Laos is amongst the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change trends, as its communities face significant climate-related hazards that are exacerbated by poverty, malnourishment, and high exposure of poor and marginalized communities. Floods and droughts continue to be the most significant threats; between 2013 and 2019, in some provinces, flooding was experienced every year. Under the highest emissions pathway (RCP8.5), Laos faces projected warming of 3.6°C by the 2090s, against the baseline condition (1986-2005).
Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall, resulting in more frequent and more severe flooding in vulnerable and rapidly growing cities along the Mekong River. Without action, the population annually exposed to river flooding is projected to double to over 80,000 people by the 2030s. The total damage and losses from 2018 flooding events that affected over 600,000 people across the country were estimated at US$371 million or 2% of GDP. Flooding has an adverse impact on housing, health and education, industrial activities, and infrastructure (transportation, water, and sanitation). Risk of droughts is equally high with potential harmful effects on water resources, agricultural production and food security, hydroelectric power generation, and human health.
Climate change is being felt increasingly by communities across Laos, as over 70% of the population depends on natural resources for their livelihoods and to ensure food security. In addition, changing weather patterns in Laos may be responsible for an increase in organisms responsible for tropical diseases (scrub typhus and murine typhus), according to a recent study.
To date, there has only been limited assessment, analysis, or projections regarding the potential climate change impacts on the physical and social environment in Laos, due to a lack of long-term climate data.
Laos is not a major contributor to climate change but is likely to be disproportionately affected. The country accounts for just 0.03% of cumulative global GHG emissions, and total GHG emissions in Laos are small in comparison to other countries in the region.
In 2014, Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) was the largest sources of emissions, accounting for about 78% of the total emissions. This was followed by the Energy sector, which accounted for 15% of total emissions. Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU) and Waste shared 5% and 2% of the national emissions, respectively (First biennial update report, MONRE, 2020).
Amongst the major energy sources, the fastest-growing fuel between 2000 and 2015 was coal at 40.8% per year. This is mainly due to the requirement of the Hongsa coal-fired power plant which started production in 2015, resulting in a significant increase in coal supply that year. The Hongsa power plant was constructed only for export purposes to Thailand. Since the opening of the powerplant in 2015, CO2 emissions from the energy sector have increased. Hydropower, the main supply for power generation in the country grew at an average rate of 9.9% per year over the 2000–2015 period. Oil, the major supply for the transport sector, grew at a slower rate of 8.5% per year and biomass, the major supply for the residential sector, grew at an average rate of 1.7% per year.
Key policies and governance approach
For several years, Laos has worked on addressing its vulnerabilities to climate change, including through the development of its National Adaptation Program of Action (2009), National Climate Change Strategy (2010), Climate Change Action Plan for Lao PDR for 2013–2020, the First Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to Climate Change (INDC) (2015), and the Climate Change Technology Action Plan (2017). In addition, climate change mitigation and adaptation has been into integrated into high-level policy frameworks, including the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2016 – 2020), National Green Growth Strategy to 2030, and sectoral strategies such as the Ten-Year Natural Resources and Environment Strategy 2016–2025, a draft Urban Development Strategy to 2030, Agriculture Development Strategy to 2025 and Vision to 2030, and Strategy on Climate Change and Health Adaptation 2018–2025 and action plan 2018–2020. In 2019, Laos also issued the Decree on Climate Change which defines principles, regulations, and measures on management and monitoring of climate matters, and adopted the Disaster Risk Management Law.
The Natural Resources and Environment Sector Vision (NRESV) towards 2030 also featured climate change concerns and included: “Keeping Lao PDR Green, Clean, and Beautiful based on green economic growth, to achieve sustainable development and industrialized country and to ensure the resilience to climate change impacts and disaster risks”.
In 2021, Laos submitted its updated NDC to the UNFCCC. The country commits to unconditionally reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2030 by 60% compared to a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. To achieve this goal, Lao PDR aims, over the next decade, to reduce LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forestry) emissions by 1,1 MtCO2eq/year by reducing deforestation, reach 13 GW of hydropower capacity (5.5 GW are already operational), introduce 50,000 energy efficient cook stoves and build a new bus rapid transit system in Vientiane and a new railway to China. Moreover, the NDC, as well as the upcoming National Adaptation Plan (NAP), will strive to facilitate implementation of a range of long-term adaptation objectives in key sectors (Agriculture, Forestry and land use change, Water resources, Transport and urban development, Public Health and Energy) as well as their measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). NAP will also support the development and review of adaptation plans at the national and sub-national levels.
Laos is increasingly shifting to a model of governance known as ‘sam-sang’ (3-build system), whereby responsibility is devolved to local administration levels (province, district, and village). This provides an ideal opportunity to implement a well-integrated and vertically coordinated climate change response. Structured, practical, and long-term capacity building programmes are needed for all tiers of government, as is the integration of climate change into sectoral policies and plans. At the top, there are the national policies and strategies, where Lao PDR’s NDC recognizes the importance of mainstreaming climate change resilience and mitigation into development plans. This needs to be followed by monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). Although the concept of MRV is relatively new to Laos, some steps have been taken to develop a sectoral MRV system, with the forestry sector having the most advanced knowledge of MRV. However, currently, subnational GHG emissions data is not collected or monitored, and very little capacity exists to do this.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
According to its NDC, between 2000 and 2020, Lao PDR achieved a 34% reduction in emissions compared to the baseline scenario (a hypothetical or projected reference case that represents future GHG emission levels most likely to occur in the absence of GHG mitigation activities). While, during the same period, GHG emissions growth rate can be estimated at around 0.3% on average annually. In the meantime, GDP per capita growth rate was 5.3% annually on average between 2000 and 2019, which indicates that emissions growth was decoupled from economic growth. Major mitigation measures were implemented in the Land Use Change & Forestry (LUCF) and power sectors. This included an increase of its hydropower resources to reach over 4,500 MW installed capacity in 2018 in line with the target set in the INDC, and the implementation of the rural electrification programme which led to the electrification of 93.79% of the total population beyond the target set in the INDC.
