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For World Environment Day 2018, UNDP Lao PDR Resident Representative, Ms. Kaarina Immonen reflects on UNDP's role in supporting Lao PDR on its path to a greener, cleaner and more sustainable future.

Vientiane, 5 June 2018
– On World Environment Day it is – today more than ever before - our duty to state that climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity.

None of the Sustainable Development Goals – from eradicating poverty to ending world hunger and preserving the biodiversity of our planet – can be achieved unless we are able to put an end to the alarmingly rapid changes that are globally occurring in our climate today.

Here at UNDP Lao PDR, we are fortunate to be able to partner with a government that continues to prioritize climate action and to express its commitment to combating climate change. Even though Lao PDR’s contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions are minor on the global scale, the country has a vested interest in mitigating climate change and also adapting to the climate impacts on several productive sectors.

In September 2016, Lao PDR took admirable leadership in regard to the issue by being the first ASEAN country to present its ratification documents for the Paris Agreement. UNDP, together with the UK, was part of the process by working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on the development of the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDC served as the basis for Lao PDR’s ratification instruments and future guidance for the country’s climate action.

Today we specifically stress climate change, because – with Lao PDR on a successful trajectory towards graduating from Least Developed Country status – the country’s greatest development gains may easily be washed away by a variety of natural disasters. Floods, droughts, landslides and cyclones have all wreaked havoc on the landlocked country over the past years. The occurrence of all these disasters is likely to increase due to climate change.

UNDP is committed to supporting the country’s resilience to natural disasters. We do this firstly at the policy level, by helping to draft legal instruments such as the Disaster Law and the Climate Change Decree. But we have also worked directly with communities by helping to establish Village Disaster Committees in Xaiyabuli and Xiangkhouang provinces so that even small communities are capable of rapidly responding to emergency situations in a safe and well-informed manner.

One way of helping to both mitigate and adapt to climate change is to plant more trees. The government has set itself a target of increasing the forest cover to 70% by the year 2020. UNDP is contributing to this effort in Savannakhet Province, where we are working with communities to ensure alternative livelihoods such as ecotourism to take pressure off the forests while also doing reforestation activities.

Through the Poverty Environment Initiative we are also supporting the diversification of the economy, stipulated in Lao PDR’s 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan as one of the country’s main development targets. Lao PDR’s impressive economic growth has been largely dependent on the natural resource base, and there are many opportunities to create other sources of income. Realizing this challenge, UNDP has, together with partners, contributed to the development of the Green Growth Guidelines as part of promoting quality investments.

UNDP is also helping to ensure that Lao PDR is able to attract quality investments that do not degrade the environment. To this end, we have supported the government in developing tools such as environmental impact assessments and an investor database.

This year for World Environment Day, UN Secretary General António Guterres sent a request to the world to join together in the effort to beat plastic pollution. UNDP is pleased to tackle this issue by partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on the management of solid waste in Vientiane Capital.  This initiative will see the establishment of waste bins particularly for collecting plastic and raising awareness on their use.

As stated by His Excellency, Minister Sommad Pholsena, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment : “To celebrate World Environment Day this year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has coordinated with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for the latter to issue a ministerial decision for industry and trade companies to seek ways to reduce the use of plastic in their activities. We consider this as a very important step to work with the international community to beat plastic pollution. We are looking forward to working with our friends in implementing advanced technologies to address this problem”.

To contribute to innovative solutions, UNDP will rely on strong partnerships. UNDP greatly values cooperation with the government, development partners and private sector, while recognizing that as individuals we must all also act responsibly, help each other and be ready to change our ways in order to preserve our one and only planet. To quote UN Secretary General António Guterres’ call to action on this year’s World Environment Day: “Together, we can chart a path to a cleaner, greener world”. And for a Green, Clean and Beautiful Laos.

Please read this op-ed in Lao.

‘This article was authored by Ms. Kaarina Immonen, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative. Ms. Immonen started her career in the UN in 1991 and has been serving in the Lao PDR since 2014.’

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