Category: Myanmar

Four Adaptation Opportunities Myanmar Can Take to Build Resilience to Climate Change

Four Adaptation Opportunities Myanmar Can Take to Build Resilience to Climate Change

By Georgina Wade

Myanmar has experienced a number of extreme weather events in recent years, many of which are likely to worsen with climate change. In 2019, the country suffered record pre-monsoon heat. The city of Yangon recorded 42 degrees Celsius in April – a new record for the city. Dozens of people were admitted to hospital with symptoms of heatstroke, and seven individuals died in the Yangon and Bago regions due to the extreme temperatures. In 2008, Cyclonic Storm Nargis caused the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Myanmar. 84,500 people were killed, and 53,800 went missing. In 2015, severe flooding affected twelve out of Myanmar’s 14 states, resulting in about 103 deaths and displacing up to a million people.The Earth is getting warmer, meaning that extreme weather events are likely to become more severe.

Adaptation efforts are essential for Myanmar to build its resilience to climate change, and achieve its development objectives. As climate impacts become more severe, Myanmar cannot afford inaction. The country does have opportunities to build its resilience to climate change, many of which are low-cost and can result in positive co-benefits. Here are four adaptation opportunities that have the potential to make a significant difference to the lives and livelihoods of Myanmar’s population.  

1.Invest in Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are defined as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.[1] NbS have a variety of co-benefits that can range from biodiversity conservation, decreases in water runoff, the creation of new jobs, and poverty reduction. For example, Myanmar’s mangroves can protect shorelines from damaging storms and hurricanes by dissipating the energy from waves and winds and preventing erosion by stabilising sediments with their tangled root systems. Mangroves provide nursery habitats for many wildlife species, including commercial fish and crustaceans, contributing to sustaining the local abundance of fish and shellfish populations. Restoring these natural habitats provides a valuable opportunity for building resilience and fisher livelihoods.

The impact of storm surge on coastal infrastructure and people with and without mangrove forests.Source: World Bank and Punto Aparte

2.Ensure that new infrastructure is climate-resilient

Climate-resilient infrastructure is planned, designed, built, and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions. Myanmar needs to upgrade existing infrastructure to reduce vulnerabilities and adapt to a changing climate and reduce emissions through greener transport systems. Furthermore, ensuring the resilience of infrastructure protects them from further climate-related damages. For example, changing the composition of road surfaces can prevent them from deforming in high temperatures.

Woman and child sit outside their house with an unfinished roof. By European Union/ECHO/ Pierre Prakash

3.Strengthen community knowledge management

Knowing how to use the tools for change is just as important as having them. There is an urgent need to foster knowledge and design management techniques into planning. Technological innovation and establishing institutional arrangements can help strengthen Myanmar’s capacity to adapt. Providing vulnerable communities with the knowledge, skills, and resources to mitigate the risks of and recover from climate shocks, and stresses will empower them and strengthen their resilience to climate change impacts. Additionally, educating people about different adaptation practices, such as pursuing sustainable farming methods or using new resilience infrastructure, doesn’t require any physical infrastructure to be built, making for adaptation that is low-cost, high impact and long-lasting.

Community members, Myanmar. By Sukun, 2017

4.Secure finance

Myanmar needs finance and support to adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon development. Whilst adaptation finance to developing countries is available, it needs to increase significantly, and improvements need to be made to make it more accessible. At this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, discussions over delivering the $100 billion finance target will take place. With Myanmar on track to experience worsening impacts of climate change, the country will need to develop investable adaptation projects that can attract finance from the principal climate finance mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Adaptation Fund (AF) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).

International co-operation is needed

Climate change has already resulted in loss of life and damage to Myanmar’s economy and put its renowned biodiversity and natural resources under increased pressure. The country’s exposure to climate impacts is high, meaning that swift adaptation efforts are necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of its population. These efforts need to be made across all parts of Myanmar’s economy and society and become fully integrated into its development planning to ensure its development. Myanmar will need support from the international community to realise these goals, particularly in the form of climate finance, technology and capacity transfers from wealthy countries.

This year’s COP26 will be significant. Coming five years after the Paris Agreement came into force, it represents the deadline for countries to renew their carbon reduction pledges, and increase their ambition towards meeting the 1.5˚C temperature target. For countries like Myanmar, co-operation with other climate-vulnerable nations will be important to ensure they are able to hold wealthy to account, putting pressure on them to meet their obligations and limit the damage that will result from climate change.


