Adapting to multiple and uncertain changes in the Mekong Region: Strategies for today and a +4C world

The development of the Mekong Region, and in particular its water and land resources, will occur in the context of multiple, profound and uncertain changes. SUMERNET is initiating a “regional assessment” to interpret the multiple potential changes in the context of sustainable development of the Mekong Region.
The Mekong Region is rich in natural resources, and in particular has enjoyed a relative abundance of water resources, although seasonal and periodic droughts affect some subregions. Historically, the countries and sub-regions of the Mekong have been only loosely integrated due in part to weakly developed regional transportation, energy, and hydraulic infrastructure and relatively low levels of transboundary natural resources and investment flows.
Dramatic changes are now occurring within the region and these include:
• extensive large-scale infrastructure development, including dams for hydropower production (including several on the lower Mekong mainstream), large-scale
• diversions of water (much of this for irrigation); and rail and road networks that increasingly cross borders and enable large-scale movements of population;
• economic integration via increased cross-border trade and investment flows enabled by tariff and trade agreements and driven by rapid economic expansion within the
• region; and,
• increasing competition for the region’s natural resources, inclusive of land, water, minerals, and biological resources.
SUMERNET”s contribution 
The development of the Mekong Region, and in particular its water and land resources, will occur in the context of multiple, profound and uncertain changes. Some of these changes (including improved public infrastructure) are potentially beneficial in supporting the region’s sustainable development. Others, including regional climate change, are at best uncertain and at worst present fundamental challenges to sustainable development. The presence of multiple drivers of change, and uncertainty over if and how they will interact, provides motivation for the design of regional development policies that are robust to a range of possible futures. It is likely that the needed changes will be “transformational” rather than incremental. If that is true, then there will be an unprecedented need for close collaboration between Mekong riparian states on levels of policy, investment, and security (including
food security).
SUMERNET is well positioned to interpret the multiple potential changes in the context of sustainable development of the Mekong, and to provide an integrated assessment that identifies the most critical and policy-relevant scenarios likely to affect the region. SUMERNET can contribute by communicating the implications of these critical scenarios for policymakers and planners within the Mekong Region, and assist them in developing robust policies and investment strategies.
Guiding policy questions
1) What strategic water allocation and watershed management policy options exist at subnational basin, national and international levels in the Mekong Region to deal with water shortages arising from seasonal drought, inter-annual climate variability and climate change?
2) What combination of investment and resource management strategies would be robust against large uncertainties of climate impacts if global mean temperature rise reaches or exceeds 4°C and would support long-term regional sustainability? Is adaptation to the impacts of 4°C even possible?
3) Will the changes occurring (climate, water scarcity, investment) lead to greater cohesion and cooperation among Mekong riparian partners, or will they lead to
increasing potential for conflict?
4) Will the economic development trends with the region lead to increasing or decreasing dependence on the region’s water resources?
Design of the regional assessment
The regional assessment would have four main parts:
1. A set of 4-5 subnational basin case studies 
2. An analysis of international region-level options 
3. Using RDM approaches, identification of highly relevant and challenging scenarios that allow for a regional level exploration of what increasing water scarcity and increasing regional economic integration imply in a world up to +4°C warmer, with focus on the water resources in the Mekong Region
4. A test of strategic policy options proposed in 4-5 subnational basin studies (1) and regional study (2) in +4°C world using the critical alternative scenarios identified in (3)
Parts 1, 2 and 3 could be largely done in parallel. Part 1 studies would be led by SUMERNET partners. Parts 2 and 3 would be led by the SUMERNET Secretariat. Part 4 could be led by SUMERNET Steering Committee (SC). The individual assessment case studies in Part 1 and 4 would be carried out in locations with significant prior work upon which to base document reviews, stakeholder consultations, as well as modest additional modeling work if appropriate. The entire process is designed to take 18-24 months.
Key assessment documents from initial plans to final reports would be prepared in all the Mekong languages. Only technical appendices might remain in English (for regional work) or in local languages (for subnational assessments).
Invitation for collaboration
We welcome feedback from individuals or organizations who are interested in this effort and wish to offer advice for the concept note and collaborate in our work. Kindly contact the SUMERNET Secretariat ( or
Please download the concept note (pdf) for more information.