International experiences on the formulation and implementation of transboundary climate change adaptation strategies

J.G. Timmerman, T. Ly, P. Nguyen Huong Thuy

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


The Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative (CCAI) aims at formulating the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Lower Mekong Basin. An important first step in developing this strategy is to review international experiences of existing strategies, to learn from their process and their implementation, and to derive recommendations for a Mekong Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (MASAP). This report provides a review of existing transboundary/basin-wide adaptation strategies. Relevant international basins and regions worldwide were first identified for the review. At the basin level, adaptation strategies of four basins were selected for review, including the Nile, Danube, Rhine and Neman. At the regional level, adaptation strategies of four regional cooperation organisations were reviewed – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adaptation strategy, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa-East African Community-Southern African Development Community (COMESA-EAC-SADC) Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the water sector, the European Adaptation Strategy, and the Amazonian Strategic Cooperation Agenda. The analysis in this report is based on the framework and steps for the development of an adaptation strategy, which is derived from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change. A comparison was made between the UNECE framework and the CCAI framework. The review was based on the following aspects: • the overall formulation process, which examines, inter alia, how the strategy was developed, the parties involved, the duration of the process and the time horizon of the strategy; • the enabling environment, which looks at hindrances to adaptation. The enabling environment includes the policy, legal and institutional frameworks within which the strategy is developed; • the information used and required, including the information management, the impact assessment and the vulnerability assessment; • the goals, objectives and measures of the strategy; • the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the strategy. The review finds that initiatives for developing an adaptation strategy generally rely on the collaboration between the involved ministers, often ministers responsible for water management, and the transboundary institution responsible for coordination. Through the mandate, the parties 2 International experiences on the formulation and implementation of transboundary climate change adaptation strategies can ensure that their interests are included in the process. The first step in developing the strategy is usually a study on the climate change vulnerability of the basin or region. This is mainly achieved by compiling the available studies and drawing generic conclusions from them. Based on the vulnerability assessment, adaptation measures are identified, usually in broad terms, to enable adjusting these measures to the local conditions. The process of developing the adaptation strategy is generally carried out in close cooperation between the countries including the joint body, and representatives and experts of the individual countries at the national level. Usually also a broad range of stakeholders are involved through meetings and workshops. The process of developing an adaptation strategy is considered continuous as changing circumstances, due to climate change, socioeconomic and demographic developments, and changes in vulnerability and the relevant measures may change. In practice, this implies that an adaptation strategy once developed is reviewed every five to ten years to account for the changing environment. To make sure that both the process and the resulting strategy are relevant, efficient and effective, and have the expected impact, the process should be continuously evaluated. The time needed to elaborate the strategy, the time between the adoption of the mandate to develop a strategy and the adoption of the strategy by the parties, varies between one to six years. This depends, among others, on the available information and the extent of the mandate (e.g. a detailed versus a more generic strategy). In general, a period of two to three years is needed, but can be shortened when much of the preparatory work has been finalized, for instance on the vulnerability assessment. The climate change outlook to be included in the strategy usually extends to 2050. A longer time horizon is, however, useful when the strategy includes measures that imply long-term investments, for example, for infrastructures. The infrastructures should therefore be built so as to account for the longerterm projections of climate and other changes. Moreover, since climate change projections become more uncertain as they extend further in time, a time horizon of 2050 with some outlook until 2100 seems an appropriate approach. An important issue is to consider an integrated approach where the strategy is mainstreamed in the relevant policies. This will avoid contradictory policies and hindrances to implement specific measures. Benefits of transboundary cooperation are generally ignored or taken for granted. It is recommended to explicitly clarify the expected benefits of the joint strategy to ensure better implementation of the strategy. International experiences on the formulation and implementation of 3 transboundary climate change adaptation strategies Financing of the measures comes from the national budgets and from donors, depending on the economic situation in the countries. The Danube river basin strategy, for instance, has incorporated the implementation of the strategy in the process of implementing European Union (EU) directives, where the funding largely comes from national budgets. The EU strategy is aiming at directing funds to adaptation. The COMESA-EAC-SADC strategy aims at improving the access to international funds. The mandate adopted as well as the involvement of government representatives in the process of developing the strategy should ensure that the strategy is in line with the respective national policies and legislation, including international agreements. If it appears that the existing policy and/or legislation contradicts the goals and objectives of the mandate or the strategy, reconsideration of these policies and legislation should be included as part of the measures of the strategy. Also, adapting the institutional arrangements may be part of the strategy. The COMESA-EAC-SADC strategy, for instance, explicitly aims at capacity building and improvement of the institutions. An important element in developing the strategy is that there is agreement on the impacts and related vulnerabilities. This entails exchange of all relevant information and extended communication about scenarios and projections between the parties. The generic objective of the strategies is to reduce the vulnerability of society and ecosystems to climate change and improve resilience. The specific goals and objectives for each strategy reflect the priorities of the parties in the different strategies and are rooted in the differences in historical, geographical, political, and cultural contexts of the respective countries. Measures specified in the various strategy documents include both structural (e.g. protective dams) and non-structural (e.g. regulatory and economic instruments) measures. An important development in defining measures is the recognition of ecosystems as an adaptation option, either restoration and preservation or as a green infrastructural measure. The strategy should include an implementation plan to guide the implementation of the strategy and a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan to be able to keep track of the implementation. The M&E plan is also needed to ensure that if the climate change effects differ from the initial projections, the planned measures can be adapted to the changes. For this reason, it is also recommended to regularly revise the strategy. The strategy should therefore be valid for a period of five to ten years. The report ends with an overview of conclusions and recommendations for the development of the Mekong Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (MASAP).
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationVientiane, Lao PDR
PublisherThe Mekong River Commission
Number of pages124
ISBN (Print)9789932412129
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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