Representatives of coastal communities in eight provinces of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand endorsed the Preah Sihanouk Declaration last week, pledging to work more strategically to adapt to climate change.
The agreement was made at the third and final Annual Coastal Forum, which ended on Saturday in Cambodia's Preah Sihanouk Province.
With 200 participants attending, the forum was held to review progress related to the EU-funded project, Building Resilience to Climate Change in Coastal Southeast Asia (BCR), after four years of implementation.
Marking a strong commitment that extends beyond the project, all participants from the three countries endorsed the Declaration last Friday after two days of discussion.
The declaration centres on six thematic areas: coastal zone resilience, livelihood resilience, ecosystem resilience, diversity and equity, government and policy, and media and communications.
Speaking at the event, Robert Mather, head of the Southeast Asia Group, IUCN Asia, said: "We can't change the fact that we have only one atmosphere that connects us all. But we can change how we choose to respond to climate risks in the places we live."
He urged the region to be proactive in its response to climate change.
"We can take positive action to change aspects of our livelihoods and lifestyles to be more appropriate in a changing climate," he said.
The BCR project, which has helped to identify the risks of climate change in each local area, has developed initiatives that can represent the first few steps on the long journey of climate-change adaptation.
In Viet Nam, the BCR project began in 2011 when the country embarked on its National Target Programme for Climate Change Action, which instructed all Vietnamese provinces to begin planning for climate change.
Andrew Wyatt, Mekong Delta programme manager of IUCN Viet Nam, told Viet Nam News:"What we learned with our provincial partners was that poor coastal communities were often well aware of past climate trends and were able to respond with constructive ideas."
"We also learned that in some cases it was extremely important to supplement local knowledge with external technical expertise. Ownership and sustainability were also key strategies that we pursued successfully," he added.
In Cambodia, two of the most important interventions included the drafting of the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary Management Plan in Koh Kong Province and coastal zoning activities in Kampot Province.
Kimsreng Kong, senior programme officer of IUCN Cambodia, said the dredging of a 2,160-metre long channel in Koh Kapik in Koh Kong Province was considered one of the successes. It enabled local communities to have better access to health care, education and fresh water sources.
It also helped to improve trade and people's livelihoods, especially fishing, as farmers must navigate their boats through shallow canals.
As for Thailand, various interventions have been implemented over the project period such as livelihood diversification, natural resources management, crab banks, gender- and youth-related activities, and spatial planning.
As a result, climate-change adaptation has become one of the key considerations for strategic development plans at both the community and provincial levels in Thailand.
The pilot projects have also become a tool to encourage all stakeholders in local communities to work together.
The success has been shared not only by the project but also by the local communities, which has given them a sense of ownership, Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk, director of the Thailand Sustainable Development Foundation, told Viet Nam News.
Over the last three years, under the BCR project, more than 30 pilot projects tailored to the unique characteristics of each site were carried out in Thailand (Chanthaburi and Trat), Cambodia (Koh Kong and Kampot) and Viet Nam (Soc Trang, Can Gio, Kien Giang, and Ben Tre).
They helped local residents in these coastal provinces adapt to climate change and reduce risks during natural disasters.
Around 10 projects in four provinces were established in Viet Nam to build community resilience to the impact of climate change.
The scope of work included growing mangroves, raising public awareness, and eco-tourism development for poor mangrove-dependent communities. A switch to fishery, agriculture and aquaculture was also planned. The projects are expected to conclude in December.
"Many of the experiences and lesson learned from BCR projects will continue to influence our work and other projects for many years to come," said Mather, the head of IUCN Asia's Southeast Asia Group.
The three-day forum was organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands, German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation, Sustainable Development Foundation and Cambodia's Ministry of Environment.
The forum was held last year in Viet Nam's Soc Trang Province. The first forum was held in Thailand.