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Vietnam counts the cost of climate change

24 December 2011
Viet Nam News reporters Minh Thi and Quynh Anh spoke to three experts who have recently returned from the COP 17 Durban climate change talks to see how the outcome will affect Viet Nam's on-going efforts in the fight against climate change.
What are the successes of COP 17?
Dao Xuan Lai, assistant country director and head of Sustainable Development Cluster, UNDP Viet Nam
In my opinion, COP 17 marks another positive step forward thanks to the joint effort of all countries in the fight against climate change.
After two weeks of tense negotiations and several all-nighters, more than 190 countries involved in the COP 17 climate change talks finally reached an agreement on a package of measures including a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the design of a Green Climate Fund, a mandate to get all countries in 2015 to sign a deal that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020 as well as the work plan for 2012.
As for the Green Climate Fund (FCF), unlike other international financing mechanisms, it has a breakthrough in its governance structure. A board will be established with 24 members of equal representation from both developing and developed countries. This is the first time ever, mind you, that developing countries have the voice in the decision-making process in any major financing mechanism in regard of climate change.
The first two board meetings will be held in Switzerland and South Korea in 2012. South Korea is the first party to contribute to this GCF.
Dr Nguyen Huu Ninh, chairman of the Centre for Environment Research Education and Development (CERED)
The climate change situation at present is a grey picture. There have not been any remarkable changes made or breakthroughs achieved either across the world or in the region. And COP 17, as predicted, did not help that much to trigger any tangible change, if any.
The decision to move toward a new legal instrument that would commit every country to cutting carbon emissions by 2015 coming out of Durban cannot be seen as a remarkable improvement or a result because it is only a verbal pledge, indeed and all details remain to be negotiated. This is only to make up for a failure, so that the conference would not end up being a costly event without any conclusions. And the GCF which aims to help developing countries deal with climate change has not yet been officially established, and it has not been known exactly how the fund is raised or managed or disbursed.
When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, the industrialised countries and developing ones wrangle over issues because neither of them want to be put at a disadvantage in any way. Rich countries refuse to sign on for the second phase of committment for the Kyoto Protocol as they think it is unfair if developing ones, other emitters, do not join. On the other side, developing countries think they should be spared of the commitments given their needs and limited economic conditions.
The world is not doing enough to solve the problem of climate change while it has already spent thousands of billions of dollars in the arms race. Many countries put more focus on solving disputes over natural resources and strengthening their armed forces, manifesting their political roles, solving political conflicts rather than solving climate change problems. If the world allotted just one-tenth, or even just one-hundredth of all it had to deal with climate change issues, the problem could possibly be solved.
Talks on financing, which are largely dependent upon the Green Climate Fund, are among the major topics on the Durban agenda. How could Viet Nam expect to benefit from this fund?
Pham Van Tan, deputy head of the International Co-operation Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
Although the details on how the GCF, which is expected to channel up to US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing states tackle climate change, operates are left undecided, Viet Nam should prepare in advance once the fund comes into operation, we are all set to go in.
Under this fund, each country should submit the proposal to the board for consideration of funding. So how to compile a comprehensive proposal that wins the board's approval is vitally important. Viet Nam will set up a designated agency which includes representatives from relevant ministries and departments to review qualified climate change projects after going through the criteria set by the fund. Only the projects that suit such criteria will be selected for submission. The committee will also seek consultation from senior climate change experts.
That being said, as of now only South Korea and Switzerland have announced that they would contribute to the GCF, other developed countries have not made any promises. The fund itself will have to work to mobilise the money needed.
Lai: Viet Nam should fully capture international financial and technical support to address climate change and help sustainable development efforts. It is important for Viet Nam to develop appropriate structures and mechanisms to receive and strategically allocate climate change financing. This requires putting greater priority on capacity building, priority setting and ensuring transparent regulatory processes because these are stringent requirements of the GCF as well as other international financing mechanisms. It also requires stronger co-ordination among key ministries including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, and the Ministry of Finance to ensure the climate change fund flows to areas where it is needed most. The UNDP has a great deal of experience in the design and management of such a multilateral party/donor trust fund and stands ready to support Viet Nam on this issue.
Even if Viet Nam maximises international support, could this still be much too little in comparison to what's really needed? What do you think the country must do to raise domestic support and funding on the issue?
Tan: On December 5, the Prime Minister approved the National Strategy on Climate Change, which affirms the importance of foreign support, while emphasising that Viet Nam must still rely mostly on its domestic resources. As the strategy has only been recently approved, we cannot say much about domestic funding, but there will be a plan to implement the strategy in the future.
Lai: Domestic finances will be a major part of resources used on responding to climate change. The cost of adaptation and mitigation in Viet Nam is estimated to be billions of dollars, so international support obviously cannot meet this need, which will only be able to be supplemented by domestic resources. Therefore, it is important to develop a financing mechanism to engage and mobilise resources from businesses. The GCF has a private sector facility to help mobilise private sector contributions, and it may also include a mechanism to allow business to get access to the funds of the fund. Viet Nam should actively contribute to the design of such an approach and needs to define a suitable approach in its own context.
On the other hand, the Government should take the initiative in coming up with policies that engage the participation of private sector. For example, there should be incentives in place to stimulate the insurance industry to get involved in reducing climate change risks. Companies that provide climate change insurance packages may enjoy the benefit of tax exemption or we can make it a mandatory condition for any foreign player to include a climate change package among the services on offer in order to enter the domestic insurance market.
What do you think of Viet Nam's efforts in dealing with climate change so far?
Ninh: The Vietnamese Government and people as well as international organisations are making a lot of efforts to deal with climate change issues. From 2007 to the present, the concept of climate change and other relevant issues have become better known. However, 70 per cent of the people who live in the countryside and remote areas are still not very well informed about this issue.
But the problem is not only what information is conveyed, but more importantly how it is conveyed and how people respond to it.
For example, a farmer does not really care what climate change is, all they want to know is what they should do to deal with the problem, whether they should change their seeds or build higher dykes.
On the other hand, a businessman wants to know how to invest effectively while avoiding possible risks caused by climate change.
Each group of people need to know how to deal with or adapt to climate change in their own way, within the specific scope of their responsibility. So the information conveyed to different groups should not be the same, it must suit the role of each group. A piece of information is nothing if people don't know what to do with it.
At present, the public's knowledge about climate change is not adequate. Even scientific society itself is not that interested in or well aware of climate change. Researchers and scientists in other fields and intellectual groups as a whole do not pay much attention to the issue, while climate change is something that touches upon every other field. Construction and urban planning should take climate change into careful consideration, or else it will end with failure.