Việt Nam faces risks of biodiversity degradation

December 15, 2022 - 07:05

Ramla Al Khalidi, UNDP Resident Representative in Việt Nam, speaks to Việt Nam News’ reporter Nguyễn Hằng about the challenges that Việt Nam faces in biodiversity conservation as well as activities that UNDP has been doing to help promote biodiversity conservation in the country.

Ramla Al Khalidi, UNDP Resident Representative in Việt Nam.—Photo courtesy of UNDP Việt Nam

Ramla Al Khalidi, UNDP Resident Representative in Việt Nam, speaks to Việt Nam News’ reporter Nguyễn Hằng about the challenges that Việt Nam faces in biodiversity conservation as well as activities UNDP has been doing to help promote biodiversity conservation in the country.

The question-and-answer piece is conducted on the occasion of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), which is taking place on December 7-19, 2022 in Montreal, Canada.

How do you assess the current situation of biodiversity in Việt Nam? What are the challenges facing Việt Nam in biodiversity conservation?

The natural world is at a breaking point, plagued by the two biggest existential crises in our lifetime: biodiversity loss and climate change. With the CBD COP15 taking place in Montreal, Canada, the world looks back with deep regret and serious concern that not one of the 20 targets set at Aichi, Japan, back in 2010 during COP10, have been fulfilled.

Việt Nam, unfortunately, shares a similar trend in biodiversity degradation as with many parts of the world, with an increasing number of threatened species, and degraded ecosystems of forests, wetlands, marine areas, among other issues.

Reports have shown that the number of threatened species in Việt Nam has risen sharply in recent years, and for several species, time has already run out and they have become extinct, including the Javan rhinoceros and the Giant ibis. In addition, the Indochinese tiger is considered functionally extinct, with other large mammal species such as the Asian elephant, many big cats (Felidae spp.), bears (Ursus spp.), pangolins (Manis spp.) not far behind.

The first National Ecosystem Assessment report by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) has shown that over the past two decades, the area of seagrass has decreased by 45.4 per cent and the average annual reduction rate was 4.4 per cent. The live coral cover of coral reefs in coastal areas is decreasing rapidly over time. Only about 1 per cent of the reefs have a high coverage while the number of reefs with low coverage reefs accounts for over 31 per cent, and the rest is for medium to slight coverage coral reefs. For terrestrial forests, while the overall forest coverage is reported to remain at roughly 42 per cent, deforestation and forest degradation are still rampant, with biodiversity-rich natural forests being replaced with monoculture planted forests that have little to no biodiversity values.

Việt Nam is among the top 16 countries and territories with the richest biodiversity of global significance. Recognising the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services for sustainable economic development, the Government has made significant efforts to protect biodiversity, including the introduction of legal frameworks and the establishment of protected areas systems.

However, Việt Nam faces several challenges that could make it more difficult to halt and reverse the downward trends of biodiversity loss. First of all, while Việt Nam has developed a relatively comprehensive legal framework for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation, including the latest Law on Environmental Protection 2020, the enforcement of the laws and sub-laws is still low due to many reasons, including unclear division of responsibilities among ministries and agencies, low-deterrence penalty schemes, insufficient capacities and low commitment on the part of central and local decision-makers.

Second, it is necessary for Việt Nam to transform its business-as-usual development modality into a more sustainable, resource-efficient, and nature-positive one. Examples of business-as-usual development include overexploitation of natural resources and overconsumption. Overfishing and destructive fishing methods have resulted in destroyed or depleted natural ecosystems. Also, over-and-unsustainable tourism causes negative impacts on biodiversity from direct tourists’ sightseeing activities, infrastructure-related developments, and pollution.

Last, being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change puts more pressure on the already vulnerable ecosystems in Việt Nam and hinders the national efforts in reversing the biodiversity declination trend. For example, the increase in average temperature will change many ecosystems' geographic distribution and population structure and exacerbate other threats such as forest fires, droughts and tropical storms.

Could you please suggest some solutions to promote biodiversity conservation in Việt Nam?

While much needs to be done to overcome the first challenge of ineffective law enforcement, we believe one of the keys is that main-streaming biodiversity conservation in all sectors may be done more systematically and effectively. For example, indicators for socio-economic development should be more biodiversity-specific. The current indicator of “area of forest coverage” does not tell us the quality of forests or their biodiversity levels. We could learn from the achievement of climate change main-streaming in Việt Nam, where climate mitigation and adaptation are quite systematically incorporated in socio-economic development plans and planning across many sectors. We need the same, if not more, awareness of and commitment to biodiversity conservation.

Transforming the country’s business-as-usual development modality into a more sustainable, resource-efficient, and nature-positive one shall help Việt Nam take the leap in biodiversity and nature conservation. Our recommendations include materialising the targets of the Green Growth Strategy by embracing better the Circular Economy model, in which sustainable natural resources exploitation, resource-efficient production and moderate consumption will be put at the centre.

