PARIS — Burmese government officials are optimistic that they will be granted technical and financial assistance from developed countries for climate change adaptation and mitigation plans once a new treaty is agreed at the COP21 conference by the end of this week.
A draft agreement was provisionally approved last week by delegates to the UN climate change conference in Paris. Hla Maung Thein, an official from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, said that Burma and other Least Developed Countries are most at threat from climate change and need help from developed countries to implement their carbon dioxide reduction targets.
“We need to do mitigation and adaptation programs at the same time,” he told The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of the Paris conference. “To make it successful, we need support from developed countries.”
Burma has prioritized its forestry and energy sectors for mitigation programs under its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), under which countries pledge their target for post-2020 emissions reductions.
The Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry says there is currently 29 million hectares of forests in Burma, around 43 percent of total country area. The government has pledged to keep 30 percent of total national land area as reserved or protected public forest and a further 10 percent as protected ecosystems under the country’s 30 year national forestry master plan, which covers the period from 2001 to 2030.
In the energy sector, the government says it intends to increase the level of hydroelectric generation to 9.4 gigawatts and increase access to renewable power sources of in off-grid communities to a 30 percent share by 2030.
Both areas are contentious. In September, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that Burma had lost more than 546,000 hectares of forest since 2010, equating to the third-worst deforestation rate of any country in the world. Hydropower projects have come under sustained community opposition, most significantly the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, which was suspended soon after President Thein Sein took office in 2011.
Country delegates attending the Paris conference this week submitted their country statements, clarifying the extend of their commitments on national climate change policies. Burma said that it fully supports a new global climate compact, but echoed other developing countries in urging the world’s biggest economies to take the lead.
“Developed countries have money, capacity, skills and technology, whereas the developing countries lack those. We are negotiating today that developed countries should provide those,” said Hla Maung Thein.
Part of the Paris treaty covers financing for the Green Climate Fund, a commitment by developed nations to provide US$100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation programs in poorer countries. Hla Maung Thein said that the Burmese government is drafting programs to compete for the funding.
“For example, projects for smart agriculture compatible with climate change…Projects to produce energy from waste for [municipal governments]. Factories and workshops will be needed for technology to reduce carbon emissions,” he said. “Each sector will be drafting project and we will prioritize accordingly.”
Hla Maung Thein acknowledged that Burma would face challenges meeting its INDC commitments. Quizzed about the government’s push for new coal-fired power plants in southern Burma, he replied that the country would need to develop fossil fuel energy projects as an interim measure to promote economic development before renewable power sources could be adopted on a larger scale.
“The world trend now is to reduce carbon-intensive energy sources and move toward renewable energy,” he said. “America and China will reduce the use of fossil fuels and use renewable energy based on wind, water and biomass.”
“In our energy policy, we will also use renewable energy. But on the other hand, we also need to think about development. We need to reduce the poverty rate, which is where energy matters.”
According to climate NGO German Watch, Burma was the second most affected country by climate change for the period between 1995 and 2014, after the Central American nation of Honduras. The organization’s study of climate risk cited events such as Cyclone Nargis, which claimed an estimated 140,000 lives and destroyed the property of a further 2.4 million people.