The Myanmar Advanced Leadership Institute on Climate Change

19 Dec MALICC participants with their hosts from Catoctin Mountain Park, where we learned about the role of National Park Services in combating climate change and Catoctin's efforts to preserve its biodiversity.

By Mary Howard, PISA Program Assistant

In his December 11, 2014 Remarks on Climate Change at COP-20, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted dynamic tensions with the ongoing fight against climate change: successes vs. drawbacks, science vs. politics, long-standing tradition vs. innovative adaptation. Each individual holds responsibility for carbon emissions, impacting national climate change policy, and proactive mitigation. While Kerry warns that the window for effective action is closing quickly, he is “confident we can rise above the debates that have dragged us down. We can find a way to summon the shared resolve that we need to tackle this shared threat. And if we do that, then we will reach an agreement and we will meet this challenge.”

Since 2007, PISA has facilitated capacity-building programs for climate change education and sustainable, green development for some of the most vulnerable countries in Southeast Asia. In total, five successful Leadership Institutes on Climate Change were organized, with a focus on mitigation and resilience. Without our strong and enduring partnerships throughout the region, PISA could not have organized such leadership training programs. MALICC built upon the success of the 2013 Myanmar Climate Change Leadership Institute (MLICC) and valuable partnership with Yangon-based NGO, Advancing Life and Regeneration Motherland (ALARM).

From October 31 to November 14, PISA was honored to welcome 14 leaders of Myanmar for the Myanmar Advanced Leadership Institute on Climate Change (MALICC). During the 2-week program, seven civil society leaders and seven government officials learned about climate change’s far-reaching impact from the many perspectives of Washington’s policymakers, non-governmental representatives, academics, scientists and activists. MALICC’s participants represented diverse organizations. The government participants came from seven distinct Bureaus while the civil society leaders represented six leading organizations with missions devoted to sustainable development, community participation, and knowledge dissemination.  Diversity among the MALICC participants was cross cutting along ethnic, regional, and expertise lines. However, all shared a common interest in global warming. Each participant was passionate, enthusiastic about making a positive impact, and eager to learn as much as they could during their two weeks in Washington.

The MALICC group at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, where they learned about new weather prediction technologies and opportunities for weather forecasting training.

The MALICC group at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, where they learned about new weather prediction technologies and opportunities for weather forecasting training.

While foreign actors have been increasingly active within Myanmar, MALICC enabled rising leaders in Myanmar to form networks abroad. Collaboration and exchange of ideas is one essential element to creating inclusive, sustainable climate change policy. The MALICC program offered Myanmar’s forefront civil society leaders a path-breaking opportunity to directly interact on one on, begin dialogue and establish working relationships with government officials from key Departments. MALICC initiated dialogue and negotiation which will continue beyond the MALICC program. In addition, the delegation openly offered first-hand accounts of Myanmar’s democratization process and development experience to participating experts. PISA’s program not only educated its delegates in substantive knowledge regarding climate change and its effects, but also facilitated training for essential skills for global action such as public speaking, making use of open source data, and multicultural awareness. Each individual was fully aware that the people of Myanmar must take responsibility and guide their country towards the future that they want.

MALICC participants with their hosts from Catoctin Mountain Park, where we learned about the role of National Park Services in combating climate change and Catoctin's efforts to preserve its biodiversity.

MALICC participants with their hosts from Catoctin Mountain Park, where we learned about the role of National Park Services in combating climate change and Catoctin’s efforts to preserve its biodiversity.

By the program’s closing session, crucial bonds were formed—future links for information sharing, collaboration, and increased understanding among a wide range of perspectives. Both PISA and each MALICC participant are grateful for our sponsors’ contributions and information sessions. We are also thankful for the many individuals who shared their expertise throughout the conference. Each day was packed with meetings, engaging discussion, cultural exchange, and innovative brainstorming. We only hope that this program will spur the next Leadership Institute on Climate Change, and strengthen the legacy of PISA’s and our valued partners’ work to help build capacity to deal with climate change.


