Cooperation at heart of major efforts to protect ecosystem

June 11, 2021 | 09:00
On the occasion of the World Environment Day this year themed “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.”, Caitlin Wiesen, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, talked with VIR’s Thanh Dat about Vietnam’s efforts to protect the environment in pursuit of sustainable development.

How do you evaluate Vietnam’s efforts in ecosystem restoration and biodiversity conservation?

1457 p15 cooperation at heart of major efforts to protect ecosystem
Caitlin Wiesen, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam

This year is a critical year as we launch the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Healthy ecosystems are vital – they enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Commitment at the highest level of government is essential to reverse ecosystem degradation, and in this context I greatly appreciate the call by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in his speech at the P4G Summit on May 31 to vigorously pursue a green recovery, green economy, and circular economy at all levels, national, regional, and global. I also would like to commend the great initiative of planting one billion trees for a green Vietnam, as another example showing the commitment and efforts of the government to engage individuals and businesses in contributing to sustainable development.

Vietnam has ratified all the key UN conventions on biodiversity, climate change, and environmental protection, and is taking action to implement them by nationalising them through the adoption of the Law on Biodiversity, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and other policies.

The country has recently committed to adopt circular economy principles to protect the environment and improve the efficiency of the economy, and has also deployed nature-based solutions at the local level to sustain economic growth while preserving ecosystems.

What challenges does Vietnam face in ecosystem protection?

At the global level, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch every three seconds, and we have destroyed half of our wetlands over the last century. As much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost, and up to 90 per cent could be gone by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C.

Although Vietnam is among the world’s top 16 countries in terms of its wealth of globally significant biodiversity, it is facing increasing reduction and degradation of its biodiversity and ecosystems.

Many native species of flora and fauna have disappeared, and many others have become endangered. Overexploitation, economic development, and climate change have all been contributing to biodiversity loss.

In addition, although Vietnam’s forest cover reached 42 per cent of its total land area in 2020, less than 18 per cent is dedicated to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem protection. Rapid unsustainable land conversion and urban expansion are both partly responsible for Vietnam’s reduced natural habitats and living space for animal populations. Overuse of chemicals and fertiliser in agriculture has also polluted the soil and water, further contributing to ecosystem and biodiversity degradation.

Furthermore, many people continue to consume wildlife products as food or traditional medicine.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) cooperates with the government in restoring ecosystems and conserving biodiversity. Within this cooperation, what are Vietnam’s strengths and weaknesses?

The UNDP is proud to have partnered with the government in restoring ecosystems and conserving biodiversity, including developing regulations and policies on biodiversity, expanding conservation areas, and promoting livelihoods and nature-based solutions.

About 30 percent of Vietnam’s total national land area – around 10 million hectares – is made up of wetlands that are currently at risk, which may significantly impact on the one-fifth of Vietnam’s population that depends on wetlands for their livelihoods.

To address this, the UNDP is coordinating with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and five provinces through a Green Climate Fund-financed project to support the new plantation and regeneration of 4,000ha of mangrove forests, which will serve both as a ‘green wall’ to protect vulnerable coastal communities and as an ecosystem for green agricultural production to improve the livelihoods of local people.

Another important initiative involves the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Thai Binh and Thua Thien-Hue provinces, which together have designated over 8,600ha of protected areas for wetland conservation.

In the context of green post-pandemic recovery, we are formulating another new project that promotes ecotourism to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources while also creating green jobs and income for workers and communities.

In terms of conservation, the country has established very good national gene banks and made good efforts for biodiversity conservation both inside and outside of species’ natural habitats. Vietnam is also open to international cooperation in this field.

However, there are still some challenges that Vietnam needs to overcome. Firstly, there seems to be insufficient investment in conservation and a lack of mechanisms for using revenues generated from high-biodiversity areas to fund such activities.

Secondly, there is a lack of innovative incentive schemes to attract and engage the private sector and local communities in this area. Lastly, there are inadequate policy and law enforcement schemes.

There are many initiatives in restoring the ecosystem, but which can Vietnam learn from most?

Firstly, sustainable financing is of critical importance for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration. Since 2017, the UNDP has been implementing a global initiative called BIOFIN that supports 35 countries, including Vietnam, to formulate plans to mobilise sustainable finance for conservation work.

Secondly, Vietnam has successfully piloted several co-management models where government authorities and communities work together for the sustainable management and use of natural resources, such as fisheries and forestry. We need to scale these models up to ensure sustainable livelihoods for local communities.

Thirdly, Vietnam has great potential to develop nature-based tourism and public-private partnerships for sustainable economic development, the creation of green jobs, and the conservation of natural resources.

Together with the Vietnamese government and development partners, we look forward to accelerating action for a green Vietnam where no-one is left behind.

By Thanh Dat

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional