Climate Change in the Mekong River Basin

Jaap Evers and Assela Pathirana edited a special issue on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Mekong River Basin in the journal Climatic Change. The special issue features research from multiple scientific disciplines (hydrology, engineering, social sciences), a range of themes (e.g. urban, rural, catchment), and on different locations (from upstream China to downstream Vietnam). All papers show how human activities have a much bigger impact on the river than climate change: thus when it comes to climate change adaptation, human interventions are part of the solution, but also of the problem.

The development of this special issues has its origin in the project Post-graduate Research on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Mekong River Basin (PRoACC1 and PRoACC2). In this research project IHE Delft researchers teamed with young talented post graduate researchers from countries of the greater Mekong region to study adaptation to climate change in the Mekong River Basin from various themes and academic disciplines.

Dams in the Mekong River Basin (Pokhrel et al., 2018)

Two years after our final project workshop in Kunming, at Yunan University, China, where we decided to aim for the development of a special issue as an output of our project. In the journal Climatic Change we found our partners to cooperate. After quite a long process of writing, reviewing, editing, it is published and available. The issue brings together work from the upstream Mekong river basin in China, to downstream in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. It offers works on the impacts of irrigation and hydropower development on water and sediment flows, as well as on adaption strategies in urban and rural areas. More specifically, the papers in this issue focus on four interrelated themes: (1) impacts of climate change and human interferences on water, nutrient, and sediment flows (Shrestha et al. 2018); (2) climate change adaptation in urban centers (Radhakrishnan et al. 2018; Pathirana, Radhakrishnan, Ashley, Nguyen, and Zevenbergen 2018; Pathirana, Radhakrishnan, Nguyen, and Zevenbergen 2018); (3) climate change adaptation in rural areas (Gong et al. 2018; Gustafson et al. 2018); and (4) transboundary river management (Ngo et al. 2018).

The temporary rock-filled embankment during the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, Cambodia  (Areerat, 2015)

We conclude that the Mekong River Basin region is vulnerable to direct impacts of climate change, but mostly due to the limited capacities to adapt to climate change. The region is rapidly developing, in terms of infrastructure in the water system and the socioeconomic situation of the communities. The papers in this special issue show that climate change, development, and human interventions will dramatically influence the flows in the Mekong River Basin. Human interventions have the potential to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, but climate change can also increase the negative impacts of human interventions. Climate change impacts will affect different communities within the Mekong River Basin in different ways, and in turn, different communities in the basin will have different impacts on the future river flows. The Mekong River Commission has been unable to coordinate and regulate the interventions done in the basin by its members (Sithirith, Evers, & Gupta, 2016). “For years, the Greater Mekong Subregion countries only use water for their own demand, without considering or caring too much for their neighbors” (Mr. Vinh, head of the Can Tho climate change office). The basins development is thus steered by an invisible hand. Climate change can aggravate the impacts of human interventions and with growing populations and fast economic growth, the pressures on the basins resources increase, creating potential for future conflict between the riparian states. Better understanding of the complex interrelations between climate change, technological interventions, land use change, water use change, and socioeconomic developments in the upstream and downstream riparian countries is needed to better support climate change adaptation strategies. The papers presented in this issue offer insights from a wide variety of scientific disciplines (hydrology, engineering, and social sciences), geographical focus, and adaptation themes.

Flooded street in Can Tho, Vietnam (Saunders, 2017)

We are convinced that inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary research and further sharing of knowledge between scientific disciplines and relevant decision makers (international, national, and local) are necessary to move forward in better understanding the complexities of adaptation and in actually supporting climate change adaptation in urban and rural communities in the Mekong River Basin. We invite you to read the interesting papers in this special issue, especially when they are outside your academic disciplinary comfort zone.

Evers, J., & Pathirana, A. (2018). Adaptation to climate change in the Mekong River Basin: introduction to the special issue. Climatic Change, 149(1), 1-11. doi:doi:10.1007/s10584-018-2242-y

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