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Party gets serious about climate change

Update: February, 18/2013 - 00:00

VNS – The Central Committee of the Viet Nam Communist Party is developing a resolution to respond to climate change and protect the country's environment and natural resources. Viet Nam News reporter Le Quynh Anh sat down with three experts to discuss the importance of this document to Viet Nam, a nation beset by pollution and vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

* Nguyen Van Tai, director general of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment

Our institute has been trusted with the assignment of developing the draft resolution to be submitted at the 7th plenum of the Party Central Committee slated for April. The resolution is among the highest-level political documents in Viet Nam in the way that it sets out the direction that all the relevant laws and policies have to abide. This document holds even more importance given that awareness on the need to protect natural resources and the environment as well as respond to climate change still differs among different sectors and the public. The most important characteristic of a resolution is to set consensus on a particular issue.

The need to develop such documents comes at a time when the country is switching to a new way of growth – our ambition is to build a green economy. We no longer want to develop at any cost because now we are suffering the consequences of such hot development. Environmental pollution and depletion of natural resources have become such serious problems that they demand immediate actions. In addition, the emerging threat of climate change, whose strong indicator is the higher frequency of climatic extremes, has already wreaked havoc on many parts of the country. The document is a good start to consolidate ongoing fragmented efforts into a concerted cause to deal with this effectively.

As the resolution touches on three different complex issues, our approach is that every actor should have their say in the making of this resolution. This is why we have held many workshops to consult with other ministries, local authorities, scientists and international organisations so we can come up with a draft that is as comprehensive as possible. We will also publish the document online so the public can contribute their opinions if they are interested. We are trying to facilitate an open discussion and ensure the best response.

* Nguyen Ngoc Sinh, Chairman of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment

This is a very important document in the way that once it is signed, it will pave the way for major progress in environmental protection activities in Viet Nam. This is also the first time that all three tasks of safeguarding natural resources, protecting the environment and responding to climate change have been put together under one single theme.

However, our association believes this document will be more solid if it highlights all three following points. First and foremost, it should demonstrate the inevitable, and in some cases decisive, role of the community. Safeguarding natural resources, protecting the environment and responding to climate change is a long and gruelling process that requires inter-sectoral and international efforts. Against such a backdrop, communities should be the main task force. Communities should be comprehensively informed and guaranteed under the law the legitimate right to participate in all stages of policy-making process, as well as evaluating and monitoring the implementation of such policies. There should also be efforts to build capacity for communities to empower them to make sound decisions.

Our second comment is on the question of human resources to accomplish these daunting tasks. Currently, the human resources responsible for such cross-cutting issues are quite limited and fragmented. There have not been environmental agencies that can fully exercise independent supervisory powers, separate from those whose activities have impacts on the environment. In the absence of such separation, the potential for conflicts of interests looms large. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for protecting the forests but it is also this ministry that exploits the forestry products. For any ministry other than the environment ministry, it is so apparent that environmental protection is not their top priority. While environmental issues often require inter-sectoral co-operation, in reality, we have to admit that it is very difficult for ministries to work together on one single issue. Thus we hope that with this impending high-level document, it will bring co-operation among different agencies to a new level. We want the draft resolution to be very clear on the co-operation mechanism so that different stakeholders can work efficiently.

The third point we want the draft resolution to emphasise is regarding investment. It should be crystal clear about the numbers needed, stating the percentage of total GDP needed to solve environmental issues annually. We don't need superfluous words, we need specific figures. We have talked a lot about how climatic extremes would cost us billions of dollars if we fail to prepare, so why don't we invest more now to counter it? Meanwhile, the investment should not necessarily be confined to developing infrastructure, but also developing human resources.

* Koos Neefjes, climate change policy advisor at United Nations Development Programme in Viet Nam

The draft resolution is a very comprehensive document that presents an excellent analysis of the challenges that Viet Nam is facing. However, the UN in Viet Nam recommends that the following topics receive comparatively more attention.

First, cross-sectoral co-operation is important, a viewpoint which is already in the draft resolution but we want it to be given even more importance. The reason is that there are three issues here: climate change, resource management and environment protection. All three are cross-cutting issues that can't be the responsibility of a single agency. You need extensive co-operation between different ministries, businesses, private sectors and citizens among others.

The second comment we are making is something typical of the UN – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Viet Nam is one of the world champions in terms of poverty reduction and improvements to social services. On most of the targets Viet Nam has done very well but there are still areas where Viet Nam is lagging behind - particularly on environmental targets. One target Viet Nam is not achieving fully regards drinking water supply and sanitation. It would be better if the resolution supported additional stronger action on that.

The third point is that the focus of climate change in the draft resolution is firmly on adaptation. We agree with that however, we suggest not focusing on a certain type of climate change because it is a slow and gradual process. Focus more on climatic extremes such as storms, floods and droughts because that is what matters to people and it's actually happening. Whether it is because of climate change or not, we don't really know but what we can say is that with climate change more of that will happen for certain and the country needs to be better prepared for it.

Going through the draft, we are very positive that it touches on many issues such as green growth strategy or pollution prevention, but green actions in the draft solution are not presented as development opportunities that can be inherent to green growth. It is only considered as a problem and this is actually a psychological issue. Modern and clean production, transport and construction technologies are potential sources of long term growth and employment.

Yet many green investments will only be effective and attractive to domestic and foreign private investors if fiscal policies are reformed. The UN believes that reform in fiscal policies is the most important factor for the success of green growth strategy. In this country, energy is fairly cheap because Viet Nam is currently providing indirect subsidies to fossil fuels through low price levels and support to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the energy sector. Another reason is that Viet Nam still has a lot of coal. Yet the main second reason is the absence of tax, there is only a small tax on energy in Viet Nam. If you take a look at Europe, petrol is more than twice the price and people pay for it in the form of tax and the tax goes to the Government. The Government of Viet Nam also collects tax but why would it collect tax from income instead of pollution? The energy prices have to go up but the competition will also push them down.

It is very encouraging that the draft highlights the need for a roadmap to remove subsidies on fossil fuels but you need to shift the tax burden, it is not simply about taking the subsidies away.

The total revenues should be the same but now you will take from what pollutes. This way taxation becomes an instrument for improving efficiencies and reduction of natural resource use.

We believe the fiscal policy reforms will only happen if the ongoing process of reform of SOEs is reinforced further and the environmental performance of those enterprises is assessed transparently with environmental regulations firmly enforced.

The UN also believes the draft solution could stress more on the enforcement of environmental regulations. Another important solution for Viet Nam lies in environmental accounting, this is already included in the draft resolution but there is a need for transparent availability of such data. The transparency is just as important as the actual information—VNS



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