Combatting Climate Change: Analyzing the United States’ and China’s Agreement

5 Dec

By Aisha Iqbal, PISA Staff Assistant

After declaring climate change “one of the greatest threats facing humanity,” US President Barack Obama announced a joint effort by the United States and the

People’s Republic of China to reduce carbon emissions within both countries. Given their roles as the largest and second-largest carbon polluters in the world, this announcement signified a new precedence for global environmental policy, one in which cooperation is viewed as a powerful tool. According to a New York Times article, a senior official from the Obama administration stated that while “The US and China have often been seen as antagonists,” within the climate debate , the ushering in of the joint program can result in “a new day in which [the two countries] can act much more as partners,” towards developing greener economies.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping, with their delegations, meet inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Obama and President Xi Jinping, with their delegations, meet inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The success of the cooperative measure is contingent on work done within both countries over the next decade. In a press release, the White House indicated that the U.S. plans to reduce its carbon emissions “26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025,” while China plans on “achieving its peak CO2 emissions by 2030,”with an increase of its non-fossil fuel shares to 20% of primary energy consumption. With the establishment of the US-China Climate Change Working Group, in charge of initiatives on “vehicles, smart grids, carbon capture, utilization and storage, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas data management,” both countries aim to build up their respective renewable energy capacities in order to meet the targets. Further action will be undertaken through the creation of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, responsible for creating carbon capture and storage technologies.

Though the announcement was hailed by many as a progressive step towards combatting global climate change, successful implementation of the long term goals remains uncertain. The major effort towards attaining the US goals will come after President Barack Obama leaves office, bringing into question whether future presidents will have similar zeal to act against climate change. A recent Politico article emphasized that no significant legislation on the issue is expected in the next two years, especially with a Republican Congress.

In the case of China, it is implementation of legislation that is seen as problematic. A revised environmental protection law, passed in January, calls upon provincial and local leaders to be held accountable for whether or not both economic and environmental targets are met. There is still a large discrepancy in carbon emissions among the different regions, based entirely on the relative economic growth experienced in each area. Many of the poorer regions, situated in the western half of the country, have not experienced the same level of development and thus, for many local government officials, “GDP growth still trumps environmental protection.” For the Chinese officials, it becomes imperative to find a balance between its high energy demand for economic development and a growing concern over the environmental conditions. For the two countries, experts point to greater investment in renewable energy as a means of fueling both economies. As large trading partners, greater cooperation in the energy sector can usher in a new era of green economic policymaking on a global scale

Climate Change and Food Security: Incentives for U.S.-Asia Cooperation

28 May

By Mary Howard, PISA Program Assistant

With the recent releases of the United States’ third National Climate Change Assessment (NCA) and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) book, The Environments of the Poor in Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, attention to impending climate change is accelerating.  Reports on climate change serve a vital function to present information from various disciplines, such as science and economics, in an integrated matter to inform society about complex processes. While the NCA and ADB’s works are regionally focused, both reports highlight parallels which strengthen the argument for global cooperation to mitigate and adapt as necessary to climate change.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990  requires the U.S. Global Change Research Programto produce an NCA every four years. The purpose of the NCA is to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The ADB’s publication inaugurates an upcoming three-volume series based on a 2010 conference that included diverse actors. While climate change often invokes negative and worrisome feelings, this report remains positive and argues that “reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and responding to climate change” can happen simultaneously as a “triple-win” situation.


A Burmese sunset over the rice paddy fields along the road to Mandalay just outside Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Daw on February 17, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan.

Both the NCA and ADB’s work describe the anticipated harms due to climate change: extreme weather, flooding, spread of infectious diseases and pests, infrastructure failures, and ecosystem collapses, many of which will have an impact on agriculture. A United Nations report predicts that by 2050, world population will be a staggering 9.6 billion people with Asians comprising the  major portion. Feeding 9.6 billion people in a world facing food security problems is a challenge. However, the NCA and ADB report are optimistic: with the correct policy implementation and technological innovations, agricultural production could increase. Climate change has the potential to affect agricultural systems positively and negatively, depending on location and other environmental factors. The key is to develop practices that will take advantage of any opportunities that the changing climate presents.


