Monday, February 2, 2015

Kick-off for a Finland supported Green Economy* research project in Lao PDR and Cambodia

More than fifty stakeholders representing the government (ministries of environment, energy, forestry and agriculture), international organisations and development banks (UNDP, ADB, CIFOR), academia (National Univerity of Laos, Institute of Technology of Cambodia, Royal University of Phnom Penh) and various non-governmental organisations attended the kick-off for a new joint research project by Finland Futures Research Centre (University of Turku) and Viikki Tropical Research Institute (University of Helsinki) on Green Economy Transitions in Least Developed Countries (GET-LDC). The research will focus on examining the interlinkages of forests and energy in the context of green growth and looking into creating sustainable solutions for development.

*A green economy is low-carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive, in which growth, income and employment are driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. There are expectations that green growth will be able to generate even more growth than the current business as usual brown economy in an inclusive manner. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Article on Climate Change Policy and Cambodia

How has climate change been understood as a problem and issue to be governed? What types of processes are required to make climate change amenable for intervention and regulation? A recently published article, ‘Rendering Climate Change Governable in the Least Developed Countries: Policy Narrative and Expert Technologies in Cambodia’, analyses the mechanisms through which climate change is made governable in the context of Cambodia. The article is part of the RECLAIM research project and has been written by Mira Käkönen, Louis Lebel, Kamilla Karhunmaa, Va Dany and Thoun Try. It was published as part of a special issue on the politics of knowledge in development in Forum for Development Studies. For copies of the article, please contact Kamilla Karhunmaa directly (kamilla.karhunmaa [at] Some of the key points of the article are presented below.

Expert-led, apolitical framings of climate change have been pronounced in the global arena of climate change policy and practice, which in turn has influenced the policy approaches to climate change. In the article, we examine how policy narratives and expert technologies influence the governability of climate change. Policy narratives are tools through which abstract ideas are translated into governable and implementable concepts. Typically, policy narratives involve simplifications of the problem at hand. In the context of climate change, concepts such as ‘climate compatible development’ have been employed to temper the tensions between climate change and economic growth on the one hand, and the global North and South on the other. Such concepts focus on the production of multiple benefits in development, adaptation and mitigation, while drawing attention away from the discussion on trade-offs and tensions. The technical dimensions of climate change mitigation and adaptation have also been strongly emphasized in discussions on how to respond to climate change. The use of expert technologies tends to depoliticize issues which are not neutral, but in effect adopt specific ways of looking at vulnerability and values. The combination of policy narratives and expert technologies is potent in helping to depoliticize climate change. On the one hand, policy narratives stabilize political tensions and render climate policies as questions of technical expertise, while on the other hand technical tools provide the scaffolding upon which policy justifications are made. 

We present three key findings from an analysis of policy narratives and expert technologies in Cambodia. First, policy narratives have been an important driver of the shifting rationalities of government with respect to adaptation and mitigation. In Cambodia, the policy narratives of donors have dominated and policy measures have been largely dependent on existing international incentives and structures developed to support low-carbon development. Second, most responses to climate change have been framed in technical terms that draw on expert knowledge, tools and technology. Mitigation is viewed through the currency of carbon credits and for example the CDM, whereas adaptation is viewed through the lens of impact and vulnerability assessments. Third, the combination of donor-driven policy narratives and expert technologies depoliticizes climate change, rendering it more easily governable through normal bureaucratic planning processes. As a consequence, Cambodian climate policies seem to be in a low-conflict and strong consensus arena while some key political economy processes, such as agrarian tensions and land-based struggles, are absent from the discussion. These can, however, be some of the main challenges in building resilience and adaptability in the face of climate change. Simplistic policy narratives coupled with a reliance on expert technologies may create more problems than they solve through supporting managerial approaches to policy and ignoring trade-offs, costs and the interests of key stakeholders.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Laos Progressing towards Integrated Water Resources Management at Nam Ngum River Basin: Insights from Field Study Trip to Vientiane

At the beginning of November I travelled to Vientiane for two weeks to interview key stakeholders and actors of the Laotian water management sector to update information related to the progress of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) at Nam Ngum River Basin (NNRB). I met many experts and officials from the Department of Water Resources of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), Mekong River Commission, Electricite du Laos (EdL), Asian Development Bank, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), National University of Laos (NUOL), etc. This post gives information on Nam Ngum River Basin (NNRB) features and insights of what is currently happening in the field of water management in NNRB and what challenges the operationalization of IWRM is facing at the basin level in Laos based on the interviews and very recent project documents and reports of NNRB.

