13 Nov 2019 Press release Ecosystems

Major new project to use nature-based solutions to help Laos adapt to climate change

  • 10 per cent of Laos’ population will benefit from a new project using nature-based solutions to reduce urban flooding.
  • The project is part of a much larger ‘paradigm shift’ in climate adaptation, from hard ‘grey’ infrastructure to integrated solutions that includes ‘green’ infrastructure.
  • It is the largest ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) project in Laos, and the first-ever urban EbA project to be approved by the Green Climate Fund.

Songdo, 13 November 2019 – The Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a major funder of climate projects, has approved a US$10 million project that’s expected to benefit 10 per cent of Laos’ population. The project is using nature-based solutions in four cities to build resilience towards ever-increasing floods caused by climate change.

The project represents a major ‘paradigm shift’ of urban flood management in Laos, from hard infrastructure towards the integration of nature-based solutions, including the restoration of 1,500 ha of urban wetland and stream ecosystems to regulate water flow and thus reduce flood risk.

The five-year project will be executed by Laos’ Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, with support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Ecosystems provide people with vital services, even in cities”, says Jessica Troni, Head of the Climate Change Adaptation Unit at UNEP. “By restoring and protecting vast areas of urban forest and wetlands, we can increase infiltration of water into the ground and regulate the flow of water in streams and rivers. This will ultimately lead to fewer, less intense floods.”

“This project gives us a powerful example of how nature provides solutions for managing climate change,” she added.

The method of using nature-based solutions to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on livelihoods is known as ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). The project represents a new frontier on two counts: It’s the first EbA project in cities ever to be funded by the GCF, and it’s the largest EbA project of any kind in Laos.

Through climate risk modelling and consultations with planning institutions in Laos, sites in the capital, Vientiane, and in Paksan, Savannakhet, and Pakse were identified as the most vulnerable to climate change.

“Climate change in our country is causing devastating floods in urban areas,” says Syamphone Sengchandala, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Climate Change at Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. “But this project offers hope for the future by recognizing that nature provides some of our greatest defences against extreme weather. The question is whether we can learn to protect these natural services, and this project is a major step forward.”

Damages from floods in 2018 were equivalent to 10 per cent of the country’s entire budget for the same year. Constrained by high levels of poverty, the country is limited in its ability to adapt.

Sengchandala continued: “Support from the Green Climate Fund is incredibly important and timely for addressing these climate impacts and achieving this paradigm shift in adaptation from grey to green infrastructure. Here is a great opportunity to take the urgently needed action to reduce the flood vulnerability of our cities in Laos.”

A growing body of scientific research indicates that these EbA solutions can be vastly more cost-effective compared to ‘hard’ infrastructure.

The ecological restoration will be undertaken using suitable local species, ensuring long-term resilience. This restoration, especially in the Paksan wetland, will have additional benefits to supporting biodiversity, improving habitats for the Siamese tiger perch and Jullien’s golden carp, both of which are endangered.  

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Keishamaza Rukikaire, Head of News and Media, UN Environment Programme
Marcus Nield, Climate Change Adaptation Unit, UN Environment Programme