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Asian Lawmakers: Region Pivotal in Fighting Climate Change


FILE - The Mekong River flows by Vientiane, Laos. (R. Corben for VOA)

Asian lawmakers say their region is pivotal to any global efforts at limiting climate change and they are committed to finding solutions.

At a just concluded meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Vietnam, lawmakers from countries across the region gathered to share their fears stemming from hotter global temperatures - as well as what to do about it - from incorporating the input of indigenous peoples, to carving out underground reservoirs for times of flooding.

“Climate change has no passport,” IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong said at the three-day meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, which ended Saturday. “It’s cross-national.”

The host city also exemplified why the Asia-Pacific region is at the center of environmental concerns worldwide. The region has one billion urban dwellers, more than the rest of the globe combined, according to the U.N. Development Program. And urbanites have an outsized impact on their ecosystems.

Ho Chi Minh City, a massive metropolis of 10 million people, generates waste and consumes water at a volume equal to 17 times the average across Vietnam, said the city’s Communist Party chief, Nguyen Thien Nhan.

He later led the parliamentarians down to the Mekong Delta to plant mangrove trees and witness the coastal erosion of what Vietnam says is among the world’s top three deltas threatened by climate change.

Thai officials told VOA they would be planting mangroves after they returned from the Vietnam trip, too.

“The most imminent threat to Thailand in terms of climate change is first, of course, deforestation and the reduction of green [areas] in Thailand,” Chaiyuth Promsookt, chair of the Thai National Assembly’s committee on natural resources and environment, said on the sidelines of the conference.

He said the government set a goal of maintaining at least 40-percent forest cover over the next two decades. The mangroves are meant to help reach that target, as well as guard the coasts from erosion.

Another measure is to shift ethnic minorities toward cherry and apple farming to discourage illegal logging. Chaiyuth said this would effect a “fair distribution of income and distribution of the outcomes of development.”

“His majesty the late king believed that this would be more inclusive in terms of development, in terms of joining the people, especially the underprivileged people in the rural areas,” he said.

That’s also in keeping with a suggestion from Anna Schreyoegg, climate change policy and mitigation adviser at GIZ Vietnam, a German-based development agency. She recommended officials craft environmental policy that incorporates scientific evidence, as well as input from indigenous groups and women.

Deforestation is cause for concern in Laos, too. The small country may seem immune to climate change because it is landlocked, unlike the island constellations of Indonesia and the Philippines, and the long coastlines of Vietnam and Myanmar. But the lost trees are raising temperatures in Laos, according to Sanya Praseuth, vice chair of the Laos National Assembly’s economic, technology and environment committee.

“Our country [is] getting hotter comparing with the previous” years, he told VOA. “And the typhoons are not coming as we’re expecting, as in each season. And that is a change that we cannot predict, and that is a main problem.”

Laos is trying to curb the problem by suspending logging permits.

But Indonesian parliamentarian Siti Hediati Soeharto suggested developing nations could only do so much. She said rich economies have a greater responsibility to stem greenhouse gas emissions, as well as provide aid for climate change efforts in the developing world.

“Indonesia is of the view that developed countries should continue taking the lead,” she said.

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