Seeking a robust sustainable future

November 22, 2018 | 15:00
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Vietnam has experienced rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, which has led to environmental degradation, pollution, and a greater consumption of energy. Murooka Naomichi, senior representative from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, writes about the journey towards sustainable development for Vietnam.
seeking a robust sustainable future
Murooka Naomichi, senior representative from the Japan International Cooperation Agency

Vietnam has made a ­remarkable transition from a low to a middle-income country after doi moi. The country has seen strong ­economic growth, achieving 5 to 7 per cent of GDP annual growth rate in the past 10 years. Foreign direct ­investment, industrialisation, and rapid urbanisation, among other factors, have contributed to sustaining ­economic growth and ­reducing poverty, creating more ­employment opportunities in the process.

However, it is starting to take its toll on the environment. The benefit from economic growth has been accompanied by serious environmental degradation and destruction.

For example air pollution, largely resulting from the increasing use of private vehicles in urban areas, is becoming more serious. Metropolises such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are ranked in the top 300 most-particulate matter polluted cities in the world, according to statistics by the World Health Organization. Experts pointed out that continuous exposure to such levels of air pollution increases the potential risk of lung cancer.

Furthermore, severe environmental incidents caused by the illegal discharge of waste into rivers and the ocean are seriously damaging the country’s ecosystems and threatening food safety.

Vietnam is also facing overexploitation of the nation’s natural resources. The World Bank’s Country Diagnostic shows that the indicator of natural resource depletion as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) is worse than other countries in the region when compared to the Philippines and Thailand. In the late 2000s, nearly 15 per cent of GNI was lost to natural resource depletion.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) study on the energy outlook of Vietnam through 2025 indicates that the demand for energy will increase. As a result, Vietnam would become a net energy import country, and it would have a considerable effect on the revenue of the government of Vietnam.


Recognising that environmental risks and the impacts of climate change will consequently slow down growth, the government has made intensive efforts to strengthen the institutional and legal system for environmental protection and climate change response.

In 2013, for the first time, a resolution of the Party Central Committee (Resolution 24-NQ/TW) was promulgated showing a strong political will to improve environment protection and promote proactive mitigation and adaptation measures as a response to climate change. Guided by the 2013 resolution, the country updated the Law on Environment Protection to reflect the shift in its approach from response to prevention to tackle environmental problems.

In addition, the government has increased its budget for environmental protection and climate change, nearly doubling its recurrent expenditures for environmental protection between 2011 and 2017 with significant contributions from donor communities. In addition, the government is introducing various policies and regulatory measures, in order to create an enabling environment to mobilise private sources for investment in more energy efficient technologies, renewable energy, and environmental friendly construction and industrial materials.

seeking a robust sustainable future
Seeking a robust sustainable future, illustration photo - source: Laodong


The Vietnamese government has been striving to harmonise economic development to match the growing demand for environment protection. This is a complex task and demanding challenges remain. If this development trend continues without proper countermeasures at the right timing, with more severe and uncertain climate change effects, environmental problems will become more complicated and acute, causing more serious damages, as recently evidenced by frequent floods, riverbank erosion and unprecedented high tide in the Mekong Delta.

Furthermore, Vietnam can avoid taking the same development pathway that industrialised countries have pursued and can learn from their past mistakes. The government can make the correct choices and take actions that reflect lessons learned.


The changes come at a critical time for the country, whether the government will move towards sustainable development and achieve a better quality of life for people, or miss an opportunity to do so and possibly pass an irreversible point without knowing it. These are the choices at hand. However, it is crucial that we take action now rather than just handling the situation as an afterthought when the catastrophe is already happening. There are some key factors defining the future path. We believe that the government and the people of Vietnam are starting to head in the right direction but still, the situation requires more effort to achieve the sustainable development goals.

The government would need strong commitment and leadership. It is needless to say that effective policy implementation for tangible outcomes need a good regulatory framework and requires the sufficient capacity to enforce it. However, the political will that is expressed by the strong commitment and leadership of government is the key to success. The government has proved itself in tackling climate change and environment issues up to this point. Such practices should be sustained by strong determination and persistent leadership on the government’s part.

New technological applications that change the choices people make are also needed. Although the utilisation of advanced technologies itself is not a solution in addressing environmental issues and climate change, it can be a very effective and powerful tool when utilised properly.

For example, urban planning with transit oriented development and a convenient public transport network can change people’s choice of transport mode, with better land use leading to a less energy consumption society. By promoting low carbon technologies, the government can accelerate the transformation from a massive energy consuming society which risks people’s health, to an energy efficient and more healthy society.

Additionally, it is necessary to create an enabling environment and momentum for all stakeholders.

Involving people and the business community is indispensable to ensure that the efforts of the government will not be in vain.

Recently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has been calling for a “no-plastic” campaign. While awareness by consumers for more environment friendly products increases, a market mechanism such as an environmental tax on disposable plastic products or incentives for plastic recycling should also be in place to achieve the goal of no plastic waste.

In Japan, we have a saying that “time is money”. Donor communities are ready to stand with the Vietnamese government to take a leapfrog endeavour, which will not only make a great contribution to Vietnamese people, but also to our ­global neighbours.

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