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Public needs full picture on adapting to climate change

Update: August, 22/2012 - 09:23

Dr Richard Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke to Viet Nam News about the local impacts of global warming.

What are the environmental challenges that Viet Nam needs to address immediately?

In the case of Viet Nam, based on what we have assessed in our report (the IPCC report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters) rising sea levels are a serious problem.

Viet Nam has a problem of extreme precipitation events - that is heavy rainfall in a short period of time. This is a country where flooding can cause major problems. Viet Nam is also a country that depends on rivers. If there are changes in the flow of those rivers, this would have major implications for people downstream.

If you're going to get much higher temperatures, that would obviously have a serious impact on agriculture.

Rising sea levels are very important because a large part of your population lives close to the coast and therefore rising sea levels and the danger of coastal flooding are things you have to be really concerned about. That means thinking about alternative zoning plans, that means creating new infrastructure to protect people.

How can we address those challenges?

If you have to develop, the question is how much you focus on protecting the environment versus how much you just focus on economic growth. As we've seen, the impacts of climate change on countries like India and Viet Nam and other part of Asia can be quite serious. Now we're dealing with extreme weather events and natural disasters. However, Viet Nam has already had a lot of experience with some of these events and disasters.

We have to create resilience. We have to be able to adapt. This requires resources, knowledge and governance systems that would function not only at the national level but also at the local level.

As I've said, what is most important is to take the so-called no-regret measures. That means implementing early warning systems and providing simple know-how on actions that need to be taken if people are affected by these extreme events and disasters.

And I think that every society has to come up with a plan which suits its own unique situation.

What can we do to raise people's awareness of climate change and extreme weather events?

You have to get the message out to those communities. I think the media has a very important role in this regard. You have to organise local governments and communities to take action on their own. You have to educate the public about the scientific reality of climate change.

Of course, not enough can be done by people on their own. They would need a lot of assistance. But I would say the first thing to do is to give them information and knowledge. Then people can start thinking about how they can protect themselves and their own interest.

In India, we are also not doing enough. People are slowly coming to understand the impact of climate change, though we still have a long way to go.

How can countries like Viet Nam apply both mitigation measures on reducing the impact of climate change and still maintain a high level of GDP growth?

A large number of actions can be taken without any economic cost. We have, in fact, estimated in the fourth assessment report (of IPCC) that by 2030, six gigatons of emissions can be reduced at a negative cost. In other words, you would actually save money by taking actions such as achieving higher energy efficency or using renewable energy. — VNS

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