[1] IUCN. Commission on Ecosystem Management.
Cover image: Mangrove forest in Myanmar. By Dinesh Valke, Flickr.
Intergenerational cooperation on climate change is needed to deliver the future that Myanmar’s youth deserve

Intergenerational cooperation on climate change is needed to deliver the future that Myanmar’s youth deserve

By Will Bugler

Young people in Myanmar are fighting for their futures on several fronts: COVID, climate and coup. Myanmar’s youth have a long history of supporting peace and democracy. Their energy and creativity are needed now more than ever. Whilst many young people may feel let down, with some justification, by older generations, overcoming the challenges the country now faces requires unprecedented cooperation across age groups.

In contrast to many parts of the world, the political engagement of young people in Myanmar is not in doubt. Less than 72 hours after the military took power, thousands took to the county’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, to express their anger and frustration. The continued presence of young people on the streets, risking their lives and liberty in protest at the threat to their democracy, is a powerful demonstration of their commitment to securing a prosperous future for their country.

Today’s protests are rooted in a rich history of youth activism. From the student and youth movements that impacted state-level power structures and contributed to independence from the British colony in the late 1940s to the Saffron Revolution in 2007, Myanmar’s young people have played an essential role in influencing the country’s politics. One reason for the vociferousness of the youth protests today is that youth organisations and networks have been very active in Myanmar’s peace process since the country last emerged from dictatorship in 2015.

Despite the rich history of activism of their elders, amongst today’s younger generation there remains a deep impression that older generations have governed Myanmar at the expense of the needs and aspirations of the younger. Writing in the Financial Times, Myanmar Historian Thant Myint-U claimed the country has been “hobbled by gerontocracy and a narrow focus on elections and constitutions”.

The short-sighted mismanagement by older generations – more concerned with holding onto power than acting in future generations’ interest – is central to Myanmar’s youth climate movement’s frustrations. The active and growing groups of youth climate activists across Myanmar organised peaceful rallies and protests during the global climate-strike demonstrations in 2019, calling for climate justice.

Image: Myanmar Young Leaders alumni Khin Zarchi Latt at the climate rally in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: UnionAID (2019)

Justice is fundamental to the climate issue

Looking beyond the immediate danger to Myanmar’s democracy, climate change represents the greatest threat to younger people’s ability to realise their ambitions. Issues of justice are intrinsic to climate change; they cannot be ignored.

Climate injustice manifests in many ways, but principally geographically, economically and temporally. The nature of geographical injustice is that climate impacts will not affect all countries equally. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, Myanmar is the second most climate change-affected country in the world. However, the country’s historical contribution to global warming is minuscule compared to industrialised countries, which have benefited greatly from their fossil-fuel-drive industrial revolutions.

Linked to geographical injustice is economic injustice, both globally and within each country. Climate impacts affect the poorest sections of society more severely, while wealthier people are typically more able to adapt to climate change and withstand economic losses.

Finally, temporal injustice derives from the fact that young people, and indeed future generations, have done little or nothing to contribute to climate change, yet are the ones that will suffer the consequences of decisions made on their behalf. These facts are inescapable and must be acknowledged to ensure that our response to climate change is just.

Building bridges across divides

Trying to resolve the multi-dimensional unfairness of climate justice through ‘us vs. them’ definitions will not result in a just outcome. There is a danger in drawing battle lines when what is needed are bridges. There will be no way forward, no just solutions found, by pitching young vs old, or rich vs poor. Climate change demands unprecedented levels of cooperation across age groups, ethnicities and social groups.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting biodiversity, restoring ecosystems, improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable populations, and building resilience into the fabric of societies and communities will mean working together towards a common cause. For this to work, there must be an open, intergenerational dialogue to develop a shared vision for Myanmar’s future.

Importantly it also requires bringing Myanmar’s young people closer to the decision-making processes. Over one-third of Myanmar’s population are between 15 and 35 years old;[1] their role cannot be restricted to shouting from the sidelines, relentlessly demanding democracy, peace, and climate justice.

An effective process for climate action must enable youth representatives from diverse social groups to join with others across generations and play a substantive role in shaping the future. In 2019 the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth commissioned a policy paper on youth-inclusive peace processes. The paper maps young people’s engagement in peace processes around the world, highlighting the dynamic roles that young people have taken in shaping peace agreements. The paper also shows that the positive impacts of young people’s efforts relate to their proximity to the ‘negotiation table’. This is likely to hold true for climate, just as much as for peace.

A progressive agenda

Myanmar’s youth continue to show courage in the face of forces that threaten their future. Thant Myint-U urges them to reject the “terrible legacies” that they inherited and “craft a progressive agenda across ethnic lines, centred on inequality and development as well as peace and justice.”

