With significant economic growth over recent decades, Viet Nam is widely considered a development success story. Once one of the poorest nations in the world, the country of almost 100 million citizens is now lower middle-income with aspirations of becoming industrialized by the year 2020.
Viet Nam is making strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out under Agenda 2030. However, as for many others, climate change has the potential to derail the development process and unravel the gains made.
Jenty Kirsch-Wood, senior technical specialist for disaster risk management and climate change adaptation at UNDP Viet Nam, shares key insights into the impacts of climate change, and the challenges and responses for one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic emerging countries.
Jenty, recently the United Nations assistant secretary-general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Haoliang Xu, observed there are five mega-trends that characterize the challenge to sustainable development in the Asia Pacific region – among them the impacts of climate change. How and why is Viet Nam vulnerable to climate change? What are some of the risks that communities face?
Due to its location, topography and concentration of people and assets in coastal lowlands and deltas, Viet Nam is extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events.
Unfortunately, risk is increasing with climate change. Along the country’s long, mainly low-lying coastline, people face more intense and unpredictable typhoons. They also face the impacts of increased flooding, salt-water intrusion and, of course, sea-level rise.
Meanwhile, in poorer ethnic minority highland areas, more erratic rainfall is making life harder for farmers who are often dependent on high-risk rain-fed agriculture.
Several megacities, including Hanoi (pop. 7.5 million) and Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon, pop. 8.6 million), are in vulnerable delta regions.
What changes have you witnessed in Viet Nam, in terms of climate and weather?
When I arrived in Viet Nam around four years ago, the country had not requested international assistance for a natural disaster in more than 15 years. Yet since then, the country has suffered what should have been a ‘once-in-century’ drought (2015-2016) and a major typhoon (Damrey).
The drought left more than one million people without daily access to sufficient water; Damrey destroyed more than 3,000 houses in a night. Both times the UN system geared up to provide essential humanitarian relief.
While you can’t say these events are definitely the result of climate change, they are in line with the kinds of more intense and unpredictable events expected.
What are the main challenges in addressing climate change in Viet Nam?
The Government does take climate change seriously, but like anywhere, prioritizing investment can be tough when there are other pressing development priorities. This is a key challenge.
Another challenge is getting the right balance between climate change adaptation (what we need to do to fix climate change impacts) and mitigation (what we can do to stop further climate change).
I’m a big advocate for seeking solutions which address climate change yet also have other benefits as well, such as reducing pollution, creating employment or improving health (aka ‘co-benefit approaches’). An example would be promoting ‘climate smart’ agricultural practices that help farmers do more with less water, while at the same time helping them move away from greenhouse gas-generating crops – however, putting such initiatives into practice is often easier said than done!
What action is the Government of Viet Nam taking to address the impacts of climate change on communities?
The Government of Viet Nam has been very active in mainstreaming climate change into plans and policies at all levels. They take their commitments to the Paris Agreement seriously and see the benefits for the economy and for local communities of better handling climate risk.
At UNDP Viet Nam we have a number of emerging partnerships with the Government, at various levels, to help strengthen climate resilience.
For example, in our new Green Climate Fund-supported program we are working together to strengthen a community-based disaster risk management assessment and planning process. The aim is to integrate climate change science, and to help communities make more informed decisions on how they can adapt.
In other areas, we’re helping get information out to communities on climate smart agriculture options, and, in the other direction, to get the voices of communities into provincial and national level dialogues.
What support has UNDP Viet Nam been providing to the Government and civil society to address the impacts?
Our partnership with the Government is grounded in community-based partnerships as I just mentioned, but it also extends to helping key ministries develop plans and policies that can ensure adaptation becomes part of core government work.
We’re providing technical support to community resilience-building efforts, but also to innovations around generating and using climate data more effectively, and to supporting the Government’s decision-making and interaction with the global UNFCCC process.
We have a good mix of national and international expertise – I think that makes our work more grounded in local realities but also open to global innovation. For example, we have a new partnership with the UK Space Agency on linking water models, satellite data, climate change projections and dengue outbreaks. We have respected national and international universities and institutes on board as well as the World Health Organization. Together we are working closely to fit needs and criteria guided by the Government.
*Under the One Plan 2017-2021, UNDP is supporting Viet Nam to accelerate its transition to a low-carbon economy, and enhance its adaptation and resilience to climate change and disaster risk.
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