Mekong River Basin Initiative (MRBI): Case studies of climate change adaptation projects and an assessment of transboundary issues in the Lower Mekong Basin

Mekong River Basin Initiative (MRBI): Case studies of climate change adaptation projects and an assessment of transboundary issues in the Lower Mekong Basin

The MRBI responds to the IPCC's need for a peer-reviewed publication on climate change adaptation projects in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) for the Asia Chapter of its 5th Assessment Report. It identifies and evaluates projects exhibiting good practices and desirable characteristics and discusses key transboundary issues in the LMB that preclude closer regional coordination and collaboration. Key insights generated will be published in a 2013 special issue of Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM) and shared via a high-level roundtable meeting with adaptation practitioners, policy and decision makers in the region.


The LMB covers 606,000 sq km across Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is densely populated with more than 60 million people relying primarily on agriculture and fisheries. The last 30-50 years have seen temperature increases, rainfall pattern changes, flood and drought intensification and sea level rise.

It is expected that vulnerabilities will be exacerbated in three areas:

  1. Reduced agricultural output and yields, particularly for rice
  2. Loss of fertile land and population displacement in the Mekong river delta
  3. Reduced fish survival, growth and reproductive success

Source: Mekong River Commission

Project objectives

The significant vulnerability to climate change effects and the fragmented nature of how this is dealt with in the LMB demands research that can help portray a fuller picture of adaptation in the region. The MRBI therefore seeks to identify projects that exemplify different aspects of adaptation and distil insights and lessons from them. It also aims to understand key governance and transboundary forces that shape collaboration in the LMB and propose approaches for regional programmatic management of adaptation.


An inventory of climate change adaptation projects in the LMB was taken and existing views and studies on transboundary issues in the region were collated. Projects were then shortlisted for case study according to criteria and framework we developed. Stakeholder consultations and workshops were then held to supplement both our views on the prospective case studies and our assessment of transboundary forces in the LMB. We have facilitated the development of five case studies on successful adaptation projects as well as documenting our research findings on transboundary and governance issues on climate adaptation in the LMB. The five case studies and research findings have been submitted and accepted as a series of journal papers in a 2013 special issue of Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM). These will be published and disseminated via a workshop for policy and decision makers in the region.

Project findings

Valuable insights into how adaptation takes place in the LMB have been found at each step of our study. Here are the findings from taking inventory of climate change adaptation projects:

  • Only 45 (11%) of all labeled climate change adaptation projects really had climate change as a project driver and had an explicit adaptation component.
  • Of these 45 projects around 60% target agriculture sectors and rural communities.
  • No programmatic adaptation approaches were in place, but adaptation instead occurred on a project-by-project basis
  • Transboundary projects are largely absent since 89% of all adaptation projects in the LMB target a single country only.
  • The adaptation efforts of practitioners are not coordinated by a common framework, and tend to be reactive rather than forward looking and anticipatory
  • The private sector is largely absent from adaptation activities

After applying the developed evaluation framework, five projects were characterized as successful adaptation projects and developed as case studies. The brief profiles of these projects are presented in the Table below.

No. Project Title Key funding agency Key implementing agency Key issues addressed
1 Jasmine rice in the Weeping Plain: Adapting rice farming to climate change in Northern Thailand Oxfam Earth Net Foundation Identifying vulnerabilities facing smallholder farmers due to climate change and building capacity at the community level for experimenting and finding adaptation measures
2 Increasing resilience in coastal communities of poor people in Ben Tre province, Vietnam Oxfam GB and NZ Aid Oxfam GB in Vietnam Reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities to the impacts of disasters and climate change and the creation of a long-term climate change strategy
3 Developing multi-scale adaptation strategies for farming communities in Cambodia and Laos ACIAR CSIRO Building climate change adaptive capacity in rice-based cropping systems through water management system (flood and drought)
4 Promoting climate resilient water resource management and agricultural practices in rural Cambodia UNDP, GEF and Cambodia government Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Cambodia and UNDP Increasing awareness of climate change, demonstrate climate resilient practices in agriculture and water resource management, and integrating the outcome into sub-national development plans
5 Conservation and development of the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve project in Vietnam AusAid GIZ Improving understanding and management of natural resources in relation to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion

The common features of these 'successful' projects are:

  1. The use of local stakeholder knowledge together with baseline analysis forming the basis of robust initial gap assessments and input to the adaptation project planning.
  2. The active engagement of multiple local stakeholders, especially at the community level throughout project duration, are actively engaged throughout the course of the project.
  3. The use of participatory processes at each stage of the project to foster collective ownership of and receptivity to adaptive practices.

Recognizing the state of adaptation practice, funding and capacity development challenges, similarities of climate risk across the LMB countries, diversity of funding and implementing actors and national sovereignty needs, we propose a multi-stakeholder Regional Climate Change Adaptation Action Network approach to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of future climate change action in the LMB. This proposed approach follows the theory and successful examples of Global Action Networks (GANs) with the intent to scale up and improve mainstreaming of adaptation in the LMB. As one of the key outcomes of this MRBI research, the detailed proposal for developing this Regional Adaptation Action Network will be published in AJEDM and will also discussed with regional adaptation stakeholders for actions.


For more information on this project, please contact Dr. Li DING at or Lucas Neo at