As we celebrate today the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and contemplate this year’s theme of Climate Action, there is not a more poignant time to re-examine UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ words delivered at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in December 2019: “We are knowingly destroying the very support systems keeping us alive.”
Since December 2019 the world has been in the throes of grappling with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnam has been managing the response and containment impressively. As the country cautiously lifts the restrictions in light of recent consecutive days of no new infections and the country turns its attention to recovery, it is time to tackle the two crises in a combined effort to build back better in ways that both protect our people and our planet from COVID-19 and address the existential threat of climate change.
We are now seeing the very real impact that human activity can have on the environment. Environmental pollution levels have increased across the globe, as well as in major Asian cities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Throughout the world, we are also seeing stronger floods, more severe storms, and more frequent droughts, all of which are consistent with one degree of warming, and this unpredictability will continue to increase. Vietnam’s current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) estimates that the effects of climate change will cost 2.5-4 per cent of GDP, while climate projections indicate that sea level rise may inundate close to 10 per cent of Vietnam’s land surface by the year 2100.
However, these effects of climate change on our future are not inevitable.
Concrete action matters
Putting off climate action now is putting our future generations at the mercy of the changing climate. Commitments have been made; what ultimately matters is that we take action on them decisively.
While individuals, governments, and various organisations are contributing to this cause, the private sector has an increasingly important role to play. To be effective, however, they need a stronger, clearer framework and government support.
Investors are stepping up globally. The 2018 Global Sustainable Investment Review issued by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance found that sustainable or green investments in the five major markets of Europe, the US, Japan, Canada, and Australia/New Zealand totalled $30.7 trillion in 2018, an increase of 34 per cent compared to 2016.
While Vietnam has made great strides in the deployment of solar PV over the past few years, the continued expansion of all sources of renewable energy is one solution with major, as-yet, untapped potential for Vietnamese businesses. With investments from the private sector, renewables could help to generate as much as 32 per cent of Vietnam’s power by 2030.
Healthy businesses require healthy economies, and more importantly healthy people, in order to prosper. It may be tempting to opt for short-term cost savings and quick payoffs, but businesses that neither plan for the long-term effects of climate change nor take steps to mitigate their risk are undermining their own sustainability.
Although Vietnam has made great strides in recent years in lifting millions of people out of poverty and striving for inclusive growth, there is a very real risk that climate change will undo many of its development achievements and erase years of progress.
The current pandemic is a microcosm of how swift action on rising threats will have an immense impact down the road. If we can act now on the climate as we have acted on COVID-19, we cannot overstate the long-term benefits to the economy, the environment, and the people of Vietnam, as well as the many risks we will avoid.
Below are a set of recommended actions to consider at this time:
- Build on Asia’s flourishing technological solutions and socio-economic innovations to create the legal and regulatory basis for low-carbon development – with digital, circular and sharing economies – to attain environmental sustainability. This includes preserving ecosystems and biodiversity, and addressing urban air pollution, waste management, as well as energy and water security.
- Prioritise existing national policies on climate change for investment and action on the ground.
- Enable investment opportunities for businesses which are future-oriented and at the same time help the country meet its climate change mitigation targets and strengthen adaptive capacity to climate change. Adequate policies and de-risking support are needed to invest their resources in climate action.
- Accelerate the deployment of full renewable energy potentials, especially solar and wind energy by setting a maximum target for renewable energy in the Power Development Plan VIII and the next 10-year Socio-economic Development Strategy (SEDS) and 5-year Socio-economic Development Plan.
Climate change is our doing, and we have all the technology, resources, and tools to address it, but we need more political will to see it through. We owe it to ourselves to preserve our support systems for sustainable growth and for our future generations.
Vietnam’s exemplary handling of COVID-19 is a powerful demonstration that committed leadership, early, decisive, evidence-based action is the best way to prevent future crises. Combining the leadership, innovation and energy unleashed for the COVID-19 response and recovery with committed climate action will yield a future forward that delivers for people, planet, and prosperity. The UNDP stands ready to deepen our support to government and partners to accelerate timely action for a sustainable, resilient, and prosperous Vietnam where no one is left behind.