The system of protected areas in Việt Nam needs to be improved in both quantity and quality. Comprehensive planning, capacity building and financial allocation for protected area (PA) management should be prioritised in the biodiversity agendas. Most financing allocated for PAs has not been prioritised for biodiversity conservation work itself. Therefore, in the coming time, apart from financial mobilisation from the international community, the Government needs to allocate more budget for biodiversity conservation.

Indigenous and local communities are often the best guardians of forests and natural ecosystems, where successive generations call home. At the same time, local communities often face disproportionate impacts of biodiversity loss given the interdependence of health environments that crucially underpin their lives and livelihoods. Therefore, ensuring indigenous and local people’s voices in the debate on biodiversity conservation and improvement of livelihoods will help preserve traditional knowledge in conserving nature and reduce the pressure on the environment.

The Government of Việt Nam has made commendable efforts in improving the well-being of ethnic minority people and other vulnerable groups through poverty reduction and social protection programmes, and in the context of increased threats from climate change and biodiversity loss, this should be continually put at the centre of the government’s development agendas.

A corner of a mangrove forest along Nại Lagoon in Ninh Hải District in the south-central coastal province of Ninh Thuận.—VNA/VNS Photo

What is the link between biodiversity and climate change? How does biodiversity impact climate change and vice versa?

Climate change and biodiversity are interconnected. Climate change drives biodiversity loss, and in return, ecosystem degradation exacerbates climate change. For example, sea level rise would severely affect 78 out of 286 critical habitats (equivalent to 27 per cent), 46 protected areas (equivalent to 33 per cent), nine biodiversity areas of national and international value (23 per cent) and 23 other biodiversity areas in Việt Nam according to MONRE’s report. Loss of biodiversity and degraded ecosystems also accelerate climate change processes due to the reduced capacity of ecosystems to assimilate and store CO2 as well as the loss of critical barriers reducing sea level rise’s impacts (e.g. mangrove forests).

In contrast, biodiversity resources can help mitigate the impacts of climate change and allow for climate adaptation. In terms of mitigation, trees and sea water are silent heroes in CO2 sequestration. In other words, their natural mechanisms help absorb and store carbon naturally, thus relieving gas emissions in the atmosphere.

Nonetheless, it’s important to not over-rely on sea water for carbon sequestration since CO2 excess can impact marine life for many species. For adaptation, coral reefs and mangroves are nature’s incredible endowed assets that can shield the coast against inundation and protect vulnerable communities most affected by the risk of catastrophic sea level rise and its aftermath. Since these natural resources are on the decline, restoring and conserving them will aid the world’s collective fight for our survival against climate change.

Which activities has UNDP been doing to help promote biodiversity conservation in Việt Nam?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been doing a lot of projects and programmes to promote nature and biodiversity conservation in Việt Nam.

We have supported the establishment of Thái Thụy Wetland PA in Thái Bình and Tam Giang-Cầu Hai Wetland PA in Thừa Thiên Huế, together with formulating and promulgating policies, regulations and planning frameworks for wetland conservation (Decree No.66/2019/NĐ-CP) and supporting the integration of wetland conservation and management into the plans of the two provinces. This contributes to Việt Nam’s continued efforts in expanding PA areas, as set forth in the new National Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, a vision towards 2050.

We have been supporting the strengthening of the legal framework and management of Biosphere Reserves in Việt Nam through the Biosphere Reserves (BR) project, which sets out to promote cross-sectoral management of BRs, facilitate the conservation of ecosystems in Cù Lao Chàm-Hội An, Đồng Nai, Western Nghệ An BRs, and foster local livelihoods, through improved legal and institutional framework, with cross-sectoral actions on the grounds to deliver the restoration and better management of degraded forest land, and improvement of economic livelihoods for local households.

Our upcoming nature-based tourism project will aim to promote responsible ecotourism in National Parks (NP) in Việt Nam through effective public-private partnership between NPs and tourism operators and identified mechanism to channel more tourism revenues to fund biodiversity conservation at NPs. This project is one of the efforts to tackle over- and unsustainable tourism in Việt Nam, which is one of the main drivers for biodiversity loss in the country.

In addition, UNDP has been working under the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) to pilot several financial solutions, including Payment for Ecosystem Services, marine resource protection fee to mobilise more funding for PA. Also, BIOFIN project helps preparation of fundamental reports for identifying increased biodiversity finance including the Biodiversity Finance Plan for Việt Nam.

We are working on developing projects that aim to deliver innovative nature-based solutions that contribute to the restoration of degraded ecosystems along major river basins and coastal areas. Nature-based solutions are giving us high hopes in achieving dual/triple targets in ecosystem restorations and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

At the same time, we remain acutely aware of the biodiversity-climate change nexus where interventions on biodiversity and climate change are mutually reinforcing. Biodiversity should be a high priority for the global community and be on par with climate change as part of a win-win complimentary approach. Việt Nam has been particularly resourceful in its endeavours to forge pathways for a green prosperous future and the hope now rests in our local actions to align with the global targets. — VNS