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By: Matt Gergyek

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today. By the end of the century, average global temperatures could rise by at least two degrees Celsius, according to a landmark study published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is largely due to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that trap heat caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, intensive agriculture, deforestation, and waste. NASA projects that if the global average temperature increases by just two degrees Celsius by 2100, melting ice will cause sea levels to rise between 0.2–2 metres in the next 80 years, causing severe flooding in coastal Asian cities, including Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Big business tends to be more closely linked to contributing to climate change than being concerned about its effects, but the private sector stands to suffer some of the greatest consequences. Rising ocean water, intense heat waves, and extreme weather events pose major threats to disrupting supply chains and destroying production and shipping hubs. One study estimates that the cost of climate change will rise to US$369 trillion by the year 2200.  

Ronald Plett

The private sector needs to help change the narrative by playing its part in curbing the effects of climate change. To take steps to support this, IDRC has partnered with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a global non-profit organization that develops sustainable business strategies with its member companies, which include General Motors and Microsoft.

“Businesses…have no choice not to be involved anymore,” said BSR’s Climate Director David Wei in a podcast hosted by IDRC. “Climate change presents material risks to them as businesses, [and] a successful business in the future will be a climate resilient one.” Climate resilience, Wei says, refers to the capacity and adaptations the private sector must build to absorb stresses caused by climate change — not only for the good of their business, but for the good of all.

Developing countries have historically played very little role in causing climate change, yet they face the greatest threat. Wei indicated that many of these countries lack public funds to build resilience to climate change because their priority is on providing basic services. “There’s no point in hardening your factory wall if the road is washed out and you cannot get your workers inside,” he said. “Community resilience will bolster [a business’s] own resilience.” The IDRC-supported BSR project is exploring ways to leverage private sector financing to scale up adaptation efforts in developing countries by performing national policy assessments in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Thailand.  

A report released by BSR and the Carbon Disclosure Project found that nearly three-quarters of the 75 supply chains analyzed believed that climate change could have significant impacts on their business operations, suggesting the private sector is receiving the message that climate change poses a real risk. However, only approximately half of them were working to manage this risk, exposing a gap between theory and action. “[There’s] the idea that [climate resilience] is a public good and therefore it sits firmly outside the role of the private sector,” Wei said. This project aims to bridge the gap.

“The social responsibility of business is broadening,” Wei said, and “there is a clear opportunity to have businesses build climate resilience. The potential impact … is necessary to have the just and sustainable world that we want to live in.”

Listen to David Wei’s interview on Climate Change Talks.


Learn more about mobilizing private sector investments to build resilience to climate change.




Country Profile

IDRC support for research in Thailand began in 1971. It changed significantly as the country’s economy grew and Thailand became an upper-middle income country. We began to emphasize support for Thai institutions that can coordinate regional research.

One example is the forward-looking initiative on avian influenza, led by the Asian Partnership on Emerging Infectious Diseases Research — one of at least 30 research institutions in six countries. Research topics include the risks of bird flu transmission from migratory birds and the impact of control measures on small poultry producers.

Understanding a changing economy

We’ve also supported research on economics, with a particular emphasis on globalization’s impact on poverty and women’s work. In 1994, we helped create the Asian Development Research Forum, based at the Thailand Research Fund in Bangkok.

Scholars in this policy research network led groundbreaking studies on such topics as pensions, health care, migration, and women’s role in family care. They played a significant part in placing previously under-appreciated issues, such as aging and long-term care, on the regional policy agenda.

In 2003, one of their studies in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam provided new knowledge to stimulate rural employment. Research teams assessed how off-farm and non-farm activities, such as wood processing, are becoming essential to rural economies.

Aquaculture development

During the 1990s, we supported several phases of research on aquatic biodiversity. Researchers from Canada, China, Indonesia, and Thailand applied tools of modern biotechnology, such as DNA fingerprinting, to conserve genetic biodiversity and breed better fish.

In Thailand, researchers worked with fish farmers to identify aquaculture needs and breed a variety of barb better adapted to local environmental conditions. The new breed generated higher yields for fish farmers. Thai researchers also identified strategies to restock watersheds and preserve fish biodiversity. 

Total IDRC Support

294 activities worth CAD $43.5 million since 1971

Farmer harvesting in Thailand.

IDRC support is helping

  • improve job equality for migrant women in border areas 

  • determine links between changing agricultural practices and human health

  • explore inland aquaculture and climate change adaptation strategies in northern Thailand

  • improve flood management planning to counteract climate change disasters, such as the 2011 flood with damages of US$46.5 billion  


Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

Indonesia is an important site for our research support in several ways. It’s a young democracy with a large pluralist society, and its environment has global significance.

Information and communication technologies, in particular, are important tools for development in the world’s largest island group. Our support enabled one of Asia’s most prominent distance learning universities to replace correspondence courses with digital learning technologies.

As a result, the number of adult learners who completed their courses increased, along with satisfaction levels. With an additional IDRC grant, the university replaced lost learning materials and established an Internet access point for students in its tsunami-devastated campus in Banda Aceh.

Community forest management

We have long supported research on the sustainable use of forests in Indonesia. For example, we helped two areas adopt our “model forest” approach for the Berau and Margowitan forests, where the community helps manage it. Developed in Canada and promoted internationally, model forests involve community members, businesses, and local authorities in research and planning for sustainable use of forest resources.

Decentralization of responsibilities from national to local governments in the late 1990s created the opportunity to involve communities in managing large state-owned teak plantations on the island of Java. With our support, there’s now a joint community-government forest management model in three districts. This allows farmers to have better access to forest resources.

The cost of environmental damage

The Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia — funded by IDRC and nine other donors — has also had significant results in Indonesia. For example, it helped identify the causes, impacts, and costs of the vast forest fires that ravaged the country and region in 1997.

The results prompted the region’s environment ministers to pursue alternatives to burning as a land-clearing method. The government uses our co-sponsored report, “Climate Matters: Vulnerability Map of Southeast Asia,” which highlights the risks from climate change effects. It helps policymakers and donors decide on a course of action to meet environmental challenges.

Total IDRC Support

218 activities worth CAD $30.8 million since 1972

Woman carrying a baby in Indonesia.
World Bank / C.Carnemark

Our support helps

  • reduce disease transmission risks from animals and birds to humans

  • strengthen ecohealth research and practice in Southeast Asia

  • reduce socio-economic and geographic disparities in health care delivery 

  • address impunity in post-conflict violence against women in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Burma

  • improve the responsible use of antibiotics to reduce resistant infections in China, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam


Explore research projects we support in this region.

Country Profile

Malaysia was one of the first Southeast Asian countries we supported in 1971. Over the following two decades, we funded more than 100 activities. They contributed to better policies, technologies, and research capacity in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, education, health, and science and technology.

Research results in the late 1980s shaped the Malaysian government’s national industrial strategy around science and technology. As Malaysia became an upper middle-income economy and the local government prioritized research in the 1990s, we scaled back our support. Our funding now bolsters Malaysian efforts to understand how the knowledge economy can benefit the poor. We also promote new technologies for local development.

Better livelihoods for homeworkers

We supported local research to document women’s access to information and communication technologies in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, and the strategies needed to support women’s use of these technologies in the home.

This research on women homeworkers and home-based entrepreneurs — who sell everything from telemarketing and editorial services to homemade crafts and cakes — raised the profile of women working at home and their need for recognition, training, and legal protection. The special needs of homeworkers with disabilities were also highlighted.

Global partnership for knowledge and development

Since 2001, Malaysia has been home to the Global Knowledge Partnership secretariat, supported by IDRC and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This international network of public, private, and not-for-profit organizations promotes the innovative application of knowledge and technology to achieve development goals. It includes improving education and reducing poverty.

The network shares knowledge and builds partnerships through training, meetings, excellence awards, and project funding. Our most recent grant allowed the organization to assess its future directions.

Total IDRC Support

126 activities worth CAD $16.9 million since 1971

Women scientists in Malaysia.
World Bank / N.Motlaq

Our support helps

  • poor rural residents get an education
  • small-scale entrepreneurs find venture capital
  • farmers safeguard their export markets
  • migrant workers gain better protections​


Explore research projects we support in this region.




South Africa


Photo: IDRC / Think Tank Initiative