Bracing for impact

A conversation with U Hla Maung Thein, Acting Director General of Environmental Conservation Department


A boy carries buckets to collect drinking water at Sapa village, in the outskirts of Mandalay, Myanmar. Photo: Hein Htet/EPA

U Hla Maung Thein spoke to Jessica Mudditt recently about the department’s goals and initiatives to tackle the impact of climate change in Myanmar, which in 2016 was ranked as among the world’s most vulnerable countries. The department of environmental conservation is a partner of the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance, which will shortly publish a national climate change strategy to guide Myanmar in responding to the challenges posed by climate change.

Q: What are the main areas of focus for the environmental conservation department (ECD) at the moment?

A:The ECD has three main areas of focus. The first concerns investment; that is, how to combine investment in the business sector with environmental issues. The second is climate change, and more specifically, climate change adaptation and mitigation. The third and final aspect of our work involves waste management. With rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, proper waste management is extremely important as it has a major impact on the state of the environment.

How important is it that Myanmar tackles climate change and takes steps to mitigate the impacts, and what will be the consequence if Myanmar fails to do so?

After the Paris agreement was reached, Myanmar took on two main components, or you could say two main objectives, regarding climate change. The first is climate change adaptation. Adaption must be implemented in every sector, because if that does not happen, Myanmar will not be appropriately ready to respond to the challenges climate change brings. Its impacts are felt across every sector. And in the long term, Myanmar will be able to mitigate the effects of climate change like developed countries do at present – that is the second aspect.

In order to implement both components, Myanmar has already developed a comprehensive national levelled Climate Change Strategy to integrate into all the sectors. This will be published shortly. It has also drawn up an action plan for implementing the strategy. At the local level, Myanmar has been reducing vulnerability in all sectors where the effects of climate change are actually happening. But there are somelimitations. It will need to implementthe strategy across every sector for it to be a success.

For Myanmar, it simply isn’t possible for failure to occur when it comes to tackling climate change. Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world and if Myanmar failed to lessen the impacts of climate change, it would face significant losses and damage, both physical and financial. So it is vital for Myanmar to roll out adaptation comprehensively.

On the other hand, Myanmar agreed to fulfill the Paris Agreement. As a member of the convention countries, Myanmar has a responsibility and obligation to implement the Paris Agreement. However, Myanmar has some limitations in being able to do so. There are limitations in technology, capability and capacity, as well as a limitation on available funds. In order to help Myanmar succeed, the international community needs to work in cooperation with Myanmar and provide assistance. Myanmar cannot succeed alone.

Please explain the role of the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA) in helping Myanmar to tackle climate change.

The MCCA has developed the national-levelled Climate Change Strategy, which will soon be published. MCCA has assisted in coordination among all the sectors for Myanmar to implement going forward. In order to implement short-term, medium-term and long-term activities, the MCCA undertook capacity development of a variety of organisations, agencies and groups. The MCCA also provided support for them to acquire the necessary technical know-how and funding opportunities. The MCCA is a main mechanism for these roles.

Please explain what COP22 and the Paris Agreement involves for Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has signed up to the Paris Agreement, which is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance. It starts in the year 2020. The terms and language of the agreement were negotiated by representatives from 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris, and it was adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015. Then it was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 at a ceremony in New York to mark Earth Day. After several European Union states ratified the agreement in October 2016, there were enough countries that had ratified the agreement that produce enough of the world's greenhouse gases for the agreement to enter into force, and it went into force on 4 November last year.

It is hoped that Myanmar will ratify the Paris Agreement sometime this year. After being ratified by the Myanmar Government, Myanmar will be obligated to fulfill its responsibilities set out under the Paris Agreement.

During COP22, which is also known as the ‘Conference of the Parties’ and took place last year in Morocco, representatives from Myanmar discussed its priorities and agreed certain things. Myanmar will develop and submit an NDC and discussions at COP22 gave assurances that Myanmar will receive funding for its national action plan. It was also agreed that Myanmar’s agricultural sector will be given top-most priority, because it is the most vulnerable to climate change. It was also discussed how the international community can provide support for losses and damage brought about by climate change. COP22 was a useful and productive event for us and we saw it as a positive for Myanmar to be involved.

What makes Myanmar vulnerable to climate change and which are the most vulnerable?

Climate change has occurred due to industrialisation and not because of Myanmar doing the wrong thing. Myanmar is a ‘carbon sink’ country, which means that it absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. Myanmar has not caused climate change,but it is certainly facing the impacts and problems caused by climate change.

Myanmar relies mainly on natural resources, as it is an agricultural-based economy. As many as 80 percent of the population rely on agriculture for a livelihood, so even generally speaking, we are all vulnerable. This is because climate change has an enormous impact on its agricultural sector. For example, geographically, it is the coastal, low-lying areas that flood frequently and the middle of Myanmar where there are droughts and large populations that are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Among all the sectors, Agriculture is mostly impacted. This is why the agricultural sector is given first priority for adaptation efforts.

Has Myanmar improved its disaster preparedness levels?

I have not been directly involved in disaster preparedness work, but I do know that Myanmar has formed a disaster preparedness national committee, which is led by a vice president in order for it to be a well-coordinated effort in all sectors. Under this national committee, sub-national committees have been formed. Nationally leveled funds have been created for the occurrence of a disaster and will go towards relief and resettlement. Finally, a section for disaster risk reduction is included in the six areas of nationally leveled funds in the Myanmar Climate Change Strategy for the short-term, immediate term and long-term. This serves as a brief for disaster preparedness. At the same time, training in disaster preparedness had been given under the lead department, which is the Relief and Resettlement Department. The Department of Metrology and Hydrology has installed stations with international support working in coordination and it has established Early Warning Systems and carried out projection studies. The MCCA has also conducted vulnerability assessments. All this work is done to make Myanmar better equipped in disaster preparedness.

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