Optimal use of water resources is critical to realizing the Lao Government’s strategic objectives of poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth. Strengthening of an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) framework will be particularly essential in supporting the broader goals and strategies of inclusive economic development. IWRM tries to take into account all natural aspects of the water resources, all sectoral interests and stakeholders, the spatial and temporal variation of resources and demands, relevant policy frameworks, and all institutional levels. IWRM, in the context of a river basin, is about management of the limited water resources in a river basin for an optimum outcome among different competing water users.

With the second largest annual flow and population, the Nam Ngum River Basin is one of the most important river basins in Laos including 16 districts in Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Xiengkhouang provinces, and Vientiane Capital. NNRB is the first large river basin where water resources were utilized significantly through inter-river and inter-watershed diversions, reservoir management, hydropower generation, and irrigation. It is considered the most important food production area in the country with more than one third of the nation’s irrigated areas. It contains some of the biggest hydropower dams (7,300 million m3 of storage capacity and 1,050 MW installed), richer mining sites (gold, copper) and some of the most relevant industrial (cement, steel, chemicals) and tourist sites.

Hydropower projects and large expansion of irrigation development together with population growth and urbanization will have a big impact on water resources, environment and people living in the Nam Ngum River basin area. Water pollution and flood risks, and climate change are also putting major pressure to the management of basin’s water resources. According to the many interviewed officials the basin suffers from some seasonal and spatial water shortages. Many experts also stated their concern over increasingly deteriorating water quality due to growing pressure for example from the growth of urbanized areas and the establishment of new hydropower, mining, industrial activities and chemicals used for agriculture.

Nam Ngum Reservoir

In NNRB, land use is changing fast and in less than a decade, the urban areas have almost tripled and the forest cover has decreased from 47% in year 2002 to 36% in year 2010. The seasonal nature of the rainfall in the NNRB produces local circumstances of flood and drought, but it is also influenced by the fact that the operation of the existing hydropower dams does not apply a cascade management strategy of discharges to thwart its effects. Groundwater resources in the NNRB are barely analysed but some initial researches show that there is a zone of moderate potential in the headwater area of the basin, and high potential in the Vientiane Plains area. Some of the expected direct consequences of climate change in the basin are the increase of precipitation and the mean temperature. (Draft NNRB Profile 2013).

The Nam Ngum River Basin (NNRB) is regarded as the pilot basin in Laos for the development of the IWRM working mechanism and processes that will subsequently be applied to other basins in the country. The aim is to devolve water planning at a river basin level, and river basin organisations (River Basin Committees) are being tested to assess the appropriateness of this approach in Laos which is a positive sign towards IWRM. River Basin Committees aim to act as coordination and negotiation mechanisms at the basin or sub-basin level. The first river basin organization - Nam Ngum River Basin Development Committee (NNRBDC) was established in 2010.  The Lao Government has set a target for the year 2015 that at least five large basins will have a River Basin Plan incorporating the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) principles. Even if there is a long-standing practice on planning in Lao PDR, integrated river basin management plans are still a relatively new concept and there is not much experience yet in the country. Many of the interviewed officials stated that the establishment and implementation of IWRM approach and related processes is very long and time-consuming process and Laos is still taking its’ first steps on this road.

The Lao government is currently developing IWRM for the Nam Ngum river basin (NNRB) with assistance from, among others, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAid which is funding National IWRM Support Program. The project aims to develop institutional capacity of the Department of Water Resources to support IWRM implementation. The project generally aims at enhancing the institutionalization of IWRM in the mainstream management process of the Government at every level from central to lower levels at provincial and district levels. One of the projects’ output is to formulate the Nam Ngum River Basin Management Strategy which will provide a short, medium and long-term view on the management of the basin, defining in detail the approaches and mechanisms to be followed and established.

