The world in 2050: on the front line

12 November, 2013 by (comments)

Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam © Georgina Smith/CIAT

Devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, with thousands dead, has left the Philippines reeling. As the typhoon headed across the South China Sea towards Vietnam, more than 600,000 people were evacuated from regions at risk by the authorities. The country escaped major disaster, but the threats posed by extreme climate conditions are ever present.

“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 CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. “It is vital that flexible policy frameworks are developed now to cope with extreme climate conditions in future.”

Amid such uncertainty, the CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) scenarios team and The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Economics and policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC) program, launched the first round of scenario talks on climate-smart adaptation policy in Vietnam, entitled: “Scenarios for Future Food Security, Environments and Livelihoods in Southeast Asia.”

Around 60 delegates from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam discussed factors likely to impact food security and increase vulnerability in a world where extreme weather looks only set to increase. Looking to the future for clues, consensus on what 2050 might look like emerged.

Climate-smart policy needed


Delegates used brightly colored paper to high-light important factors of change © Rebekkah Sparrow

Southeast Asia contains the world’s second largest area of rainforest after the Amazon Basin, and major rice bowls in the Mekong River and Red River Deltas, are both already at risk of salinity from sea level rises.

Vietnam’s Vice-Director of Department of Science, Technology and Environment, Dinh Vu Thanh, said efforts are underway to cope with climate change, but more quantitative data and the opportunity to build networks among countries in the region with common resources, is welcome.

Getting down to details: the world in 2050

Following the first day of intense debate as delegates grappled with details – whether agricultural development should be chosen at the expense of agricultural investment; how conflict should be defined – the bigger picture emerged. “Day one is definitely the most difficult,” said Joost Vervoort CCAFS scenarios officer and lead facilitator.

Factors such as regulated or unregulated markets, high or low public and private investment in agriculture, weak policy or strong national policy enforcement, regional collaboration or political conflict were discussed. Even concepts that seem unrealistic today were debated in the fresh context of possibility.

Agriculture land submerged, mass private sector investment, a decline in biodiversity, migration and civil strife represented the least optimistic of the four scenarios, named “buffalo, buffalo” to capture underlying conflict. The most optimistic, “the land of the golden Mekong,” projects a fully democratic combined state, strong central currency, state-of-the-art education system – with challenges presented by labour provision.

In a workshop from 3 to 5 November in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam organized by the FAO EPIC program, CCAFS, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, NOMAFSI and MARD, regional stakeholders from development organizations, governments,

delegates discuss regional factors which will impact scenario building © Rebekkah Sparrow

Model futures

Originally deployed by the military to explore factors influencing conflict, and by the private sector to manage risk, scenario models project assumptions about the future with the intention of shaping the best possible defences to uncertain threats.

Combining two scenarios models – IMPACT, designed to examine alternative futures for global food supply, and GLOBIOM, which assesses land use trade-offs in agriculture, bioenergy and forestry – the CCAFS team will use information gathered during these talks to simulate multiple socio-economic trajectories impacting food security in the region and test out future policy responses.

Vervoort said: “We’re not trying to predict the future. The goal of scenarios work is to take into account socio-economic conditions which could affect regional responses to climate threats to create a flexible framework, we are not thinking about climate in a vacuum.”

Head of the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Laos, Khamfeuane Sioudom, said the process of framing future scenarios and considering how to respond to them has been very useful in the Southeast Asian context.

Thinking 2050

Mapping backwards from future scenarios to the present day encourages thinking outside the box, said Ariella Helfgott, facilitator 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 and enforcement in future prompted discussion around current shared policy and the concept of a 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 scenario development will enable more prudent decisions about future budget allocation and investment projects.

Yet raising awareness will be difficult among policy makers if the private sector are not more involved, said Deputy Secretary General of the Alliance of Rice Producer and Exporters of Cambodia, Van David Vinchet.

“No government can create policy without the private sector,” he said. “[But] I don’t think the private sector is fully conscious of the gravity of climate change. Whatever scenarios come up, there is need to raise awareness more widely,” he said.

The long-term, practical scenarios method is expected to stimulate policy dialogue and awareness. Results are expected to guide investment, institutional change and generate entry points for wider climate adaptation, support and policy guidance to navigate an increasingly uncertain future.

The “Scenarios for Future Food Security, Environments and Livelihoods in Southeast Asia” workshop took place between 3 – 5 November, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, was organized by the FAO EPIC program, CCAFS, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, NOMAFSI and MARD among regional stakeholders. 

Other stories on scenario discussions:

Decision makers debate climate change in Southeast Asia

Framing the bigger picture

Thinking outside the box

Photographs from the workshop

Video documentation on scenario building

Media links:

Looking at 2050 to create better policy today – Reuters Alertnet

Looking for clues to navigate climate uncertainty – Reuters Alertnet

Workshop focuses on food security – Vietnam News


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