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Climate change policy options for Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the two countries of Asia that will be most severely impacted on by climate change. The other is Bangladesh. Furthermore, the impacts across the two countries have many similarities– some of the most severe stem from possible sea level change.  Both countries are very poor with low per capita energy use and low per capita greenhouse gas emissions (in each case much lower than China for example) but Vietnam, in particular is experiencing strong and sustained economic growth.

Vietnam is a typical example of a developing country that will suffer significantly from the impacts of climate change but which is poor though growing quickly and which , unilaterally, can to little except to adapt to climate change. These are some preliminary notes on its policy problems in this regard.

A 2007 World Bank working paper studied 84 coastal developing countries and found Vietnam to be the most threatened in terms of percentage of population affected and second only to the Bahamas in terms of percentage of land area affected without mitigation.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change listed the Mekong Delta, Bangladesh and the Nile Delta in Egypt as the world’s three “hot spots” for potential migration because of their combination of sea-level rise and existing population.

As a region, Southeast Asia is disproportionately vulnerable, with only 3.3 percent of the world’s land mass but more than 11 percent of its coastline, the Asian Development Bank said in a report it released this year.

In this NYT article the implications of sea level change are addressed for Vietnam based on a  Vietnamese government report. Up to one third of the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, where 17 million people live and nearly half the country’s rice is grown, could be submerged if sea levels rise by 3 feet in the decades to come. Storm surges could periodically raise that level and intruding salt water and industrial pollution could contaminate much of the remaining delta area.

In the Central Highlands rising temperatures could put the coffee crop at risk and in the Red River Delta in the north large areas could be inundated near the capital, Hanoi.

If the sea level rises 3 feet, 11% of Vietnam’s population could be displaced, according to a World Bank working paper.  If it rises 15 feet, 35% of the population and 16% of the country’s land area could be affected.

These predictions represent the threat if no measures are taken in the coming decades, like building dikes.  But the potential disruptions and the tremendous cost of trying to reduce their impact could slow Vietnam’s drive to emerge from its postwar poverty and impede its ambitions to become one of the region’s economic leaders.

In addition to rising seas in the Mekong Delta, climatologists predict more frequent, severe and southerly typhoons, heavier floods and stronger storm surges that could ultimately drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Climate refugees could swell the population of Ho Chi Minh City, on low-lying land just north of the delta as war refugees did when it was known as Saigon. The city itself is also at risk. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment up to one-quarter of the city would be threatened by rising floodwaters if the sea level rose by three feet. The city would face a double impact if sea levels rise and living conditions in the delta are not sustainable because of social and economic impacts and the probable effect on population displacement.

But Vietnam has recognized the problem and begun to address it with national plans. These plans include an attempt to integrate environmental concerns into the development plans of ministries and enterprises, modifications that could conflict with their ambitions for growth, he said. The primary approach — the hugely expensive construction and reinforcement of thousands of miles of dikes — will bring its own set of problems.  In the delta, the barriers will probably inhibit the self-cleansing mechanism of rivers and trap industrial waste and rubbish, and pesticides and fertilizer used in fish farms and shrimp farms.  A catastrophic outcome would be for the entire delta to be polluted by wastewater.

Broadly one might wish to think of three policy options for Vietnam: mitigation, adaptation and policies aimed at influential the policy responses of other nationals.

Mitigation policies.  The only serious types of mitigation policies that should be pursued are ‘no regrets’ options.  Vietnam contributes negligibly to global emissions and has low energy intensities. A development priority is to industrialize and to increase household electricity consumption. It also has low energy efficiencies which can, in part, be addressed through appropriate energy pricing policies.  Pollution issues in the major cities also provide a sensible basis for taxes on polluting fuel use that will provide some ‘no regrets’ mitigation benefits.