In a real sense, climate change presents an excellent opportunity to bridge divides and be a central issue of Myint-U’s progressive agenda. The international climate movement is a clear demonstration of this. Young people in Myanmar are now part of a global groundswell of young people in countries worldwide. This has opened dialogue between like-minded people across continents to tackle a common problem. There is no reason why this cannot be repeated across age groups as well, ensuring a just future for generations to come.


[1] According to Myanmar’s National Youth Policy.


Cover Image: Climate protest in Yangon, 2019. Credit: Earth Day Network Myanmar
The scale of the climate challenge facing Myanmar

The scale of the climate challenge facing Myanmar

By Georgina Wade

Today, Myanmar is in the midst of a fight that will determine the future of its democracy. While this inevitably demands the full attention and energy of the population, the future holds other challenges of its own. The military takeover came just as the government was preparing for a crucial year for climate change, culminating in the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, UK, in November. According to the 2020 Global Climate Risk Index, Myanmar is the world’s second most disaster-prone country, exposed to multiple climate-related hazards, including floods, cyclones, landslides, and droughts. Climate impacts will be felt through the whole economy and will touch all aspects of society. Building resilience will require the government to put climate change at the heart of its decision-making processes and development plans. Only an integrated approach that recognises the interconnected nature of climate risks will be effective.

Over the past decade, Myanmar has made some progress. The country had decreased its poverty rate from 48.2 per cent in 2005 to 24.8 per cent in 2017. Whilst this represents good progress, climate change threatens further development as it will impact all sectors in Myanmar, including agriculture, transport and energy.

Agriculture

Agriculture remains the backbone of Myanmar’s economy, employing over half of the labour force. Agricultural reforms have seen Myanmar reach a state of self-sufficiency in staple foods, and the country had experienced a rapid decline in malnutrition figures in just a few decades. For instance, the prevalence of stunting among children below the age of five had reduced from around 40 per cent in the 1990s to less than 30 per cent in 2016.

Despite this progress, seasonal food insecurity remains a concern across Myanmar. Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said in a speech in 2019 that “much work remains to be done for Myanmar to achieve SDG-2, the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030.” Climate impacts threaten to make this goal even harder to reach. 

Increased rainfall during the wet season and decreased rainfall during the dry season may reduce agricultural production for key crops. More frequent extreme heat and higher average temperatures may also lead to crop failures, reduce productivity, or alter staple crops’ nutritional content. Despite Myanmar’s economic progress, its reliance on the agricultural sector makes over half of the labour force highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. 

Transport

Productivity is linked to connectivity – efforts to improve transport connectivity in Myanmar present opportunities to boost trade, growth and regional integration. When transport systems are efficient and reliable, they provide economic and social opportunities and benefits that result in positive multiplier effects such as better accessibility to market and employment.

Research suggests that increased public spending on transport infrastructure over the next decade could reduce logistics costs by around 30 per cent and increase annual GDP by up to $40 bn. Energy, water and telecommunications infrastructure also face increased risk from physical damage and disruption caused by storms, floods and other hazards becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.

Energy

A reliable supply of energy is fundamental for Myanmar’s continued economic development. Myanmar has aggressively pursued hydropower as a way of meeting increasing demand whilst limiting its carbon emissions. Hydropower, the world’s leading renewable energy resource for electricity generation, accounted for 75 per cent of the country’s electricity consumption in 2017.

Over-reliance on hydropower holds its problems. Heatwaves and an increasing number of extreme heat days could increase energy demand for air conditioning and industrial cooling. At the same time, droughts and change in river flows due to erratic rainfall may affect hydropower energy generation. The costs of power outages will be felt across the whole economy, as industrial and commercial rely on a continuous power supply.

Diversified power systems that draw on multiple forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, are more resilient to climate impacts and can deliver energy closer to the communities that they serve. Nature-based solutions, such as reforestation, can also reduce the risk to hydropower by regulating water flow and stabilising the soil, preventing landslides and improving water quality.

When Myanmar is able to look towards the future once more, it must take steps to build its climate resilience to achieve its development objectives. An integrated approach is required to manage these interconnected challenges.

Climate change must be integrated into decision-making across all government departments. For it to be taken seriously, it must also be understood as a priority issue at the highest levels including within the Ministry of Planning and Finance. A broader process of engagement with Myanmar’s people is also required to ensure the country can move forward towards a future in which everyone can share. There is much reconciliation to do in the meantime to achieve this.


Cover image: Landslide in Myanmar. Climate change will make these events more common.  By Sukun, 2017

Infographic references:

i.Food Security Cluster (FSC); Myanmar

ii. The Myanmar Times (2020); Extreme weather in Myanmar’s Magwe breaks temperature record

iii. Frontier Myanmar (2019); The National League for Democracy’s power fail

iv. Global Witness (2020); Myanmar jade mine disaster highlights government inaction