Speech at workshop on strategy development for natural resources and environment sector

Dec 1, 2010

Speaker: Mr. Christophe Bahuet, UNDP Deputy Country Director 
Date:      1 December 2010
Event:     Workshop on strategy development for natural resources and environment sector

Vice Minister Tran Hong Ha;
Distinguished representatives from national agencies and the international community;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Let me start by expressing my appreciation to the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources for organising this consultation workshop on the draft strategy for the natural resources and environment sector, and for giving me the opportunity to address the meeting.

The drafting of this strategy coincides with the drafting of another important strategy – that is, the strategy for socio-economic development for 2011-2020, which is likely to be adopted in January. The Socio-Economic Development Strategy sets out Viet Nam’s desired economic growth trajectory, but also emphasizes the need for social, human and sustainable development for all Vietnamese citizens. The two strategies are therefore clearly linked, not only in terms of timing but also in terms of content and of their ultimate objective.

Acknowledging the importance of natural resources and providing political commitment to protecting these resources is an important first step towards sustainable development. However, in some countries, the commitment to managing natural resources in a sustainable way is being challenged by the drive for quick financial profit or by pressures on economic growth and employment. In other countries, the environment and natural resources have suffered irreversible damages. It is essential that Viet Nam does not repeat the mistakes of those countries who sacrificed their natural resources due to a single-minded focus on growth – at any cost.
Over the past few years, Viet Nam has made significant progress in managing natural resources and protecting the environment. For instance, since 2006 one percent of the state budget is allocated to environmental management. The institutional set-up for environmental management has also been strengthened, and laws on land, environmental protection and biodiversity have been put into place. And the draft strategy we are discussing today is part of this progress.

The strategy includes a number of important provisions. For example, it identifies climate change as one of the key environmental challenges. However, it is important to recognize that climate change is also a social and economic development challenge. In addition, climate change presents opportunities for development, for instance through new financial resources and technology transfer. This is the case with the UN-REDD climate change and reforestation programme that is currently being piloted in Viet Nam by the UN and the Government, with financial support from Norway.

I would like to highlight four key areas of particular relevance to the content of the strategy.

The first one relates to the complex issue of the role of the state and the division of responsibilities between the state and the market. While the market can contribute to the efficient economic use of natural resources, the market can also lead to overexploitation of natural resources if it is not regulated and is left to profit seeking as its sole purpose. The market can also fail to guarantee equal access to resources for all citizens, including those who are poor and living in isolated areas. The state therefore has a role to play. However, this role should not include direct interventions by central or local authorities acting as economic actors and investors. Rather, the state needs to focus on establishing overall regulations and guaranteeing their implementation. It should play the role of an impartial broker whose activities are designed to facilitate economic growth, as well as social development. On the financial side, since the management of natural resources and the environment requires much more than one percent of the annual state budget, the government should enable the mobilization of contributions and investments from the private sector.

The second point I would like to stress is that once solutions have been identified, it is essential that they are implemented. This is crucial if the strategy is to be successful. Although Viet Nam has passed many environmental laws and policies, weak implementation and enforcement remains a challenge. Without proper implementation and enforcement, policies and laws will neither be able to halt the degradation of natural resources and the environment, nor prevent new cases of pollution and unsustainable exploitation of resources. In order to strengthen implementation, the involvement of citizens, civil society and the media in the process of policy making, implementation and enforcement will help enhance both the effectiveness of, and accountability for, the management of natural resources and the environment. Related to this, is the need for further evidence-based research which is essential if effective laws and policies are to be formulated, as well as implemented.

Thirdly, it is important that the strategy mentions and integrates international objectives and targets which Viet Nam has committed itself to achieve. This includes the Millennium Development Goal on environmental sustainability, which Viet Nam is not yet on track to achieve by 2015. This will also help Viet Nam to leverage international financial support from various funding sources.

Finally, the inclusion of an M&E framework to effectively implement the sector strategy is critical. Without monitoring and evaluation, it is difficult to evaluate the progress, take necessary corrective actions and assess results. I hope that the M&E work currently underway, which is being supported by UNDP, will be useful and will ensure that the strategy meets its objectives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

While we all recognise the importance of economic growth, a sustainable and successful development is one that balances economic, social and environmental needs. Many recent cases of environmental damage, sometimes combined with economic inefficiencies like the multiplication of small- and medium-sized hydropower plants, demonstrate that Viet Nam’s natural resources and environment remain at risk. It is imperative that Viet Nam now makes the clear strategic choice of letting its economy grow without letting its natural resources be destroyed. I hope that the natural resources and environment strategy, under the leadership of MONRE, will contribute to that objective.

I wish you fruitful discussions and a productive workshop.