Despite these achievements and the country’s strong commitments, Laos is still faced with numerous barriers, and requires financial and technical support from development partners and international and regional organisations to effectively implement its climate change policies and strategies. Without the support of the Global Environment Facility and UNEP, Laos would face difficulties to complete reports such as the Biennial Update Report and address the requirements and climate commitments that the UNFCCC entail.
Gaps and barriers include: (i) financial constraints; (ii) data uncertainty, inconsistency and lack of transparency; (iii) limited information and knowledge on impacts of climate change on vulnerable sectors including downscaled climate scenarios as well as limited technical knowledge and capacity of concerned sectors; (iv) weak institutional capacity to mainstream climate change into development plans or translate them into actionable measures at local level; (v) absence of sectoral strategies, action plans and indicators in most key sectors; (vi) weak cross-sectoral coordination; and (vii) lack of diversified sources of long-term financing. It is hard to secure private sector financing in this area, so public sector funding including ODA and other development assistance are primary sources.
The next step is mobilising the financing needed for climate change transition. According to URBAN-LEDS, it is estimated that US$2.37 billion would be needed to implement Lao PDR’s NDC. So far, Laos has received almost US$108m in climate finance from international and local sources (US$53.4m for adaptation and US$54.6m for mitigation activities). In addition, the domestic Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is in the process of becoming an Accredited Entity to various international funds. This holds the promise to provide a streamlined access point to climate finance for local governments. Capacity strengthening may be required to enable the creation of attractive (financially-sound and bankable) project proposals.
Initiatives and Development Plans
A USD 10 million initiative, financed by the Green Climate Fund, is using ‘nature-based solutions’ in four of Lao PDR's most vulnerable cities (Vientiane, Paksan, Savannakhet, and Pakse) to build resilience towards flooding caused by climate change. The project is expected to benefit 10% of the country’s population. The initiative is being executed by Lao PDR’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment with support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The five-year project is restoring urban wetland and stream ecosystems to regulate water flow and reduce flood risk. The initiative aims to shift the paradigm of urban flood management in Lao PDR, from hard infrastructure towards the integration of nature-based solutions. The project represents a new frontier on two counts: It’s the first urban Ecosystem-based Adaptation project to be funded by the Green Climate Fund in the country, and it’s the largest ever urban ecosystem-based adaptation project in Lao PDR to date.
In addition to building climate resilience, the ecological restoration, especially in the Paksan wetland, will have additional benefits of supporting biodiversity and improving habitats for the Siamese tiger perch and Jullien’s golden carp, both of which are endangered species.
Goals and Ambitions
Targets in the 9th NSEDP (2021-2025) include: (i) a feasibility study to establish a plan for reducing GHGs to the level of absorption by various sources, for the Net Zero Emission Plan 2050; (ii) reducing GHGs from deforestation by approximately 30 million tCO2e and selling CO2 emission rights for no less than US$95 million; (iii) implementation of clean energy promotion in the transportation sector to cover 14% of vehicles in the country; (iv) build electric charge stations/biofuel stations to more than 100 stations in 2020; and (v) construct and upgrade landfill infrastructure to fulfil the standard across the country, including at least 5 locations in large urban cities.
- Significant investment in building the capacity of national and sub national officials is required. This should move beyond one off workshops to ongoing training with practical application in real-time.
- The continued allocation of administrative resources to sub-national government may be necessary in order to enable the implementation of new responsibilities as envisaged in the Sam Sang decentralization process.
- Transport, urban planning and energy sector policies at both national and sub-national levels can be reviewed in order to strengthen vertical integration and mainstream MRV into sectoral policies
- Mainstream national climate policy into local plans: Local governments can benefit from integrating climate change, and the NDC, into local socio-economic development plans.
- Several domestic sources of funding could potentially be better used, including the Energy promotion and Development Fund and Environmental Protection Fund.
- A significant adaptation effort is required to address reductions in yields driven by projected increases in the incidence of extreme heat during the growing season of staple crops such as rice, particularly for poorer communities operating subsistence and rain-fed agriculture.
- Technical support for the downscaling of global and regional climate impact and vulnerability assessments to the national and local scale in a way that can support local and sector planning including the identification of practical adaptation measures.
- Investment in systems and tools to support monitoring, forecasting, analysis, early warning and preparedness to natural hazards, integrated within regional decision-support systems and platforms.
- Improved cross-sectoral governance and coordination structures, drawing on international best practice and lessons learned.
- Investment in education and technical skills development to support planning and management of adaptation measures within broader sectoral objectives and plans.
- Finance to support access to international and regional technologies and know-how.
 [Online]. Available: https://careclimatechange.org/where-we-work/laos/#post-content.
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