Asian Development Bank has approved additional financing to the Nam Ngum River Basin Development Sector Project (2004-2010), which aims to promote optimal use of water resources through integrated water resources management (IWRM) in the NNRB. To date, according to ADB’s evaluation report the current project Nam Ngum River Basin Development Sector Project (2004-2010) has contributed significantly to improved water governance, information gathering and processing, and watershed management both within the NNRB and nationally. The additional financing aims to consolidate and enhance these achievements. It aims to ensure that significant institutional developments under the current project are embedded in central and local government as well as water and natural resources management systems. Enhanced district and community participation and interagency coordination will facilitate synergy between sub-basin management and livelihood support services. These are necessary for effective IWRM within the NNRB.

Many of the stakeholders from the donor side and also MONRE stated that developing a legal and institutional environment for managing water resources has progressed well but the actual implementation and practical arrangements are lacking. It seems that the most critical challenge is the lack of capacity of Lao Government’s water use sectors to keep up with the very rapid increase of water development projects and to manage water resources in sustainable way and to support effective implementation of IWRM. Despite of many donor supported projects which aim at capacity building and improved coordination with and between numerous water-related agencies and Ministries, more needs to be done in improving the coordination. Also several officials interviewed stated that there is still unclearness about the roles of different water agencies. One of the main challenges is to introduce coordinated cascade management strategies and multi-purpose dam operation procedures into the basin’s barrages, using an integrated water resource management (IWRM) approach.

Based on the interviews and draft NNRB Plan the main causes of the existing challenges for water resources management in NNRB can be summarized as follows: growing population, land cover changes, problems with dam planning and operation, increasing mining and industrial activities, effects of the climate change, complex planning procedures and institutional coordination, and still young and weak IWRM authorities. The main consequences of not solving all those water challenges are water quality problems, uncoordinated dam operation, frequent floods and droughts, decline of the fish population, frequent water supply shortages during dry season, slow irrigation development, uncoordinated polices on water resources and lack of participation of grass root and private stakeholders on water decisions in the basin.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Building Up Smart Machinery for Sustainable Development


When we think about futures challenges of the world, we can note that there are still vital basic needs which should be met. The explosion in the world´s population appears to be slowing down. Fifty years ago an average woman had between 5-6 children. Today global average is 2.6 children, while the replacement level is 2.3.  In European Union, U.S., China, Japan and Russia, the population is shrinking. In many developing countries population is increasing.

The overall world population continues to grow, because many less developed and developing countries have relatively young demographic profiles. This is also demographic situation in the Mekong-river countries.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve its prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require?” This question is very relevant today, when the BRICSA countries and other developing countries are developing their economies. Today we can ask: “What if China would aspire to the standards of living of the U.S.A.?” The hard truth is that we already consuming more than one Earth can support. We have already transgressed safe planetary boundaries in many respects. Biodiversity is stressed to limits in many countries. We have surpassed the carrying capacity of Earth´s climate with a factor of 1.5. 
Key conclusion is: Our planet needs much more smarter machinery for sustainable development.
We shall need more food, water, and housing in the future. People have begun to eat more meat, more dairy products, and consume more energy. All these issues mean that we should produce commodities in a sustainable way. Already now China and a number of Arab countries are already buying up huge areas of farmland in Africa to secure their own food supplies.
Climate change will make things more challenging in food and water management. The road and vision to sustainable development will not be easy to reach.
What sustainable development requires? It requires (1) more sustainable lifestyles, (2) ecological land use, (3) eco-innovations and clean technologies and (4) better resource productivity. We need this kind of smart machinery for sustainable development.  Especially we need to reduce the amount of waste in wealthy regions while simultaneously securing food and water for those people who do not have no choice in the matter.
Now one of three people suffers from water shortages. More serious aspect of water management is that no water also means no food available. The strong signal of this emerging problem was the 1994 massacres in Rwanda were cause by a matter of food shortages. After this serious water-based crisis we have been warned in many ways about the potential unsustainability problems. There is strong stress to increase food production in the world, because there will be more people on the Earth, about 180 million people more every year.
Ecological footprints of the nations are going to increase, when bigger populations live on the Earth. The key challenge will keep the number of calories at a healthy level while ensuring that we waste muck less. Eco-efficiency is a vital question in this respect. Natural resource conflicts are going to be obvious problems in the Earth, if we do not invest enough in the smart machinery for sustainable development. For example, packing and storing our scarce food supplies can provide promising opportunities to manage the global food supply chains.
Ubiquitous sustainability will be a key challenge when we develop smart machinery of sustainable development. We have many good technical opportunities and tools to use. Probably the problems we face in terms of food, water and other commodities are mostly related to wrong political and economic attitudes rather than overpopulation. 
Ubiquitous technologies provide a broad mix of solutions to sustainability challenges. Critical fields of opportunity are: (1) product design, (2) production systems, (3) home technologies, (4) monitoring technologies, (5) social monitoring technologies, (6) persuasive technologies and (7) personal action home technologies.
Product design provides a tool to designers better incorporate sustainable practices in the design process. Especially Ubicomp solutions enable cradle-to-cradle design of products.
Systemic thinking in infrastructure planning is providing promising approaches to maximise reusability and reducing energy requirements.  Ubicomp technologies can provide and serve as a substitute for more energy-intensive alternatives. For example, when planners plan the urban ecology futures of Vientiane or Phnom Penh metropolitan regions, this kind of ubicomp ideas can be very interesting and useful.
Ubicomp support issues such as monitoring, reconfiguration, and co-evolution of residents and home technologies. In the field of home technologies there is huge potential to save food, water and energy utilities. Especially monitoring and sensor technologies can help people to understand the use energy and other resources. Ubicomp technology can be used to help identify opportunities for changing personal behavior related to energy consumption.
May eco-hacking our homes and neighbourhoods be the next big thing?

