Washington — Ca Mau, Vietnam, is among three places on the planet most vulnerable to predicted adverse effects of climate change. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the province December 15 to better understand the magnitude of the threat and the activity underway to mitigate the risks.
The southernmost tip of Vietnam is just slightly above sea level, and its major industries — agriculture, aquaculture and fishing — could all be affected if sea levels increase due to glacial melt. Current scientific models show ocean waters rising 1 meter on average by the end of this century.
After a boat ride on Ca Mau waters with a Vietnamese climate researcher, Kerry stood on a market pier and said sea level rise “would literally displace millions upon millions of people around the world. It would destroy infrastructure. It would threaten billions of dollars in global economic activity.”
An estimated 70 million people rely on the commerce, trade and production of the Mekong Delta, Kerry noted. Ca Mau rice production is an important food source for the entire region, so neighboring governments should also be concerned about the threat to regional food supplies, Kerry said.
“Higher sea levels mean more salt water spilling into the Mekong Delta,” Kerry said, “and anybody who has ever farmed or grown a garden can tell you that salt water and salt are no friend to rice paddies.”
The U.S. secretary of state also urged the governments of the region to share the waters of the Mekong and protect its resources for all. Decisions about infrastructure development, water use and fisheries must be made “carefully, deliberately and transparently,” he said, in a “cooperative dialogue.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is involved in Vietnam’s efforts to brace itself for climate change. Kerry announced a $17 million U.S. investment in a forest-and-deltas program during his Ca Mau remarks December 15.
“That money will go towards helping Vietnamese communities reverse environmental degradation and adapt to climate change,” he said.
A USAID-commissioned study of tropical forests and biodiversity in Vietnam released in September suggests the nation consider better forest management and environmental law enforcement. Protecting forests is an important element of climate change mitigation because of the contribution forests make in cooling the atmosphere, preventing land erosion and filtering water. Vietnam's forests are also home to tremendous biodiversity.
USAID is also engaged with regional governments in an initiative known as Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests.
Kerry said the United States is also providing assistance to help Vietnam transition to a clean-energy economy. That transition is a major part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan both domestically and internationally. Reducing the output of greenhouse gas emissions through adaptation of cleaner fuels is one way to lessen the long-range impacts of climate change.
An increase in extreme weather events is another predicted consequence of climate change, and another point of vulnerability for Vietnam, located in a typhoon-prone region. Typhoon Linda in 1997 took more than 3,000 lives and destroyed or damaged an estimated 200,000 homes, according to U.N. relief agencies.
Kerry’s Asian trip includes a stop in the Philippines to survey the ongoing cleanup from Typhoon Haiyan, which struck in November.
The United States is also working with regional governments to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development through the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). LMI is focused on addressing cross-border policy issues that arise among the five nations of the lower Mekong.
Source: IIP Digital U.S. Embassy