6 Ensure environmental sustainability

Where we are?

© United Nations Viet Nam\2010\Aidan Dockery


Viet Nam has been making commendable progress on environmental sustainability but is unlikely to achieve MDG 7 by 2015. Climate change is widening the gaps in reaching key targets of the goal.

Achievements made so far include the inclusion of sustainable development principles into the socio-economic development strategy (2011-2020) and socio-economic development plans (2006-2010 and 2011-2015). Forest coverage has increased from 28.8 percent in 1990 to 39.5 percent of total land in 2010. More than 96 percent of all households have access to modern energy and are connected to the electricity grid.

Although Viet Nam’s green-house gas emissions are low, accounting for only 0.3 percent of the global emissions in 2004, CO2 emissions per capita increased four times in the period 1990-2008. Energy use (kilogram oil equivalent) per $1,000 GDP (PPP) was reduced from 407 in 1990 to 267 in 2008.

Meanwhile, 92 percent of households had access to safe drinking water in 2011, up from 78.7 percent in 2000. Rural households with access to safe water rose from 73.5 to 89.4 percent over the last decade. In 2011, 78 percent of all households and 71.4 percent of rural households had access to sanitary latrines, up from 44.1 percent and 32.5 percent in 2000 respectively. The proportion of the population living in temporary housing fell from 15.9 percent in 1999 to 7.8 percent in 2009.  


To achieve MDG 7, Viet Nam needs to pay greater attention to three key areas which are currently lagging: water and sanitation, climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Water and sanitation

There are still differences in access to improved water between regions and between rural and urban areas, with the lowest level of access in the Northern mountainous region and Central Highlands regions of 80.7 percent and 86.1 percent. The highest level of access is in the Red River Delta and South East regions (99 percent and 98.4 percent respectively). Nation-wide, 93.8 percent of urban dwellers and 71.4 percent of the rural population use improved latrines, while 1.1 percent of the urban and 8.6 percent of the rural population practice open defecation. Open defecation is largely practiced by the poor (22.9 percent) and ethnic minority groups (27.5 percent). The three regions with the lowest use of sanitary means of excreta disposal are the Mekong Delta, Central Highlands and Northern mountainous region.

In order to improve sanitation and hygiene, more human and financial resources are essential, as well as greater involvement of local authorities and communities to ensure sustainable service delivery. It is important to strengthen partnerships with the private sector to provide low-cost sanitation options to rural households, as well as technical expertise and marketing techniques that promote improved hygiene practices.

Climate change

Viet Nam is a disaster prone country and particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Over the past two decades, climate related disasters in Viet Nam have caused an average annual loss of USD 1.8 billion, or 1.2 percent of GDP (in PPP), and an average of 445 deaths. Viet Nam is also rapidly increasing its greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a real risk that the effects of climate change will slow down MDG progress in Viet Nam. More frequent floods, droughts and typhoons impact on the livelihoods of the poor, while rising sea levels will affect Viet Nam’s rice producing deltas, affecting food security. Although necessary, adaptation and mitigation measures will be costly and could mean there is less available financing for overall MDG progress.

However, major climate action is possible and can bring many opportunities for further development. Along with environmental protection, climate change requires a concerted, cross-sectoral response, involving many different actors and agencies.

Actions to address climate change include:

  • Effective implementation of a climate change strategy with long term goals on adaptation as well as greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Mainstreaming climate change considerations in public and private sector plans;
  • Strengthening urban and rural spatial planning, taking climate change into account;
  • Large-scale infrastructure investment is needed, including expanded dykes, mangrove forests and storm surge barriers, major reservoirs to store fresh water, and roads and bridges need to be ‘climate proofed’;
  • Planning for a low-carbon, primarily urban economy and improving energy efficiency;
  • Expansion of renewable energy, especially wind and solar;
  • Reform of fiscal policies related to fossil fuel use;
  • Strengthening research and producing quality data to support policymaking; and
  • Increasing public understanding of climate change as well as supporting behavior change initiatives.

Biodiversity conservation

Viet Nam is one of the 16 most bio-diverse countries in the world, with rich and diverse habitats, species and genes. However, biodiversity habitats are being degraded and loss of biodiversity continues. The number of rare and endangered species has increased due to over-exploitation of plant and animal species, habitat loss, pollution and invasive species.

Actions to address biodiversity conservation include:

  • Effective implementation of the Biodiversity Law (2008), including mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into development plans;
  • Higher portion of funding for biodiversity conservation;
  • Better prioritization and focus of investments in protecting habitats and species of global significance; and
  • Creating an enabling environment and incentives to promote participation of and contributions from the private sector and households in protection of habitats.

Targets for MDG7
  1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
  2. Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
    • Proportion of land area covered by forest and proportion of species threatened with extinction
    • CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP)
    • Consumption of ozone-depleting substances
    • Proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits
    • Proportion of total water resources used
    • Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
  3. Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
    • Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source
    • Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility
  4. Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020
    • Proportion of urban population living in slums