Countries like Vietnam face the need to substantially expand their power generation sector.  The incremental cost of doing this using carbon friendly nuclear, renewable and perhaps clean coal technology is much lower than the cost of providing clean replacement technology in development countries.  A ‘no-regrets’ option might be to pursue such power system expansions in countries like Vietnam using local resources to meet the dirty coal-fired expansion options but seeking assistance from developed countries in meeting incremental costs. This is again a ‘no regrets’ option.  This is discussed further below.

Finally, a speculative type of benefit for Vietnam might arise from moral suasion effects of local mitigation effort on the efforts of developed countries.  It is important for Vietnam and all developing countries to specify longer term emission cutback objectives.  For example a specific agreement to cut emissions when per capita incomes approach developed country levels (at least 100 years away) or agreements never to exceed developed country per capita emissions are useful long-term targeting information.

Adaptation policies.  These are (and should) form the core of the response to climate change in Vietnam.

The 4th IPCC report suggested that the sea level would increase by 19-59cm by 2100 but there are many forecasts of much more increase than this.  Many scientists are forecasting an increase of at least 1 metre by 2100 which would generate the types of serious costs forecast for the Mekong Delta region.  This would require the dike building program in that region and also attention to the environmental consequences of such dykes in terms of controlling waste and pesticide generation.

These types of measures will provide some relief from extreme climatic events.

Threats to crops can be met by agricultural adaptations which can very much be market-driven given sound climate forecasting information and appropriate agricultural R&D policies to augment the menu of choices that occur as climate changes.

Generally pursuing reforestation schemes and conserving Vietnamese biodiversity will enhance environmental resilience, reduce Vietnam’s net contribution to climate change while simultaneously providing valuable community assets, tourism resources and even saleable pollution offsets via Clean Development Mechanism schemes.  These are sound ‘no regrets’ policies.

As Vietnam develops it will be expected that the pace of urbanization and industrialization will increase anyway but the shift of those displaced from The Mekong Delta and other areas prone to sea rise induced damage places further constraints on infrastructure planning (water supply, wastewater management) and disaster preparedness issues.

International policies.  In a practical sense Vietnam is at the mercy of the climate change policies of other countries.  It can react to such developments by using adaptation policies but clearly derives substantial benefits if major polluting countries mitigate intensively.  For this reason it should strong support mitigation initiatives by all countries.  This might inevitably involve some type of mitigation response itself.  There might be strong emulation effects if one of the poorest and most climate change-exposed countries takes explicit measures to deal with its own emissions. 

To be clear specific cuts in absolute emissions are inappropriate but attention to ‘no regrets’ options and being an active participant in climate change negotiations will have considerable payoffs to Vietnam.  Vietnam should design its adaptation and environmental strengthening policies to provide attractive visible options to developed country aid programs.

Vietnam is one of the developing countries which are geographically proximate to and which may be directly impacted on by the environmental policies of China.  Water resource issues in Vietnam are already impacted on my China. Vietnam should seek regional and international alliances to strengthen its ability to negotiate on such issues.

3 comments to Climate change policy options for Vietnam

  • Climate change is effecting every country. Is there
    anything we can do at our level to control it? While at high school, I signed a campaign to “Go Green, Promote Green” but nothing big ever happened. This is one cause we all would certainly like to get involved into if only we know how?

  • John A. Jauregui

    When you review the scientific papers out there you find that nothing has done more to “GREEN” the planet over the past few decades than elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 together with moderate sun-driven warming of the planet. If you should doubt this assertion, simply Google “Biological Effects of Carbon Dioxide Enrichment” and “Solar Inertial Motion (SIM) model of global warming”. Then review the basic documents and a sampling of the scientific bibliographic references. One has to ask the question, “Why have environmental groups and our government turned this obvious gift of nature on its head and buried us in propaganda designed to convince us of just the opposite reality?” As a consequence, I have stopped all donations to environmental organizations and to their favored political party. I highly encourage you to do the same. All my financial donations now stay within 25 miles of my home, where I can keep an eye on their intended use.

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