Social networking technologies can be used to motivate sustainable behaviour among crowds and networks. People are once again thinking about how they can do more with less. Especially persuasive technologies can be used to encourage more sustainable behaviours. People can be also supported by ubiquitous technologies in their efforts to change their daily practices and reduce resource consumption. Personal action technologies can support personal actions such as protest or subversive resistance to effect change. For example, Ubicomp sensor networks or social sensing can be used to support the environmental justice movement by documenting developing problems or potential misdeeds.
Thus, referring to the potential of ubiquitous sustainability, there are very many possibilities to develop new kinds of systems in urban and rural ecology. We have seen already growing trend of robotics in agricultural production. In the field of recycling new interesting applications of robotics are introduced. The role for robotics in sustainable development is studied actively in sciences.
Of course, industrial robotics is often associated with an unsustainable economic model. However, robotics provides many qualitative benefits through its precision, strength, sensing capabilities and computing power. Could robotics help us to minimise our ecological footprint?
We probably need industrial robotics, service robotics and personal robotics for assisting us towards sustainability. New Ubicomp applications and deployment models can be devised that improve ecological sustainability and quality of life.  These may require new approaches to the designs of robots, robot-using systems and IT systems that employ methods of robotics and AI.
Robotics for sustainable development is an exciting new challenge where research, education and industry in both developed and developing countries can equally contribute and benefit. No wonder, there are many individuals who are passionate about the interaction between UbiComp and environmental sustainability.
The age of smart machines can mean many positive wild cards for sustainable development. A denser network of communications could give people a greater opportunity to participate in the global economy.
Let´s use this global network for better and more sustainable world!

Jari Kaivo-oja
Research director, Adjunct professor, FFRC, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku


Monday, November 10, 2014

Anecdotes from the field

At the end of September I and Visa Tuominen travelled to Cambodia and Laos to spend about 3 weeks making field visits for the DIAMOND research project, conducted as part of Nordic Climate Finance funded project “Scaling up low carbon household technologies in the lower Mekong Subregion”. We had selected and contacted five household energy technology projects in the two countries. The projects were working with ceramic water filters that displace energy used for boiling water (Hydrologic in Cambodia and TerraClear in Laos), improved cook stoves that allow for more fuel-efficient cooking (GERES's New Lao Stove in Cambodia and SNV’s ICS project in Laos) and biodigesters that provide animal owners with biogas (National Biodigester Program in Cambodia). We talked with the end users of the products in focus groups or during household visits; on top of that we visited the production sites and talked to the project staff. 

