Paula Caballero, a senior director at the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank, recently visited Hanoi to understand the current situation and challenges of the environment and climate change in Vietnam.
Caballero met with Vice-Minister of National Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat to talk about how the World Bank can help to enhance the country’s environmental sustainability and climate resilience.
The senior director had an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News after her visit.
Perhaps you have heard of the severe drought in central Vietnam, especially in Ninh Thuan Province. These adverse conditions are attributed to the impact of climate change. What can Vietnam learn from international experience and the best practices in combating the negative impacts of climate change?
Yes, the drought condition in central Vietnam is affecting people and their livelihoods and assets. In other regions, we know that flooding is resulting in damage to people’s houses and lands. Just this past Saturday, I was walking around Hanoi when there was a huge thunderstorm that toppled many trees and caused loss of human life and destruction of vegetation and properties in the city. Vietnam is, on the whole, very vulnerable to climate change impacts, as well as disaster risks, and therefore needs to plan and adapt accordingly.
It is important to recognize that climate change has localized impacts – and therefore, solutions must be tied to local circumstances and conditions in Vietnam. My home country of Colombia recently suffered from huge devastating floods. And this led to the government, society, and enterprises in Colombia working together – to deal with this issue and come up with localized and customized solutions. We have changed the way to manage and dialogue on the management of natural resources in order to limit the impact of climate change.
In the past, many countries discussed and focused on building good infrastructure to mitigate impacts of climate change and natural disasters. However, now increasingly countries are talking about how to manage the risks, through both structural and non-structural measures. For example, one important (and natural) way to combat coastal erosion and saline intrusion is through mangrove rehabilitation along the coastal areas, especially in the Mekong Delta.
The complexity of climate change issues in countries such as Vietnam requires coordination across a range of sectors (e.g. agriculture, urban development, energy, environment, and transport), temporal scales (e.g. from daily operations to long-term climate change concerns), and different institutional agencies.
How do you see the current environmental situation and future challenges for Vietnam?
Vietnam is clearly vulnerable to climate change impacts – experiencing increases in temperature and sea level, stronger storms, floods, and droughts. Natural disasters and sea level rise with increased floods while salinity intrusion and coastal erosion already have significant economic and human costs. Countries like Vietnam and Colombia have transitioned into middle-income status, which is accompanied by growing urbanization and a larger consumption of natural resources as people’s expectations and needs rise. It therefore becomes very important for such fast-developing countries to pursue sustainable development and adopt a greener growth path. Sustainable development means your country not only creates good jobs and prosperity for its people in coming decades but also resolves effectively challenges and impacts of climate change.
Some experts raise concerns that the amount a country like Vietnam would need to spend to overcome the impacts of environmental and climate change issues is larger than the benefits of economic development. What do you think?
Vietnam has achieved incredible gains and recorded high growth rates over the past years. This is important for countries like Vietnam which are blessed with natural endowments to take a hard look at what development trajectory they want in association with stable and long-term use of natural resources. Environmental degradation and the costs of the inaction of not considering climate impacts can be considerable, and imposes an economic burden on countries.
We have done studies in several countries on estimating the costs caused by environmental degradation. These estimates have often ranged from five to eight percent of a country’s GDP – which includes the costs to people’s health, water quality improvement, food safety and so on. Which means this is the loss to the economy that can be regained from proper management of natural resources and by improving environmental quality. I firmly believe that environment is not just environment – it is much more about economics and people. Vietnam is making progress in moving up a more sustainable path, and we look forward to working in partnership with the government to provide necessary knowledge and expertise.
Thank you very much!