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World Environment Day 2010 Burma Climate Change Action Call

June 5, 2010

With the extremely hot and dry conditions of the past 12 months bringing misery to the large majority of people in Burma and throughout the South East Asia region, we the undersigned, feel that it is time for our decision makers to act with urgency on the reality of global warming and climate change. It is World Environment Day 2010 and time is running short. We sincerely hope that appropriate and effective actions will be taken to help reduce the impacts that all of us have started suffering from.

A villager from Mawchi village from Toungoo Township complained “my cardamom garden has dried out and I am struggling for my survival this year”.  One of the oldest boat drivers on the Salween River said that “this year the water level is so low we see rocks nobody has ever seen before”.

At the highest levels of the United Nations, within nearly all governments, and among the national scientific institutions of developed and most developing countries there is consensus that climate change is indeed happening and that it is largely caused by polluting human activities. The climate is changing in ways that are already adversely affecting the livelihoods – and in too many cases the lives – of millions of people in Burma and throughout the world.

Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy Delta leaving 138,000 people dead and scores missing, may have happened even without climate change, but it is nevertheless likely that climate change did create the conditions that caused the cyclone to develop and move in its unusual and destructive path.

Recently Burma was listed in the Global Climate Watch Report by the group GermanWatch as second only to Bangladesh in being the most climate affected country in the world during the period 1990 through to 2008. This index ranks countries based on the severity of climate related extreme events such as floods, droughts, storms.

Some of the accelerating effects of climate change are already painfully obvious. The low water levels of rivers, drying up wells and streams, unusual occurrences of destructive tornadoes and heatwaves are only among of the many indicators of climate change. However, these are not certain evidence that it is happening unless measured systematically over a long period.  The scientific proof of global warming can be found in the unprecedented and rapid melting of ice on the formerly snow capped mountains, retreating glaciers and at the Earth’s north and south polar regions. The connection between CO2 levels and rising average temperatures worldwide is also well proven. The increasingly fast rise in sea levels is also a measurable and alarming fact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,) is a body of over 3,000 leading experts selected by governments and the UN to thoroughly peer review the climate science. Among its many findings relevant to Burma, the IPCC says that low lying coastal areas, small island nations and deltas like those of the Irrawaddy, Salween, Sittaung and Kaladan rivers are at serious risk of sea level rise, especially during cyclones and floods. Sea level rise will eventually displace millions from the densely populated and fertile plains and coastal communities.

The IPCC also identified Burma as having one of the world’s highest death rates in relation to diarrhoea and malnutrition. Malaria and dengue fever are also spreading. Similarly the warmer conditions and increased flooding will provide the perfect breeding grounds for infectious bacteria such as cholera in contaminated drinking water.

Most of the human caused global warming is happening as a result of the annual burning of tens of billions of tons of fossil fuels which produce even larger amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have the effect of trapping too much heat energy from the sun under the invisible blanket of gases. CO2 from the burning of forests and farmlands also adds to the effect, along with methane, CO2 or other pollutants from industries, dam reservoirs and large scale livestock farming and industrial agriculture.

Although Burma is not one of the big emitters, the country is still responsible for some pollution. The extraction of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas from the Yadana, Yetagon and Shwe gas fields will result in a very substantial amount of pollution. The large shallow reservoirs of the more than 200 dams made since 1988 will produce much methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Rice cultivation in fields that are kept flooded through the whole growing period also produces methane gas. Deforestation from logging and the annual burning of most of the country’s forests, farms and grasslands also release extremely large amounts of CO2.

Climate change affects food and water security, the number and strength of wildfires and the rate of soil erosion. It seriously threatens the livelihoods and productivity of farmers – and in the long term, the food security of everyone. Long term food security is already threatened by the inevitable future rise of fuel and fertilizer prices as world oil resources are burned up, and as productive agricultural lands and forests are taken over by huge dams, mining concessions, energy projects and spreading cities.


  • To meet the needs to reduce CO2 pollution; to increase the ability of the forests and the ground to absorb rainwater; to protect soils from erosion and to increase soil fertility, all unnecessary burning should be prevented. Keeping the ground covered with living or dead plants at all times slows water movement and increases water penetration into the soil, helping streams flow cleanly for longer periods. The carbon collected in uncountable tons of dead leaves and branches over thousands of miles of land would become fertilizer instead of CO2 pollution and haze.
  • To prepare for serious water supply problems in the future, effort must be made now to protect watershed forests, dig wells, build small scale water storage and filtering systems and improve efficiency in water use. Pollution of rivers, lakes and groundwater must also be prevented by making and enforcing regulations on waste management, especially from mining, agriculture and industry.
  • Because unsustainable growth in the use of energy resources is the main contributor to CO2 pollution, it is necessary to envision and establish a different social and economic system that is genuinely sustainable.
  • Besides developing new solutions, Governments and other decision makers should also consider existing indigenous knowledge of environmental and biodiversity conservation. Traditional knowledge of biodiversity, forest and watershed conservation and some agricultural practices include critical insights and skills for sustainable rural livelihoods, poverty reduction and adaptation to climate change. This knowledge should be called upon to inform environmental protection laws, policies and regulatory systems in relevant sectors (ie. agriculture, forestry, water resources and disaster management)
  • Through community participation, determine the needs, priorities and capabilities of vulnerable groups and stakeholders in relation to adaptation to extreme climate change and climate variability.

In a globalizing world, indigenous land management practices are more likely to protect the environment, as well as benefit local communities compared to aggressive economic developments that damage and pollute the Earth and lead to inequality and abuses. Ethnic and indigenous peoples’ environmental groups are therefore calling for national, ethnic and community leaders in Burma to value and integrate indigenous knowledge that conserves, maintains and protects the environment for sustainable development alongside a new and fairer economic system focussed on sustainably and fairly meeting people’s needs.

Endorsed by:

Karen Environmental and Social Network (KESAN)
Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization (Sapawa)
Network for Environment and Economic Development (NEED)
Lahu National Development Organization (LNDO)
Arakan Oil Watch (AOW)
Pan Kachin Development Society (PKDS)
Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG)
Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG)
Kachin Environmental Organization,  KEO?
Earthrights Students Union (ERSU)
Women’s League of Chinland
Arakan Human Rights and Environment Organization
Ta’ang Students and Youth Organisation (TSYO)
Pa-O Youth Organisation (PYO)
Earth Rights International (ERI)
Salween Watch
Burma Rivers Network (BRN)
Karen Rivers Watch (KRW)

For More Information Contact:
Ko Shwe: 081-386-9925, thuebee@gmail.com, Steve Thompson: 0867287407, makegreen@gmail.com

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Environmental and Economic Justice, Press Release

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