Food stall in Yangon, Myanmar on February 16, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan

The NCA describes “climate change induced stresses,” which echo those in the ADB volume. China provides a useful case study for American policymakers, since the country’s decline in rural poverty rate coincides with increasing food production rates. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, China’s grain production increased from 285 kg per capita during the early 1980s to over 300 kg per capita onwards, except in 2003. In the chapter, “Climate Change, Food Security, and Poverty in the People’s Republic of China,” author Qi Gubo describes how Chinese farmers’ responses to climate change have been effective. Simple measures such as moving the crop sites, planting different crop varieties, producing drought-resistant crops and increasing greenhouse crop ventures has raised overall output. In a different chapter, “Conservation Agriculture in Cambodia,” authors describe current land use trials in Cambodia that may have international applications. In Cambodia, experts are experimenting with sustainable upland agriculture programs to support technical training for farmers, increase access to resources, and increase land-use efficiency.

Considering the global nature of climate change and its impact on food security, the U.S. and countries in Asia should continue to strengthen information sharing and policy cooperation. Effective collaboration already exists within multilateral venues such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. As these two reports issued this month reveal, climate change induced problems facing developing and developed countries are the same. However, each nation differs in its ability and resources to address climate change. While each country’s situation is unique, it is clear that there is much to learn from both hemispheres and all levels of development.

Calling Out Climate Change – Reactions Across Asia

28 Apr

By Spogmay Ahmed, PISA Staff Assistant 

Climate change has struck, and if we do not take immediate action, its pernicious impacts will continue to exacerbate. This is what the International Panel on Climate Change warns in its recently released Fifth Assessment Report. Though climate change is a global phenomenon, the report notes that much of the world, particularly developing countries, do not have adequate resources to counteract its risks. The report therefore advances adaptation as a necessary approach in responding to a changing environment. Climate change can easily aggravate ongoing social and economic processes; developed and developing countries need to cooperate to ensure steady growth. Among the countries left most vulnerable are those in Asia, which have not hesitated to address the risks in their local media.

An article in the China Daily recognizes the impact of global warming, as well as food and water scarcity on China’s growing economy. Though yields of winter wheat may benefit from rising temperatures and increasing precipitation, yields of rice may be threatened by these same changes. Additionally, as the Chinese population continues to grow, the country may face challenges in guaranteeing healthy food and clean water for all. The article notes that the IPCC report focuses on livelihoods and poverty, which could bring attention to rural populations most vulnerable to a changing climate. In terms of adaptation, the article explains that despite the government’s efforts towards promoting adaptation projects, local planners struggle to access effective resources for further implementation. Lastly, it emphasizes local development and community-based adaptation as a sensible approach to combating climate change. This requires the participation of vulnerable peoples, thereby targeting climate change within the framework of local developmental policies.

Likewise, an opinion editorial in the Indian press titled “The quiet IPCC warning” focuses on much of the same phenomena. It recognizes that changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and disappearance of land could generate large-scale migration across South Asia. This would result in a conflict over diminishing resources, and could aggravate existing structural inequalities and poverty conditions. The article notes that the most vulnerable states are arguably the most dysfunctional. Therefore, creating adaptation policies will not be an easy undertaking.


The Costs of Climate Change: Aggravating Caste-Based Discrimination

4 Mar









By Spogmay Ahmed, PISA Staff Assistant

To many, climate change is simply another story in the news, a phenomenon left for the experts to solve. Rather, it is a harsh reality that exploits the already existing social and political discrepancies that mark everyday affairs. In South Asian countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan, parts of society are organized according to a caste system. This form of social order permits little mobility and subjugates those individuals comprising the lower ranks of society. To add to the institutionalized inequality that low-caste communities face every day, climate change only exacerbates their vulnerability. When natural disasters strike, these people are left homeless, defenseless, and are even exploited for their labor. With the unpredictability of climate change threatening all populations, low-caste communities are left neglected and in dire need of political attention.