Hydrologic water filter in a Cambodian household

GERES's energy-efficient New Lao Stoves
We had looked into the projects in detail already before the visits and knew quite well what to expect. Therefore it came as no surprise that many of our questions were responded in the presumed manner. This is of course valuable information, too. However, there are always some things that surprise you. On various occasions we asked about how people would get their wood and found that some of them actually might have to travel once or twice a month a 70 to 80 kilometer distance to go collect free firewood for the house and spend the whole day just for that. On one occasion we found that stove production workers were paid up to 150 euros a month, well above the average income in the country. On another visit the project sales personnel had hit a high gear on sales and the numbers on their paychecks had jumped from a meager (but locally normal) 150 dollars base pay per person to 700-800 dollars a month. Since household energy technologies could as well be imported, which creates few new income generation opportunities for locals, it was pleasant to find these impacts on incomes.

Much cooking is traditionally done with open fire or traditional, 
energy-inefficient charcoal stoves

One interesting observation in the field was the spread of electricity network and what electricity was used for. Some villages had recently been connected to the grid providing the villagers access to more economic lighting and possibility to charge phones. At least some of the households were using electricity also for cooking and television – we even found one Cambodian household having a washing machine, which is not at all common! One Laotian household had a fridge, which we hear is increasingly more common in Laos due to somewhat lower price of electricity. In those villages that were not grid-connected some people were using diesel-powered generators, and even in some of those households you might find a TV and a DVD player. Yet the price of electricity – from the generator as well as from the grid – remained rather high for an average dweller to be able to afford it, especially in Cambodia.

Biodigester under construction

Overall the field work allowed us to get an idea of the characteristics and relevant considerations of household energy technology projects. The projects were rather heterogeneous with one another: various technology types, different scale of operations and different phases in the carbon crediting cycle. Over the course of the visit we got invaluable help from the project staff and from Try Thuon who provided us with interpretation during a couple of our field visits. The findings from the field visits and interviews will be discussed in the DIAMOND research report published in early 2015.

Links to the projects
National Biodigester Program

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seeking promising green growth development paths: Adaptive foresight process towards sustainability in Laos

The recently published FFRC e-book “Futures Horizon to Sustainability Challenges of the Lao PDR 2050. Adaptive Foresight Thinking and New Futures Perspectives to Energy and Natural Resource Planning in the Lao People´s Democratic Republic” by J. Kaivo-oja, S. Jusi, J. Luukkanen, J. Panula-Ontto and K. Kouphokham focuses on energy and natural resource planning in Laos. The book presents some futures oriented analyses and discusses key long-run planning challenges of Laos´s energy economy and natural resource use. In the e-book these questions are linked to the Adaptive Foresight methodology, which have been used as general framework in interactive and participative FFRC’s Mekong projects and has found to have a high potential to help sector ministries and agencies to collaborate and integrate many planning activities in Laos. Co-operative practices and participative workshops of public administration are helpful for many experts and public agencies in Laos. 

Economic development of Laos is based on resource-based production, fuelled by hydropower development for energy exports and mining, while about 90% of rural population lives on farming and resources provided by rivers and forests. The Laotian natural resources governance and development faces major challenges in the future as hydropower and mining development are increasing fast, and climate change, population growth and urbanization are on the future horizon. These developments will have major implications for the Laotian economy, people’s livelihoods, and the environment. The e-book provides updated and future oriented data on different sectors - economy, energy and natural resources to better correspond to these continuously changing and complex management contexts in Laos.

The e-book familiarizes the reader with major planning issues related to key trends, urbanization, demographic change, industrialization and capacity development of Laos. The book holds interest for all those who are keen to know about the management of energy, economy and natural resources and key planning challenges in Laos. The extensive analyses and scientific data of the eBook can provide policymakers, development practitioners and the research community in Laos and even in the wider region valuable data and guidance to support planning and policy- and decision-making in order to manage economic development and natural resources in a sustainable and effective way.

Sari Jusi & Jari Kaivo-oja
Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Prior to FFRC annual conference, climate change mitigation and adaptation, renewable energy production and Finland’s role in the Mekong region were discussed with local researchers and Finnish experts in a seminar organized by the FFRC, Development studies at the University of Helsinki and Siemenpuu Foundation on June 9th 2014. The event gathered a wide audience of NGO and private sector representatives, universities and development policy officials. One of the key topics on the agenda was possible benefit sharing schemes and possibilities in the context of hydropower development and social impacts to locals in the region.

