FEATURE: Climate resilient cities – key lessons from Vietnam
Sinh Bach Tan and Toan Vu Canh of the National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies and Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network Programme (Vietnam), blog on the occasion of the launch of the IPCC SREX report, ‘Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation’.
As one of the countries most affected by climate change, the need for climate change adaptation in Vietnam is indisputable. However, this is a complex issue which extends beyond existing and traditional approaches and experiences of coping with natural hazards in Vietnam. The Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) is the first initiative supporting urban climate resilience in Vietnam. The project has been implemented over the last three years and will continue for at least two more. In this article, we would like to share some key findings and lessons based on our experience of working closely with local people in three cities taking part of the ACCCRN program in Vietnam.
First, resilience planning has to combine both top-down and bottom-up approaches. It must merge scientific and local knowledge with a high level of participation and dynamic interaction between multiple stakeholders. It’s very important to focus on process (e.g. How is a climate resilience action plan developed? Who is involved? What are the interactions between stakeholders?) and not only the end product, which is sometimes just a paper without clear meaning. Experiences have clearly shown the importance of addressing organisational, political and social aspects and institutional arrangements of climate change resilience planning, in addition to the technical aspects. These other factors have been as important as technical knowledge and capacities in the success of the programme, especially at the early stages of planning when trust must be generated among players.
Second, there is a major demand for capacity-building and awareness-raising on climate change resilience which needs to be conducted as the first urgent step. However, our experiences show that this is a long and iterative process. After more than two years of working closely with local partners, providing hands-on training and at times day-to-day support, their capacity has increased significantly, but the need to maintain what they learned and for improvement is still very high. Moreover, the ACCCRN program shows that mobilising multiple stakeholders, enabling a shared learning environment, engaging them to work with experts in project activities, and giving them the leadership role may be the most effective way to build their capacity. On the other hand, working with local people can help the climate experts fully understand the local context and consequently ensure the quality of their work and the support they provide, as they will have a better understanding of climate-related risks but not of local risks, vulnerabilities, or capacities to respond in particular places.
Third, the concept of capacity mentioned above does not refer only to technical capacity related to climate science but also to the ability to coordinate and engage multiple stakeholders including vulnerable communities, to facilitate discussion, learning and sharing among them, and to work together. Climate change requires collective efforts that go beyond the responsibilities and capacity of any single institution (such as ministries and departments of natural resources and environment, agriculture and rural development). Thus, there is an urgent need to have one agency in charge of coordination. There have been many activities and projects related to climate change implemented in the three ACCCRN cities including Da Nang, Quy Nhon and Can Tho but there is no mechanism for communication and information sharing; nobody knows what others are working on or have done already. This agency should play a neutral role and should not be placed under any single department but under a city/province Steering Committee. This will enable them to mobilise people and facilitate action across sectors and levels.
Fourth, regarding specific questions of resilience planning, experiences from ACCCRN suggest that during the process of assessing vulnerability and developing resilience action plans for a city/province, we need to apply a holistic view which looks both at the impacts of climate change and of development and a systematic approach to address the cross-cutting linkages of sectors and levels. For example, deforestation in a watershed or other man-made, development-related interventions could have as great or greater impact on vulnerability than climate change factors. According to a study under the ACCCRN program in Nhon Binh ward, Quy Nhon city, the flood risks of many areas in the city in the last decades has been increasing due to the development of a number of “badly constructed infrastructures”. This does not yet include climate change related factors such as railroad, university building, waster water treatment station on the flood way.
Fifth, feedback from ACCCRN city partners indicates a need for detailed and practical national guidelines for developing a climate change adaptation action plan and mainstreaming climate change adaptation into local social economic development plans (SEDP) and urban master plans. These documents should be simple and based on the real experiences of existing projects and programmess. In addition, ACCCRN’s experiences highlight the importance of the development process for city master plans and SEDPs, as these have a major influence on the nature of risks in urban areas. More specifically, instead of applying traditional top-down approaches to planning, development planning process should link more with communities and with people on the ground who understand local context, local issues and are directly affected by climate change and the way their city is developed.
CDKN is supporting a series of events presenting the regional implications of the IPCC SREX report.
 According to Dang, N.M., M.S. Babel, and H.T. Luong (2010). Evaluation of flood risk parameters in the Day River flood diversion area, Red River Delta, Vietnam. Natural Hazards DOI 10.1007/s11069-010-9558-x; Hung, H.V., R. Shaw, and M. Kobayashi (2007). Flood risk management for the RUA of Hanoi: importance of community perception of catastrophic flood risk in disaster risk planning. Disaster Prevention and Management 16(2): 245-258; Lebel, L., T. Foran, P. Garden , and B.J. Manuta (2009). Adaptation to climate change and social justice: challenges for flood and disaster management in Thailand In Climate change adaptation in the water sector, F. Ludwig, et al., Editors. Earthscan: London. Pages 125-141.
 According to Huynh, C.V., DiGregorio, M (2011). Analysis of historical flood in 2009 in Nhon Binh ward, Quy Nhon city.