Establishing standards to reach sustainable development goals

July 16, 2021 | 13:56
Vietnam is making efforts to build up smart cities that can be resilient to climate change. Caitlin Wiesen, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, talked with VIR’s Thanh Dat about the challenges facing the country’s cities, with proposed solutions for them to overcome these future issues.

As a country vulnerable to climate change, what risks do you think Vietnam’s cities are facing?

Establishing standards to reach sustainable development goals
Caitlin Wiesen, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam

Cities are certainly at the very forefront of climate change. They are both affected by, and contribute to, the changing climate. Vietnam is among the countries most affected by climate change, natural disasters and climate extreme events.

Many of Vietnam’s urban areas are located in coastal regions, where they are exposed to the impacts of cyclones, storms, floods, heatwaves, droughts, landslides, saltwater intrusion, and sea-level rise.

The Mekong Delta is among the most vulnerable regions, with projections that 40 per cent of the region will be inundated by 2100, thus affecting 55 per cent of local livelihoods. The historic droughts and saltwater intrusion during 2019-2020 affected millions of people, damaging over 76,000 hectares of crops and more than 322,000 households lacking access to clean water.

Ho Chi Minh City is suffering frequent flooding due to sea-level rise and more intense precipitation events every year during the rainy season and this, coupled with land subsidence induced by extensive groundwater extraction is only getting worse. Heatwaves in Hanoi and other cities are expected to intensify due to climate change. The heat generated from transportation, concrete buildings, energy consumption, and industry leads to what is called the ‘urban heat island effect’ that will make future heatwaves more unbearable.

Climate change is exacerbating these hazards meaning that their unpredictability, intensity, and frequency will continue to increase over time. The floods and storms of 2020 were stark evidence of how Vietnam’s urban settings are vulnerable to climate risks. The series of successive intense storms and record-level floods in Central Vietnam in 2020 led to more than 230 casualties and at least 380,000 houses flooded, damaged, or destroyed. Tens of thousands of the most vulnerable were left with destroyed homes and ruined crops.

What solutions should cities in Vietnam come up with to overcome this situation?

I would recommend two broad solutions to address those challenges.

First, is building the resilience of cities to the impacts of disasters and climate change by promoting climate-resilient urban development and infrastructure and nature-based solutions; working with local governments to ensure risk-informed urban planning and budgeting; and improving disaster preparedness and early warning systems, building capacities, and enhancing climate- and disaster-resilient livelihoods.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the Ministry of Construction (MoC) and authorities in five coastal provinces to build 4,000 resilient houses to withstand the impacts of disasters. However, this is not enough. More than 120,000 disaster-resilient houses are needed in Vietnam’s 28 coastal provinces.

Together with the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, we have also developed risk information packages for seven coastal provinces which are being used in the development of socioeconomic development plans at the commune, district, and provincial levels. This will ensure that their development planning is risk-informed and will help to prevent the creation of new risks. This needs to be done in all other provinces and cities as well.

Secondly, low-carbon, green, and smart urban development is of equal importance. It is necessary to promote green, smart buildings, infrastructure, and e-mobility, and bring together nature-based solutions and urban planning, which are an essential part of addressing air pollution, lowering CO2 emissions, reducing risks, and achieving sustainable development.

The UNDP is proud of having partnered with the MoC and other ministries and the private sector for low-carbon development by promoting non-fired bricks, LED lighting, and energy efficiency in high-rise buildings in Vietnam. Our Energy Efficiency in Building project has introduced 75 solutions that have been implemented in 22 buildings, resulting in energy savings of up to 67 per cent.

How should the regulatory framework be adjusted for planning, investment management, urban development, and infrastructure?

To account for global and national development trends as well as the changing climate and increase in risks, legislation and standards will need to be adjusted in order to reflect current and future trends that Vietnam will experience.

Vietnam has made commendable efforts towards resilient, smart, and eco-cities. The prime minister approved a plan to develop climate-resilient urban areas in Vietnam over the 2021-2030 period, and the 2020 revision of the Law on Construction includes provisions that encourage “development of eco- and smart cities, response to climate change, and sustainable development”.

The next step is to establish and adopt simplified, standardised criteria for cities to follow. The new 10-year housing programme, which was developed jointly with the MoC, will need to be properly financed and implemented.

To support risk-informed planning, we are working with the Ministry of Planning and Investment to revise a circular on integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change into socioeconomic development planning.

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