The seminar was opened by research director Jyrki Luukkanen, who gave a compact insight into the recent developments in the region with Laos and Cambodia under focus. Even though still among the LDC’s, both are developing rapidly with massive needs for more intensive energy production.  Luukkanen argued that whilst the amount of investments is growing, funds are not used for national social development, such as education. The balance of economic growth with positive development impacts to the poor while protecting the environment is yet to achieve.
Ms. Dany Va from RUPP, Cambodia.
                             The opening presentation was followed by Dr. Louis Lebel, director at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research (USER) at University of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Dr. Lebel presented a case study from Sirikit Dam, Thailand, to demonstrate several framings of benefit sharing schemes that should initially mitigate the negative impacts of hydropower developments. The idea of benefit sharing is that often the profit of such projects does not trickle down to locals who, inevitably, need to deal with the negative impacts of dams, or the environment and local biodiversity that are degraded because of logging, distraction in ecosystems and sedimentation. Negative social impacts would be loss of livelihoods, loss of land and loss of social networks, which are often not adequately compensated.  Dr. Lebel argued that whilst more benefit sharing programs are needed and they can contribute significant wealth to locals and protect the environment, they need to be properly planned and carried out.
                             Cambodian researchers from Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) Ms. Dany Va and Mr. Try Thuon gave their findings on local research capacity related to climate change, and more insights on benefit sharing opportunities and its suggested focus. Ms. Va pointed out that local institutions and universities lack funding, capacity and crosscutting coordination, and climate change related research in Cambodia is often donor driven and thus not empowering from within. Mr. Thuon suggested a tool to measure which benefit sharing method would be most suitable in each case, underlining the fact while there is now an interest to apply them in Cambodia, not all schemes work in every context. However, there is an undeniable demand to allocate profits back to the affected people.
                             Timo Kuronen and Liisa Uimonen from Siemenpuu Foundation focused on the controversial role of mainstream Mekong dams and Finland’s indirect role in such developments, highlighting the case with Xayaburi dam and Pöyry’s consultation. The case did leave a stain on Pöyry’s reputation, but has not prevented it from being involved with new hydropower projects in the region.

How to avoid trade-offs between Finnish development
policy and business in the Mekong region?
                             The Pöyry case was followed by a closing panel with Maria Notley, Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Timo Räsänen, Aalto University; Otto Bruun, Siemenpuu Foundation and Ms. Dany Va. The complex situation with diminishing ODA, rapid growth, prevailing inequality and climate change seem to create a platform that is impossible to enter from only one point of view. While providing the access to energy and electricity that will promote growth even further, the countries easily fail to address the poor and marginalized who would need socially sustainable development benefits the most. Questions on Finland’s foreign policy and funding allocations in the Mekong, regions future and hydropower developments provoked several comments also from the audience, and thus the seminar run a bit overtime. Ms. Va pointed out that developing countries such as Cambodia should prefer quality over quantity when it comes to growth, and this could easily work as a guideline in tackling many other development issues too. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sari Jusi's public defence of her doctoral thesis

Finland Futures Research Centre's Sari Jusi defended her PhD "Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Approach in Water Governance in Lao PDR: Cases of Hydropower and Irrigation" at the Univeristy of Tampere last Friday 19th of April 2013. A permanent address to access the publication is

Congratulations Sari!!

Sari listening to comments from the examiner Tapio Katko.
This is what the PhD looks like in print.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sustainable Energy Development Seminar

Vientiane Times article on Sustainable Energy Development Seminar, 11.12.2012
On Friday December 7 the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) of Laos co-hosted a seminar on Sustainable Energy Development at Lao Plaza together with Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) Mekong, Embassy of Finland and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The purpose of the seminar was to disseminate the project results of the FFRC’s and MEM’s INES project, as well as the results of a JICA funded project with MEM, which was also on energy planning. The projects both dealt with sustainable energy planning but from different perspectives, using different types of data (bottom-up vs. top-down). In addition, the purpose of the seminar was also to discuss energy planning and the energy sector donor coordination and future needs.
Among the participants were all the 17 provincial heads of MEM as well as representatives of other ministries and energy sector donors and some other energy sector organizations based in Laos.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A unique public discussion held in Laos on the mainstream dams

In October 18th, 2012 a round table discussion on mainstream dams took place in Vientiane at the French Centre. The event was part of the 9th Asia EuropePeople’s Forum. The objective of the session was to discuss the institutional processes related to the decisions on the mainstream dams. The organisers of the event were HELVETAS Laos, Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net), Siemenpuu Foundation and Asia-Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty (APNFS). Around 65 people attend the event.

