Việt Nam green. Photo courtesy of COBENEFITS
Minh Anh Nguyen and Sebastian Helgenberger*
Việt Nam has recently incorporated a new section into its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to emphasise the socio-economic co-benefits of climate action for the country. The first official cost-benefit analysis has highlighted a list of co-benefits that can help Việt Nam meet its socio-economic development goals as well as its SDG commitments.
Việt Nam submitted its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UNFCCC on September 11, 2020, becoming the thirteenth country to do so up to now. The updated NDC now takes the entire economy into account, including industrial processes (IP) for the period from 2021 to 2030 – an improvement on the previous NDC, where only four sectors were considered: agriculture, energy, waste, and LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry).
Việt Nam has committed to reducing its GHG emissions by about 9 per cent compared to the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario by 2030, a slight increase compared to its relative mitigation target 8 per cent in its previous NDC. The NDC now suggests that this percentage could be increased to 27 per cent by 2030 with international support, a moderate rise compared to the 25 per cent target set in the previous NDC.
However, compared to the previous NDC, in the updated version greenhouse gas (GHG) the ambition level is only seemingly raised: According to a recent analysis by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), in terms of absolute emissions Việt Nam’s NDC update only represents a minor improvement on the previous NDC. This criticism is based on the fact that in its update Việt Nam assumes business-as-usual emissions by 2030 that CAT considers to be way above current policy projections which will be easier for Vietnam to achieve its envisaged emissions reductions. For this reason, CAT judges the emission reduction targets in Việt Nam’s updated NDC to be “critically insufficient” as they are thought to be consistent with global warming of over 4°C.
Co-benefits of decarbonising energy sector
The synergies between climate change adaptation, mitigation and socio-economic development are highlighted in the text of the updated NDC and also informed the process of setting targets and prioritising actions in the NDC review:
Actions taken in different potential sectors can enhance synergy with socio-economic development in different ways. For example, in the energy sector, mitigation measures that can provide synergy with socio-economic development at high to very high levels include wind power, solar power, power-saving lighting, and efficient cooling as cited in the Việt Nam's updated NDC 2020.
All sectors in Việt Nam’s updated NDC are thought to provide socio-economic benefits in one way or another. Mitigation measures within the energy sector are considered very promising with a rating of high to very high in terms of synergies with socio-economic development.
Climate action for VN’s future
According to the updated NDC, the investment costs of achieving the unconditional commitment are estimated at about US$24.7 billion. According to a recent communication by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, these investments would need to be more than doubled, to $56 billion, to meet the conditional target of a 27 per cent emissions reduction. This is a tall order for a lower middle-income country, especially given the recent negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, given the multiple co-benefits addressed by the updated NDC, these investments can be considered as an investment in a future-oriented economy for the Vietnamese people. According to a study conducted by the IASS COBENEFITS project, replacing coal-powered plants with solar or wind will more than double the number of jobs per average megawatt (MW) power generation capacity. In the 15-year period from 2015 to 2030, solar and wind are expected to create 3.5 jobs and 2.8 jobs respectively per average installed MW capacity, compared to just 1.4 jobs/MW in coal-based power generation.
Such a transformational investment in a low-carbon economy will not only contribute to staying within the temperature limit set by the Paris Agreement and advancing the various SDGs, but will also ensure a green recovery post COVID-19 in the medium term.
By including a chapter on the socio-economic co-benefits of climate policies in its updated NDC, the Government of Việt Nam has highlighted the multiple benefits of ambitious climate action. To ensure that Việt Nam’s progress will be assessed for the next national reporting on the NDCs, monitoring and reporting structures and processes in relation to socio-economic co-benefits should be established to realise ambitious renewable energy targets and create an enabling environment for the range of available co-benefits.
* Minh Anh Nguyen is research fellow, International Climate Protection Fellowship Program funded by Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, currently affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS); and Sebastian Helgenbergerr is project director COBENEFITS, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)