Expert Perspectives

Aligning Near- and Long-Term Planning in Vietnam to Meet the Goals of the Paris Agreement

Mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change is a particular concern for a largely littoral country like Vietnam, 70 percent of whose population lives in coastal areas and low-lying deltas and is thus potentially exposed to the more frequent and damaging floods and tropical storms that rising global temperatures are expected to bring (Bangalore et al. 2016). Vietnam therefore ratified the Paris Agreement on October 31, 2016. To achieve its commitments under the agreement, ministries and development partners are working together to implement national action plans for green growth and climate change through 2030. Among the goals of the plan are to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 8 percent compared to the 2010 level, a goal that the Vietnamese government believes it could increase to 25 percent with sufficient support from the international community (“Vietnam Ratifies” 2016). Some attempts have been made to extend the vision to 2050, but the corresponding targets are hard to calculate due to lack of capacity at the national level and a not-yet systematically agreed methodology at global level.

Indeed, in countries like Vietnam, significant gaps in the ability to conduct long-term planning in general complicate efforts to set clear long-term targets (for midcentury and beyond) with respect to the climate in particular, underscoring the need for capacity building. In Vietnam, these gaps manifest as insufficient climate expertise and lack of tools for verification. Planning in Vietnam is traditionally focused on economic development, especially within the framework of the country’s five-year Socioeconomic Development Plans (SEDPs), where criteria and targets for environment protection and green growth remain general and hard to monitor, report, and verify, leading to limitations in the budget allocation process.

The country’s efforts to meet its nationally determined commitment (NDC) in the context of the Paris Agreement continue and build on two previously existing programs, the National Strategy on Climate Change (NSCC) and the Vietnam Green Growth Strategy (VGGS). Vietnam also promulgated its national action plan for implementation of the 2030 agenda with respect to sustainable development goals (SDG national action plan), which was adopted in the months following the signature of the Paris Agreement.

The NSCC, issued in December 2011, focuses on adaptation. While it also calls for making green technology an engine of economic development, it concentrates on preparing the country for the increased occurrence of natural disasters and other negative effects of climate change by strengthening food and water security and heightening communities’ awareness of and resilience to climate change (Vietnam Government Portal 2011).

The VGGS, approved in September 2012, focuses on mitigation through the greening of existing economic sectors, the development of new ones that use energy and natural resources efficiently, research into energy-efficient technologies, and the increased environmental health of Vietnamese cities through improved infrastructure. It sets goals of reducing GHG emissions from energy activities by 10–20 percent by 2020 compared to the business as usual case, with the additional 10 percent being possible with international support. For 2030, the VGGS goal is a 20–30 percent reduction, again with the additional 10 percent dependent on international support. The VGGS sets a goal of increasing the share of high-tech and green tech to 42–45 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020. Also by 2020, it calls for increasing the percentage of cities with wastewater and collection systems that meet regulatory standards, expanding urban tree cover, and increasing the use of public transportation (Government of Vietnam 2012).

The SDG national action plan, promulgated in May 2017, has localized 169 goals (including 17 general goals and 115 specific goals in line with national conditions) set by the UN Agenda 2030 into 115 Vietnam Sustainable Development Goals (VSDGs) (United Nations in Vietnam 2017). The implementation of the VGGS systematically links to and supports implementation of 57 percent of VSDGs (a total of 65) and 55 percent of the tasks in Vietnam’s NDC action plan, with 100 percent of the country’s mitigation contribution. Therefore, from both a top-down and a bottom-up perspective, to save resources, to inherit efforts nationwide, and especially to avoid overloading provincial (subnational) governments and sectoral actors seeking to comply with too many new policies from the central government (responding in turn to the changing global context), it has been recommended that the VGGS and Provincial Green Growth Action Plan (PGGAP) be the main channels for implementation of Vietnam’s mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement as well as Vietnam’s NDC.

Aligning near-term climate and development planning to inform long-term climate planning

In Vietnam, our planning is largely focused on development. In a country with limited planning resources, it doesn’t make sense to have multiple parallel long-term strategies, with separate ones for sustainable development, climate, and so on. As the above summary of the country’s main planning efforts suggests, however, we believe not only that climate planning should be integrated into our existing development framework but also that mitigating and adapting to climate change and developing a sustainable, healthy, and prosperous economy are fundamentally intertwined concerns.  Indeed, Vietnam’s commitments, articulated in its national action plans to achieve the sustainable development goals, explicitly link development, environmental, and climate planning. Examples include commitments to “support effective economic, social and environmental linkages between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening regional and national development planning work,” to develop “sustainable rural areas [to] ensure harmony between economic development, urbanization, inclusion, environmental and ecological protection ,” as well as to “mainstream poverty eradication within climate change response policies, natural disaster preparedness and prevention policies and other relevant policies” (United Nations in Vietnam 2017).