The “Equality in Aid” report recently released by the International Dalit Solidarity Network analyzes the pernicious impact of caste-based discrimination on Dalits, or ‘untouchables’ at the undermost level of the caste system in South Asian countries. For example, though untouchability was outlawed in India’s 1950 constitution, discrimination against lower-class individuals persists. Without proper accountability mechanisms in place, the government cannot be sure that laws are being effectively implemented at the local level. Therefore, structural inequality leads to the marginalization of these communities. Dalits are typically landless, and the few assets they own are often not formally recognized. During times of crisis, Dalits are disposed to lose everything they have, and their untouchable status leaves them at a loss for receiving emergency aid. To add to this maltreatment, Dalits are even taken advantage of with complete disregard for the trauma they may have experienced themselves. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, for example, Dalits in India were forced to remove corpses and debris with little or no compensation received. Dalits have been denied fundamental resources, such as health care, shelter, and access to clean water. Additionally, their lack of documentation leaves them ineligible to claim their land and property rights. Priority is offered to higher-class people, while discrimination against Dalits often goes without retribution. The structural repression Dalits face as a product of their low social status is only aggravated by administrative ignorance and governmental limitations.

The report lists a number of recommendations to address the problems caused by caste-based discrimination. First, humanitarian actors must ensure that the issue is publicly recognized. To promote disaster prevention and response, they must engage directly with low-caste communities to advance their needs. Second, humanitarian actors must agree to a common approach that fosters consensus and encourages stronger response mechanisms. Last, they must support laws and policies at all administrative levels that recognize the situation of marginalized groups, advance accountability, and adequately address the effects of caste-based discrimination. These steps are fundamental to effectively tackling the social barriers low-caste communities regularly face.

Climate change has been attracting increasing attention around the world, but some of its effects have been utterly overlooked. As environmental concerns make their way onto the international stage, regional concerns need not be neglected. Inevitably, climate change impacts both developed and developing countries. It is important that these countries do not fall along dividing lines, but recognize the realities that are really at stake. Among these realities is the pending exploitation of regional, low-caste populations. Since natural disasters can strike unexpectedly, it is crucial that preparedness and response be carried out in an effective, equitable fashion.

“Using Indigenous Knowledge to Promote Local Leadership and Sustainable Resource Management in Myanmar”

24 Sep

As part of PisaSpeak’s  month-long guest blogger Series – “Tell us what you’re doing in the field” we heard from Priscilla Clapp, blue moon fund, about the need for integrated watershed management in Myanmar.  This week’s post comes from Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator, Heinrich Böll Stiftung and focuses on a new program that taps community leaders in an effort to build support for indigenous knowledge in natural resource management.  

Guest Blogger:  Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator Southeast Asia, Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Photos: Rainer Eizenberger, Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management Workshop, Myanmar 2013


EditorImage: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

While Myanmar has seen remarkable political changes over the past few years, conflicts over natural resources and environmental degradation have been on the rise. Reports about conflicts over land, mining projects, hydropower mega-projects and others dominate the recently liberalized local media landscape. In many cases the conflicts are linked to investment projects from neighboring countries (mainly China and Thailand) which result in unsustainable resource extraction with detrimental effects for both- the environment and the local and indigenous communities. As more investment in the resource sector is to be expected following Myanmar’s economic liberalization, it could put further pressure on already vulnerable communities. This is especially the case in the resource rich ethnic areas.

Enter Heinrich Boll Stiftung and EcoDev/Alarm…..


“In order to empower local communities to manage their natural resources in a more sustainable way it is crucial to build up a critical mass of local development practitioners and NGO workers who are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with these new challenges.” To this end, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia together with EcoDev/Alarm and several other local partner organizations, joined hands to create a specialized Training of Trainers Program on Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management. Over the past year, more than twenty trainers representing local organizations from all parts of Myanmar have acquired new skills and knowledge at one of several weeklong workshops conducted across the coImageuntry. The training program includes participatory methods such as Participatory Action Research, moderation and visualization skills (VIPP), exposure to legal frameworks regarding natural resource rights and more. In local communities, future trainers learn to appreciate and explore indigenous and local knowledge and the value of indigenous knowledge for sustainable development at the local level. After completing the program the participants receive certificates issued by the Right Livelihood College and continue the training program within their own organizations. As part of the program two manuals on Visualization in Participatory Programs (VIPP) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are now available in Burmese Language editions and distributed at no cost as hard copy and e-book for downloads to local civil society organizations.

