|Vietnam’s commitment to reducing GHGs entails leaving fossil fuels behind as soon as is viable, Photo: Shutterstock |
Vietnam last week impressed the international community via its strong commitment to reach net zero in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.
This follows on from the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution announcement in September 2020 that it would reduce emissions with its own domestic resources by 9 per cent by the end of this decade, or by up to 27 per cent with international support.
Vietnam has also joined a 190-strong coalition of countries and organisations at COP26, including newcomers like Indonesia, Poland and Chile, to announce clear commitments to phase out coal power, the UK government said in a press release.
It means Vietnam and others commit to end all investment in new coal power generation, scale up deployment of clean power generation, remove coal power by the 2040s, and make transitions away from coal power that benefit communities.
“Although we are a developing country that started industrialisation only over three decades ago, Vietnam will capitalise on its advantage in renewables and take stronger measures to reduce GHG emissions,” stated Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh at the UN’s COP26 climate summit. “To this end, we will make use of our own domestic resources, along with the cooperation and support of the international community in terms of finance and technology.”
This strong message means that Vietnam will have to gradually revise its strategies on developing coal-fired power plants, projects in manufacturing steel and cement, and many other schemes that emit large amounts of GHGs as they are using fossil fuel.
For example, under the draft Power Development Plan VIII recently submitted for approval, coal-fired power plants will account for up to 31.4 per cent of as much as 143.8GW of installed generation capacity planned in 2030. That translates to about 41GW of coal power by the end of the decade, up from 20.7GW out of 69GW of capacity from all sources as of 2020.
If this draft is approved, it would guarantee that Vietnam will become more reliant on coal to power its fast-growing economy at a time when financiers and insurers are refusing to support new projects because of fuel’s large climate change impact.
However, Vietnam’s fresh commitment at COP26 would mean more opportunities for the country to develop renewable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric power. To this end, the government may have to reconsider related policies and development planning for many sectors.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the climate crisis as a “code red for humanity”. Climate change is acting as a risk multiplier in unstable situations – an accelerator that complicates efforts to prevent or end conflict and sustain peace.
Throughout the world in 2020, more than 30 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters. In addition, 90 per cent of refugees come from countries that are among the most vulnerable and least able to adapt to the effects of climate change. If the world fails to follow through on the Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing carbon emissions and limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5oC, then sea level rise and coastal flooding could threaten as many as 570 cities worldwide by 2050, putting over 800 million people at risk, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Vietnam.
“Under current projections, 40 per cent of the land area of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta will be inundated by 2100. This will directly impact the local population and have major consequences for national rice production, export rice production, national aquaculture production, and fish exports,” said Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP resident representative in Vietnam.
Over the past 50 years, the average temperature in Vietnam has climbed 0.5-0.7oC, while the sea level has risen by about two centimetres.
“As one of the countries worst affected by climate change, Vietnam is making every effort to both respond to climate change and foster economic development to grow and ensure an ever-better life for its people, while contributing responsibly alongside the international community,” PM Chinh said. “We look forward to advancing cooperation with international partners through investment programmes and sustainable development.”
Dr. Tang The Cuong, director-general of the Department of Climate Change under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), told VIR that climate change will continue to occur unpredictably. He cited a report published at the end of 2020 by the McKinsey Global Institute as saying that due to the impact of climate change, Southeast Asian countries will lose about 8-13 per cent of GDP each year until 2050.
“Climate change is neither a risk of the distant future nor a single phenomenon. It has already become an existing reality with widespread impacts across the regions,” Cuong said. “The climate is becoming increasingly harsh, and natural disasters are increasing in both intensity and level. Floods, high tides, droughts, saltwater intrusion, water scarcity, and landslides partly caused by climate change also continuously occur in regions across the country and cause more damage every year.”
Vietnam’s National Climate Change Strategy towards 2050 is being updated with higher targets for emission reductions along with targets for peak emissions and long-term goals for net zero emissions. In order to have a legal basis for implementing measures to achieve the set target of reducing GHG emissions, the National Assembly passed the Law on Environmental Protection in 2020, which includes contents on climate change response. In order to detail the implementation guidelines for the law, the MoNRE is developing a draft decree regulating emission reduction, carbon market development, and ozone layer protection, expected to be submitted to the government for promulgation this year.
At last week’s meeting with PM Chinh in the UK, Australian PM Scott Morrison highly appreciated Vietnam’s fresh commitment at COP26, saying that Australia will cooperate with Vietnam in implementing this commitment, which he calls “a shared contribution to the world’s fight against climate change”, and that Australia will further cooperation with Vietnam in developing green energy and reducing GHG emissions.
Meanwhile the UK also welcomed Vietnam’s commitment. “We are impressed by the strong commitments to tackling climate change that Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh announced at COP26,” said the British Embassy to Vietnam in a statement. “Vietnam’s new 2050 net zero target shows a real step forward in ambition, and is a big contribution to keeping 1.5 degrees within reach, and stopping catastrophic global warming.”
Vietnam has also agreed to support a number of important statements and initiatives on protecting forests, on shifting to renewable energy, on supporting adaptation for local communities, and on methane reduction. All of these statements further strengthen Vietnam’s commitment to tackling climate change, the embassy said. “The UK looks forward to continuing to work with Vietnam on a successful outcome at COP26, and to support the implementation of Vietnam’s new climate commitments and its energy transition, drawing on international climate finance,” said the embassy.
At COP26, PM Chinh also called on countries to make strong commitments on GHG emissions reduction, grounded in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
“It is imperative to limit the global temperature increase,” he stressed. “If we are to succeed in the global fight against climate change, global solidarity is the only way.”