Begin with the end in mind.
Central to the strategic approach for sustainable development in the Mekong Delta Plan is the concept of “backcasting”. Instead of extrapolating current trends to predict the future, this approach interpolates a desired future outcome (from multiple scenarios) back to the present situation based on the question: “what do we need to do today to reach this long-term vision?” For addressing complex problems affecting many sectors and levels of society, where incremental change is not sufficient, this approach is more effective than relying too much on forecasting, which tends to have the effect of presenting a more limited range of options, hence stifling creativity, and more important, projecting the problems of today into the future.
The drafting of the Mekong Delta Plan started with an analysis of existing trends, developments and vulnerabilities for the delta. For an updated analysis, see the introduction section.
2. Future scenarios and long-term vision (2050).
The Mekong Delta Plan describes two basic scenarios that are more or less based on continuation of existing economic and agricultural policy and two other scenarios that include a more successful redirection to a more economically efficient use of natural resources. In that sense these scenarios cover a range of plausible developments from rather pessimistic through likely to optimistic. The scenario that will eventually develop is uncertain, but can be directed to a certain extent. It depends largely on the success of spatial planning and land and water resources management, effectiveness of government incentives and policies.
Governments need to explore different possible future scenarios to determine which development should be pursued for a safe, prosperous and sustainable development of the delta. It helps identifying which policies for water resource management and spatial planning need to be pursued and what flexibility is needed if the outcome of these policies is less than desired. Decisions for short-term investments can not be made with good motivation for the long-term. No-regret measures are efficient and effective in all potential scenarios and flexibility can be kept for future developments, so that options are open to respond when future changes become more certain and clearer.
Climate change has been studied extensively, at global, regional and national scales. Rather than adopting a fixed value, the delta plan approach considers minimum and maximum developments, the ranges of expected sea level rise, of low discharges and of high discharges in order to assess ranges of measures to be taken. In the preparation of this delta plan this range has been established.
The Mekong Delta has a larger upstream part of the river outside its borders than within its own jurisdiction. Apart from climate change, future changes in discharge are affected by upstream developments such as land and water use, reservoir construction and flow management.
A vision on the desired development of the delta must be a natural and logical consequence from having developed possible and plausible scenarios, i.e. the potential developments for the (Mekong) delta. Assessment of the performance of the four scenarios on the criteria safety, prosperity and sustainability, a desired direction of development to be pursued may be established and formulated as a "vision on the Mekong Delta". The vision will describe which elements will contribute to a safe, prosperous and sustainable future for the delta. This vision is long-term, order of 100 years ahead and the actions required to materialise this vision define the integrated overall strategy for the Mekong Delta.
3. Backcasting: moving back to present time.
With the long-term vision on the Mekong Delta in mind, the question arises what should be done "today" to be in line with the desired long-term development strategy. It is trusted that in this "back-casting" approach more creative recommendations open up to go step by step towards realisation of the desired future for the delta. This in contrast to a forecasting model in which today's problems are projected into the nearer future with the effect of using a more limited range of possible measures.
4. Adapt step-by-step within the regular planning system.
It is obvious that a vision with "safe, prosperous and sustainable" as its core, primarily aims at largely integrated measures. This requires review of existing policies, programmes, master plans, possibly leading to intensification where appropriate or adjustments required. Legislation needs to enable further development and stimulate the process of adaptation. In the process of making a Mekong Delta Plan the governance issues of what is needed to make integrated decisions on how the delta management can become adaptive, how investments can be steered to no-regret measures and to a higher value economy is an important next step.