I have just returned from attending the second Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Bangkok on March 12-13. It was supposed to have been held in October 2011 but had to be cancelled at the last minute due to the floods that devastated Bangkok at that time. It was jointly organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Asia-Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN) with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Swedish government (amongst others) and brought together over 800 participants from all over Asia and Pacific including ministers, senior government officials, researchers, NGOs, private sector, UN agencies, media and others, with five plenary sessions and twenty parallel thematic sessions. There were also stalls set up by many organisations and a film competition.
Having attended both the first Asian Adaptation Forum in 2010 as well as the second this month, I am quite sure (based on my work on adaptation globally) that Asia leads the world on the practice, planning and knowledge generation of adaptation to climate change. I give a few examples below to demonstrate why this is so.
Mix of countries and ecosystems:
The Asia-Pacific region has by far the biggest population as well as the largest number and variety of countries of all the world's continents. This variety includes developed countries like Japan, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Bangladesh, small island developing states (SIDS) like the Maldives as well as the giants like China and India.
At the same time, it has all the vulnerable ecosystems like mountains in the Himalayas, low-lying coasts, small islands, mangroves and other forests, drylands, major river systems like the Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong and, perhaps most importantly, some of the fastest growing cities and mega-cities.
The knowledge being generated within the region on adaptation in such a wide variety of countries and ecosystems in truly enormous and is also very relevant for many other parts of the world.
Some of the most pro-active governments on tackling adaptation to climate change are also in Asia. They include developed countries such as Japan and Australia as well as LDCs such as Bangladesh and Nepal and SIDS such as the Maldives and Kiribati (to name just a few).
The learning that is coming from such national level adaptation planning (and increasingly also implementation) can be shared with other countries in developing best practices in different areas.
With over half the world's population living in cities and with the fastest growing cities in the world being in Asia, there are already many examples of good adaptation practice in urban settings. One pioneering venture to pilot and share such experiences is the Asian Cities Climate Resilience Network (ACCRN) set up with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, which is already carrying out adaptation in ten cities in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Community based adaptation:
One of the thematic panels at the Forum was on Community Based Adaptation (CBA), where Asia has some of the best experiences to share with other continents. It is significant that the sixth international conference on CBA will be held in the region -- in Hanoi, Vietnam -- from April 16 to 22 this year, and the seventh international conference (CBA7) will be held in Bangladesh next year (April 2013).
Knowledge generation and management:
Many universities and research institutes in the region have started significant research as well as training, teaching and capacity building activities. To name just a few, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines is developing saline- tolerant rice varieties. Several universities in Australia are doing work on drought while Japanese universities are working on sea level rise and coastal defences. It is also significant that the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has chosen to set up the new International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) together with the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS).
Bangladesh at the Asian Adaptation Forum:
Bangladesh was well represented at this year's Asia Adaptation Forum with a large contingent from government, NGOs, universities and media. They participated in many panel discussions and also had stalls showcasing their work.
BCAS also won an award for best video on adaptation for its short video on coastal resilience in Bangladesh.
In conclusion, it can be said that, as adaptation to climate change is becoming a higher priority in developing as well as developed countries globally, the countries in Asia (including developed countries like Japan and Australia) as well as LDCs (like Bangladesh and Nepal) and SIDS (like the Maldives and Kiribati) are amongst the world leaders.