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Looking at 2050 to create better policy today

by Georgina Smith, CIAT | @georginajsmith | CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture)
Monday, 18 November 2013 11:47 GMT

Ethnic Hmong farmers work on a terraced paddy field in Vietnam's northern Mu Cang Chai district, 360 km (225 miles) northwest of Hanoi on June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Tuan DC

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Modeling the future can help drive more effective decisions now

When Typhoon Haiyan hurtled across the South China Sea, leaving the Philippines reeling and thousands dead, more than 600,000 people in regions at risk in Vietnam were evacuated by authorities.

“Recent extreme weather events taking place in Southeast Asia are a stark reminder of the dangers of climate change, where ever more strong and frequent events like this one are projected,” said Andy Jarvis, leader of the agricultural research group CGIAR’s research programme on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS).

Amid such uncertainty, the programme has launched a first round of scenario-developing talks on climate-smart adaptation policy in Vietnam, looking at future food security, environments and livelihoods in Southeast Asia.

 “It is vital that flexible policy frameworks are developed now to cope with extreme climate conditions in the future,” said Jarvis.

As war ships reach the Philippines loaded with relief aid for those recovering from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, it is grimly fitting that methods associated with military planning are also being deployed to develop future climate-smart policy.


Originally used by the army to explore factors influencing conflict, and by the private sector to examine risk, the use of scenarios explores assumptions about different possible futures with the intention of shaping the best possible defences to uncertain threats.

Over three days, experts and government representatives from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos explored four future scenarios and their consequences, taking into account socio-economic factors likely to  affect regional responses to future climate threats.

Factors included things like regulated or unregulated markets, high or low investment in agriculture, weak or strong national policy enforcement, collaboration or political conflict.

The CCAFS modelling team will use data gathered during the talks to look as possible socio-economic trajectories impacting food security in the region. The models - IMPACT, designed to examine alternative futures for global food supply, and GLOBIOM, which assesses land use trade-offs in agriculture, bioenergy and forestry – will combine four 2050 scenarios developed by the delegates with climate scenarios to test future regional policy responses.

 “We’re not trying to predict the future. The goal of scenarios work is to create a flexible policy framework and (ensure) we are not thinking about climate in a vacuum,” said Joost Vervoort, a CCAFS scenarios officer.


The scenarios range from “the land of the golden Mekong” - a fully democratic and integrated region to “Buffalo buffalo,” a challenging scenario for climate change adaptation in which agricultural land is submerged, biodiversity has declined and people are migrating and suffering civil strife.

Mapping backwards from future scenarios to the present encourages thinking outside the box, said Ariella Helfgott, a facilitator of the discussions and senior visiting research fellow in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. “People have a better capacity to re-frame - to rethink a topic,” she said.

Talking about regional integration in the future prompted discussion around current shared policies and the concept of stronger Asian unity, said Lor Bunna, head of agronomy and farming systems at Cambodia’s Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

Ty Sokhun, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said scenarios work will enable more prudent decisions about how to allocate budgets and invest in projects in the future.

But the private sector need to be more involved, said Van David Vinchet, deputy secretary general of the Alliance of Rice Producer and Exporters of Cambodia. “I don’t think the private sector is fully conscious of the gravity of climate change,” he said. “Whatever scenarios come up, there is need to raise awareness more widely.”

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