Vietnam remains in top group in new climate risk ranking

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Vietnam ranked fifth among the countries most affected by climate change from 1990 to 2009, according to a study released at a United Nations Summit being held this week in Mexico.

The results are not surprising. In 2008, researchers from World Vision issued a report projecting that a one meter sea level rise would swallow 5 percent of Vietnam's current land mass by the end of this century.

In 2009 alone, Vietnam ranked fourth among the world's worst affected countries and territories, led by El Salvador, Taiwan and the Philippines, according to the Climate Risk Index (CRI) created by Germanwatch, a Germany-based non-governmental organization.

"In 2009, surprisingly, Saudi Arabia and Australia were also among the ten most affected countries," said Sven Harmeling, author of the CRI at Germanwatch. "This shows that no country is immune to weather-related catastrophes, although poor countries are those which are affected the most, overall."

Harmeling said he made his ranking choices based on a wide range of factors, including the number of weather-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, and recorded losses per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Vietnam is one of the most affected countries in terms of the frequency of severe weather events with an average of more than 10 events recorded every year during the last two decades, the report said.

Floods and storms made up for 189 out of 203 recorded weather events in Vietnam over the same period, he told Thanh Nien Weekly via email. The researcher claimed that Vietnam lost approximately 3,200 people and US$5 billion to storms alone. Floods cost the country an estimated $4 billion and nearly 6,000 lives, he added.

He said his findings stress that disaster preparation should be a high priority for the government.

Koos Neefjes, climate change advisor to the United Nations Development Program in Vietnam, said that the Germanwatch report was "well researched to rank countries in terms of how bad they are affected."

"In all cases Vietnam comes out as relatively strongly affected by the adverse effects of climate change, even though each report looks at different indicators, uses somewhat different data, and makes different assumptions," Neefjes said.

However, Neefjes said that there should be a thorough assessment of each country's capacity to deal with climate change-related disasters. Ultimately, he said, climate change is not just about heavy storms or dry spells but on each country's capacity "to deal with them to reduce or eliminate the risks."

Germanwatch's Harmeling said that the only measure of progress made at the ongoing Cancun Summit in Mexico was a formalization of an international pledge to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.

"Unfortunately, there will be no additional mitigation pledges here in Cancun, at best a formalization of the pledges inscribed in the [Copenhagen] Accord [will occur, along with] the recognition, that they are not sufficient to stay below two degrees Celsius," he said.

Neefjes remained optimistic even though no concrete progress has been made at the summit, which concludes Friday.

"The atmosphere of trust has improved, thanks to the efforts of the government of Mexico to stress transparency in the process - meaning no secret documents," he said adding that everyone is hoping for decisions that will advance all possible negotiations.

There is still a broad disagreement underway about the role developing countries should play in curbing emissions, according to Neefjes.

He said that residents in developing countries have a tiny carbon footprint when compared to their counterparts in developed countries. "Developing countries [legitimately] claim of atmospheric space and rights to emit more in order to ensure poverty elimination and economic development at least for some more years."

In the end, Neefjes however said developed countries are demanding that big ticket developing polluters make some concessions. The major emitters that would need to make some sort of commitment include China, India, Brazil and South Africa, along with other important and relatively big countries that have achieved middle income status, which includes Vietnam.

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