Want to tell us about the fantastic work you’re doing and how it makes a difference?  Send my your written or audio post:

Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar

10 Sep

Special Guest Bloggers:

Sheridan Hyland, Program Associate, blue moon fund and Priscilla Clapp, Retired Minister Counselor, U.S. Foreign Service

Former Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Burma, for the blue moon fund


 Within the past few years, we have seen the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma, open itself to the international community and begin a promising reform process.  These new changes provide both opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development, and one of the most important components for development is water.  A significant portion of Myanmar’s population still resides in rural areas, and as a result agriculture accounts for the dominant share of the country’s water usage.[1]  The energy sector, however, specifically the hydropower, has been steadily increasing its water usage as Myanmar seeks to expand economic productivity, raise incomes, and alleviate the acute poverty of the majority of the population.  With four key rivers as identified by the Government of Myanmar– the Ayeyarwady, Sittoung, Thanlwin, and Bago – as well as numerous important tributaries[2], Myanmar’s water resources are significant and offer potential solutions to many of the development challenges the country faces, if they are employed wisely and efficiently.

As greater emphasis on environmental challenges has become global, it is clear that careless use of natural resources cannot continue indefinitely, and Myanmar’s government, civil society, and population have recognized that water resources management systems must be put in place to ensure sustainable development of the country’s economy and resources.  Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), in particular, has gained significant traction in Myanmar.  IWRM is a practical and goal-oriented process for water use that “promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”[3]  Participation of key stakeholders – in water and other sectors, as well as the politically influential and the politically disadvantaged – in the process is crucial.  In Myanmar in particular, it is also important to assemble existing and new information from the different ministries and civil society organizations to put into conceptual models for policy planning purposes and to make this information easily accessible to all.[4]  These tactics allow stakeholders to identify positive and negative consequences of proposed actions and make informed decisions on the most feasible policy solution.

By utilizing IWRM as a tool for water and land use in Myanmar, the government not only has a means for conserving waterresources, but it can help prevent further social tensions fromescalating.  Many of the country’s most disadvantaged peoples will be negatively affected by poorly designed water use and development policies, so it will be crucial to develop a participatory process offered by IWRM to allow these groups to lend their voice to the identification of key problems and the search for a solution that will not disadvantage them further.  Because Myanmar’s government and population recognize that their country is unique in terms of its natural wealth and beauty, key stakeholders recognize that as development progresses, they have the opportunity to ensure that the process is done in a sustainable manner from the beginning.  While nearly everyone in Myanmar can agree on the need for economic development, many also agree that the country must not squander its resources as so many others have done.

The missing ingredient at this stage is the IWRM framework for organizing the stakeholders in government, industry, agriculture, transport, and civil society to approach this task together. In January 2013, the blue moon fund in cooperation with the Dutch NGO Deltares and several local and international NGOs[5] engaged in a scoping mission of the Ayeyarwady River to identify key water resources management problems, as well as possible solutions through IWRM.  In July 2013, the blue moon fund, in partnership with the Stockholm Environmental Institute, held a forum on conservation of the Ayeyarwady in Naypyitaw with concerned parliamentarians and ministries. Deltares has recently signed an MOU with the Myanmar government to begin compiling an IWRM data base and conduct some initial studies.  It is also time to begin organizing civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders to participate in these efforts. With continued cooperation at a policy level and on the ground, Myanmar has the opportunity to pursue development, address critical social issues, and preserve the natural resources that make it unique.

[1] “Strategic Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar,” Inter-Ministry Task Force on Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Global Water Partnership, 2000.

[4] “Report of the Scoping Mission for the Ayeyarwady River Basin: Final Report,” February 2013.


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