globally, 2010 was the hottest year on record. Nine of the ten hottest years ever recorded were in the first decade of this century.
The Earth is warming very fast - the Arctic ice sheet has never been as thin as it is this winter. And the impact is very real: Russia experienced an extreme heat wave in the summer of 2010, massive flooding devastated Pakistan, and extreme floods also hit China and Colombia.
There are many climate sceptics, but I think some of what is being published is frankly irresponsible. The very large majority of scientists are telling us that climate change is very real – and that the cause is greenhouse gas emissions from people’s actions. There are very few doubters amongst scientists.
Many of the best scientists are part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which predicts that weather extremes will increase, including occasional cold weather. I’m from Canada and in January the southern parts of Canada experienced unusually cold blizzards. Yet 2010 was the hottest year on record in Canada, as it was in northern Africa and the Middle East. And instead of facing drought as is the norm during its summer, Australia has instead recently been besieged – like Brazil - by terrible flooding.
If you believe in man-made climate change like I do then I’m afraid the only thing that can be predicted is that such meteorological extremes will happen more often.
Expectations of the sixteenth Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancún were played down throughout 2010 because of disappointing results at the Copenhagen Conference in December 2009. But Cancún resulted in substantial breakthroughs. Agreement was reached on setting up a new global fund for climate change action, on a mechanism for technology transfer to developing countries and on a mechanism to protect forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Following Copenhagen many had lost faith in the ability of the multilateral UN process to deliver agreements, but Cancún has restored that faith.
While important, these agreements are only the first steps.
The next Conference of Parties is in Durban, South Africa at the end of 2011 and it must deliver further agreements, especially firm commitments for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. That will be difficult as effects of the global financial crisis linger, but progress is both possible and very much needed.
Vietnam did several important things as Chair of ASEAN in 2010. Most notably, it facilitated the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Joint Response to Climate Change at the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi this past April. This was an important step in the process of deepening collaboration on climate change in the region. Vietnam also interacted with ASEAN negotiators at various climate talks throughout 2010 and delivered the main points of agreement between ASEAN countries to the high-level segment of the Conference of Parties in Cancún.
Nevertheless, ASEAN collaboration on climate change needs to deepen further. ASEAN scientists should jointly provide inputs into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessments, and ASEAN governments should cooperate closer to enhance climate change awareness and develop low-carbon technologies.
And, importantly, we feel that ASEAN governments, with all governments, should jointly support a comprehensive global agreement on implementation of the UNFCCC, in Durban and beyond.
It is also important that Vietnam strengthens its engagement with the UNFCCC process. This is in Vietnam’s interest because important decisions are still to be made. Climate change is an economic, energy, transport, industry, construction, agriculture, forestry, waste management, health and education issue – it is not just about the environment. For effective participation in the UNFCCC process, it is critical that many ministries work effectively together.
In 2011 Vietnam should make progress on a national strategy on climate change that addresses both climate change adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation and that clearly prioritizes key national actions to be taken.
Industrialized countries have made major financial commitments to help developing countries with climate change responses – US$30 billion to 2012, and $100 billion per year from 2020 – in addition to commitments to technology transfer. Vietnam must access these international funds and technologies over the coming years, and to do so it needs to strengthen domestic capacities and systems. And Vietnam must use climate change ODA very strategically, for capacity development, research and development, pilot investments and for raising awareness.
Climate change adaptation requires substantial public sector investment and we feel that many priorities are already clear. For example, research and development of climate-resilient crops and strengthening of community-based disaster risk management are urgent.
What’s more, early investment in “climate proofing” of new coastal, transport, and agriculture infrastructure is also urgent, as is ensuring that all new schools and hospitals are climate proof and can function during and after climatic disasters. Climate proofing and better spatial planning will cost some money in the short term, but will prevent very large future costs.
But international financial assistance alone will not be sufficient to respond to climate change. Vietnam must also start raising domestic capital. In 2011, it should study how to stimulate domestic and foreign direct investment in climate change actions through, for example, adjusting energy subsidies, taxes and regulation.
Energy security has become a dominant theme and many countries are targeting renewable energy for much of their long-term electricity needs. Vietnam will make important progress here this year with construction of one of the world’s largest solar cell manufacturing plants. Other low carbon business opportunities can be created through good policies. For example, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies makes clean energy comparatively more attractive while Vietnam should also consider setting attractive feed-in tariffs for renewable energy supplied to the national grid and enhanced investment in research and development of clean technology.
I also feel that this year Vietnam should adopt a voluntary target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions growth below ‘business as usual’, as China, India and Indonesia have done. This should focus on forestry and especially on the energy sector. It would help secure international support and help business, growth and employment in the medium and long term.
We also expect major progress in 2011 with regard to the international REDD system: reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Implementation of UN REDD will bring extra income to poor forest dwellers and support poverty reduction, protect water sources, and prevent soil degradation while boosting economic development.
Throughout 2011 the UN will continue to support climate change adaptation and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation in Vietnam through support to coordination and policy dialogue, enhanced energy efficiency, capacity development, awareness raising and better disaster risk management. In short, climate change will continue to be a top priority for the UN, both globally and here in Vietnam.