Going green ‘out of reach'
by Thu Huong
Words such as green growth, sustainable development or Rio+20 mean very little to the average Vietnamese, or people anywhere for that matter.
So when Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, wrapped up in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil last week, domestic coverage was limited to the speech given by a Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister.
During his cliche-laden oratory, he reaffirmed Viet Nam's commitment to green growth. He highlighted the need to build regional green economy centres and called for the UN to create an international network to deal with the effects of rising sea levels.
While our leader, one of 180 heads of state attending the conference, outlined the importance of environmentally friendly practices and the strategic steps Viet Nam would take to meet its green commitments, he failed to underscore the part that needs to be played by the people of Viet Nam, or how the Government would make green politics relevant to the each and every one of us.
Meanwhile, the international media dismissed Rio+20, as a "caricature of diplomacy" and drew attention to the platitudinous final statement, which was filled with ambiguities such as "affirm", "recognise", "reaffirm"' "underscore", that can have little impact on the fight against global climate change. Critics pointed out that "The Future We Want", which was the conference's motto, could not wait for 193 governments to agree on one path to follow, but that individual nations had to take a stand and encourage the participation of local authorities, companies, civil groups, NGOs, and the public at large.
What Rio+20 succeeded in doing, almost by accident, was to draw attention to the question: how do governments involve everyday people in the fight against global warming?
What does it mean to be green? How can green growth help us improve our lives, our kids' lives? Plainly, going green means far more than turning off unnecessary electric appliances to reduce energy bills.
Should the use of green products be encouraged? How can we make the use of environmentally friendly goods and services more affordable?
The country's green growth strategy for 2011-20 (with a vision to 2050) put heavy emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting green production, a green lifestyle and green consumerism. But little was said about how these goals would be achieved.
While targets are easily outlined, they have little chance of being met without the awareness and full-participation of the general public and the businesses community.
Educating the public, especially children, about the importance of a green lifestyle can begin with the need to cut down on plastic carrier bags, turning off the tap while brushing one's teeth, riding a bicycle to school or recycling old clothes.
Every year, we participate in international Earth Hour, which aims to unite people under one cause, but when the event is over, the mindset of most Vietnamese is little changed.
Student societies often try to promote green causes, but recycling still seems to mean little to most Vietnamese.
What materials should be recycled? In most neighbourhoods, there are no separate bins for things that can be recycled; no bottle banks for plastic and glass bottles, paper and plastic products. And there is little incentive to use the few recycling bins that do exist.
In many developed countries, kids are encouraged to recycle and they learn how to separate household rubbish. It becomes an interesting game. If parents don't lead the way, the need to recycle will remain an irrelevance to the next generation.
If the Government wants to promote green production and green consumerism, incentives should be given to the businesses, such as tax discounts for using more environmentally friendly technologies.
In Viet Nam, consumers constantly have to face the risk of food poisoning due to poor enforcement of health and safety standards. Why then should the consumer attach any great significance to buying environmentally friendly food, that is packaged appropriately, particularly if it costs more.
In addition, deforestation in Viet Nam is rampant. Between 1990 and 2012, we lost on average 221,700ha of woodland, or 2.37 per cent of the country's tree cover annually, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Yet in our schools, we are taught about the nation's "golden forests and silver oceans," and the country's abundant natural resources.
Green growth and sustainable living sound impressive, but that is all they are, empty phrases signifying nothing, and that alas is what Rio+20 was, a talking shop, so much hot air.
Sustainable living means more than just recycling household goods or turning off the tap, or switching off unused electrical appliances; it's an attitude, a whole new approach to the way we treat our planet. It's about taking responsibility for our actions, it's about rediscovering our place in the world, and its about humility and decency and gratitude for this thing we call life, which is a gift, that we can never hope to repay. — VNS