The panellists around the table were:
  • H.E. Mr. Touch Seang Tana, Chairman, Commission for Mekong River Dolphin Conservation & Eco-tourism, Cambodia
  • H.E. Viraphone Viravong, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Energy and Mines, Lao P.D.R (Head of delegation in Xayaburi consultation)
  • Mrs. Pakawan Chufamanee, Director of Mekong Management Bureau, Department of Water Resources, Thailand
  • Dr. Dao Trong Tu, Head, Vietnam Union of Science and Technology (VUSTA)
  • Mr. Hans Guttman, CEO, Mekong River Commission Secretariat
  • Mr. Rick Switzer, Regional Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) Hub Chief for East and Southeast AsiaUS Embassy to Thailand
  • Mr. Witoon Permpongsacharoen, Director, Mekong Energy and Ecology Network
  • Ms. Lam Thi Thu Suu, Coordinator of Vietnam Rivers Network
  • Samuel Martin from HELVETAS Laos acted as the moderator.
There haven’t been many open public discussions in Laos on the Xayaburi project and other possible mainstream dams so the session was very unique. The panelists represented well the spectrum of different stakeholders: government officials, civil society and development partners. The discussion was constructive and dialogue took place in good spirit. It became clear that there are still differing views among the member countries of Mekong River Commission (MRC) whether the consultation process (Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement, PNPCA) on the first mainstream dam, Xayaburi in Laos, has been completed or not. Vice Minister Viraphone considered that it has been completed whereas representatives from Vietnam and Cambodia viewed that consensus has not been reached yet. Several panelists and participants raised concerns on the knowledge gaps of the impacts of the dam and on the potential unequal distribution of costs and benefits. This would require further impact assessments and evaluation on alternatives. H.E. Viraphone pointed out that from official Lao perspective there is enough data and Laos should have the right to develop its water resources. H.E. Touch Sean Tana from Cambodia suggested that instead of further data there should be a security fund established by the project developer – so in case of negative impacts these could be compensated from the security fund. Thailand’s representative, Mrs. Pakawan Chufamanee, highlighted the question of whether 6 months for the PNPCA is enough and that more time would make the process better and allow also wider participation in the process. Development partners and MRC were asked to take a more active role in fostering the consensus building. USAID representative emphasized the sovereignty of the countries to make decisions and also the importance to do it based on the best scientific data available. He also suggested that from his personal view more important than the legal interpretation is the spirit of the Mekong Agreement on the importance of building consensus on decisions with major transboundary implications.  Hans Guttman, CEO of Mekong River Commission, highlighted that MRC does not have an arbitrary role in case there are disagreements in interpreting the results of processes like the PNPCA.

The key recommendations given by different stakeholders during the discussion included:
  • More open dialogue and more participation was recommended for the PNPCA and processes of decision-making on mainstream dams
  • The role of CSOs in the PNPCA process should be increased
  • Some panelists emphasized the importance of precautionary principle and also recommended ‘time out’ for the first mainstream dam until there is more information available on its impacts
  • Lao representatives asked for better cooperation spirit in the MRC consultation processes
  • In possible future PNPCA processes the consultation should be started well before the construction of the dam – otherwise possibilities to openly assess the project are limited as developer has already invested considerable money for the project
  • Most of the panelists agreed that 6 months for the PNPCA process is too short a time
  • The 1995 Mekong Agreement and the procedures of PNPCA leave a lot of room for interpretation – suggestions were made to limit the chance of differing interpretations
  • To consider whether there could be a security fund from the dam developer side to compensate for any negative impacts
  • There is a need to consider how concerns and needs of affected communities could be better reflected in the decision making processes
  • A joint visit of Lao government and civil society representative was suggested to the site of Xayaburi and to the resettled villages