Vietnam’s economy has been growing at an average of 6 per cent over the past decade. This growth has lifted millions out of poverty- and for this to be sustained, Vietnam needs a climate ‘doi moi’ (renewal), as fundamental as the economic ‘doi moi’ that first allowed free market trade.
In places like Vietnam, it is becoming increasingly clear as the ‘safe limit’ of 1.5 degree climate change threshold looms, that the cost of climate inaction far outweighs the cost of action. With a 2-degree warming, 40 per cent of the Mekong delta could be inundated, devastating cities and communities and effectively covering the very region that has been the powerhouse of the Vietnamese economic and agricultural miracle.
Policy makers and planners have not yet developed models for the economic costs of relocating a city like Ho Chi Minh City, which houses over eight million people and accounts for more than 20 per cent of Viet Nam’s GDP. The human cost would be unbearable, in lives shattered, in cultural and familial relocation, in unemployment and in disrupted education and services.
Vietnam is at cross roads on its development pathway-to drive the sustainable economic growth and achieve sustainable development goals. In the context of a changing climate with more intense and more frequent disasters, integration of risk into planning and budgeting process is essential to ensure risk-informed development.
In 2016, Vietnam issued its first international call for humanitarian assistance in over a decade, as severe droughts left more than two million people without access to potable water. A year later, a second call followed, after the devastating impacts of Typhoon Damrey.
Partly due to lessons learned from the 2016 drought, the Government has begun agricultural restructuring programmes to increase the ‘crop per drop’ of agricultural production. This is good news as investments in modern farming can increase resilience and livelihoods.
But more remains to be done. Water systems need to be valued, it is still cheaper in some coastal areas for farmers to dig wells, inviting salt water intrusion, than to use the more costly municipal supplies. Water systems designed to get water out during floods need to be modified to store or recharge groundwater for use in droughts and reduce land subsidence. Investment, policies, pricing and public awareness campaigns need to be better coordinated.
With a long coastline of more than 3,200 kilometres and large ocean areas with rich biodiversity and natural resources, Viet Nam is expanding the blue economy, with a focus on tourism, fisheries and sea transportation services. Innovative approaches such as integrated coastal management are essential for sustainable economic development and management of natural resources. It is essential to integrate risk into development and avoid creation of new threats for development and communities.
With urbanization and key long-term investments now being made across Vietnam, the country is well placed to avoid the expensive investments in old technologies that currently hold back some older economies. Green and zero carbon cities, green buildings and climate proofed infrastructure are increasingly become standards in how we build and manage urban areas that promote productivity and quality of life. Viet Nam can ‘leap-frog’ to more agile, cost-effective, and greener technologies. This investment will not only meet the demand for short-term power, but will also help the current generation of educated urban youth develop the kinds of high-tech skills that can drive the next generation of job creation.
Engaging the private sector will be key to all these efforts. Leveraging their capacity and financing potential can fast track technology transfer. Developing and sharing data on climate change risk and vulnerability can also help companies plan for future climate variability and ensure business continuity when climate shocks occur. Creating the new generation of resilient businesses and communities will require inputs from across society.
But time is short. Viet Nam is already ranked among the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and climate change. If current disasters are anything to go by, decision makers must act quickly and at scale so that decades of development aren’t lost to the impacts of the next round of storms, droughts and extreme climate disasters. Now is the time, to act for a ‘climate doi moi’ to serve a green prosperous Viet Nam, where no one is left behind.