So, in Vietnam, we see full integration of climate into existing development practices as the first step to aligning near-term and long-term climate strategies. This begins with linking climate and development planning in the near term, such as by integrating climate into the SEDP. In so doing, we can systematically integrate climate into long-term national planning. Or, otherwise stated, one can only move toward longer-term targets and strategies once short-term targets are fully on track and integrated into broader development work.

In this process, given unknowns and resource constraints, identifying and implementing targeted interventions is more practical than a system-wide overhaul and more likely to bring successful near-term alignment. The latter ambitious approach would require resources beyond those available to a country like Vietnam, especially at the grassroots level, would confuse awareness and organization, and would lead to difficulties in implementation.

Specific challenges for Vietnam’s climate efforts and ways to address them through alignment

For countries like Vietnam, however, the initial integration of development and climate planning can prove challenging for a number of reasons. In a centrally planned economy like ours, direction for policy implementation moves from the central level down to the grassroots. Provinces rely on funding budgeted and allocated at the central level and depend on that level for guidance. For the policy alignment we seek to occur, climate action must resonate in communities that lack awareness of climate science and have other pressing priorities, such as food security, health, and so on. This deficit in various aspects of knowledge, tools, and financial supports complicates efforts to implement climate policies in the provinces, whose authorities can often feel overwhelmed by what they perceive as the unrelated demands of disparate policy initiatives. In addition to innovative financing, creative guidance from the central level that underscores the urgency of climate action for socioeconomic development is thus essential.

More interregional coordination could also be helpful. For example, while a given province may not have enough money in its budget to pay for mitigation solutions such as agricultural irrigation and waste treatment, working with neighboring provinces could enable it to participate in regional infrastructure that would meet its development needs and reduce GHG emissions. A regional approach could be a good way to bring together fragmented efforts to respond to common threats across provinces in a region. In November 2017, the Government of Vietnam, in close dialogue with the donor community, identified regional solutions for climate-resilient sustainable development in the Mekong River Delta via Resolution no. 120/NQ-CP, which won great support from development partners as an effective development strategy.

To facilitate integration of the nationally determined commitment into Vietnam’s budget and planning systems, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, as focal point for the VGGS and the SDGs, has formulated the Provincial Green Growth Action Plan (PGGAP). The PGGAP is a short-term tool to identify reduction targets and prioritize green growth and mitigation according to three strategic tasks set out in the VGGS. These prioritized mitigation projects will be targeted for investment and listed as priority projects in the SEDP. We see this as the most efficient and orderly way to structure planning to meet Vietnam’s climate commitments. Even this approach will increase the workload for local authorities, however, so under the PGGAP technical assistance will be provided to “pioneer” provinces to help them take advantage of opportunities. This assistance may be funded through budget allocations, support from international organizations, access to greener investment, green bonds, and other mechanisms.

A PGGAP task force should be established. If led by the Department of Planning and Investment, such a group would be easy to link with the SEDP process, or PGGAP outputs could be used as mitigation inputs for the SEDP. In some cases, where the lead agency is the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (the climate change and NDC focal point), if that department is not powerful enough or lacks the mandate to draft the SEDP, the PGGAP and climate change mitigation can have a much looser connection to the SEDP. In that case, the near-term and long-term goals of Vietnam’s NDC will hardly be linked with socioeconomic development.

Mapping exercises at the local or sectoral level are also good tools to help provinces review and identify gaps in policies normally seen as overlapped or complicated.

References

Bangalore, Mook, Andrew Smith, and Ted Veldkamp. 2016. “Exposure to Floods, Climate Change, and Poverty in Vietnam.” Policy Research Working Paper 7765. World Bank Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice Group and the Climate Change Cross-Cutting Solutions Area, July. https://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/928051469466398905/pdf/WPS7765.pdf.

Government of Vietnam. 2012. “Viet Nam National Green Growth Strategy.” September 25. https://www.giz.de/de/downloads/VietNam-GreenGrowth-Strategy.pdf.

United Nations in Vietnam. 2017. “National Action Plan for the Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.” May 10. https://www.un.org.vn/en/publications/doc_details/543-the-national-action-plan-for-the-implementation-of-the-2030-sustainable-development-agenda.html.

Vietnam Government Portal. 2011. “National Strategy on Climate Change.” December 5. https://chinhphu.vn/portal/page/portal/English/strategies/strategiesdetails?categoryId=30&articleId=10051283.

“Vietnam Ratifies Paris Climate Change Agreement.” 2016. Vietnamnet, November 6. https://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/environment/166483/vietnam-ratifies-paris-climate-change-agreement.html.

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of the author alone.