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From "Man of Climate Change" Story to National Welfare and People’s Livelihoods

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2015

Dr Nguyen Huu Ninh is the co-author of a 3,000-page book on climate change awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC) and the Chairman of the Centre for Environment Research Education and Development (CERED) under the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations. He always thinks of climate change and its impacts on environment, economy and society. He said this is a big issue as it also relates to politics, even conflicts of interest, not just petty things of everyday life. Vietnam Business Forum had an interesting talk with Dr Nguyen Huu Ninh on climate change and environmental protection in the process of socioeconomic development. Anh Phuong reports.
He cited clear testaments to extreme manifestations of climate change. About 250 million people are affected by floods in South Asia, Africa and Mexico. Southern European countries are facing the risk of serious drought leading to wildfires and desertification, while Western European countries are being threatened by large floods, sea level rise as and fierce winters as well. Heavy storms recently devastated the United States, China, Japan and India. And, the biggest concern is the warming of the Earth and ice melting, which will lead to rising sea level. The sea water level rose 1.8 mm from 1962 to 2003 but it climbed 3.1 mm a year from 1993 and 2003. In the past 100 years, the sea level rose 0.31 metres. By the end of 21st century, the average temperature is forecast to rise 2- 4.5 degree Celsius and the global sea level will rise 0.18 - 0.59 metres. According to scientific research, Vietnam is one of the five most vulnerable countries to climate change and sea level rise.
How will climate change occur in Vietnam?
Dangerously, Vietnam is forecast to be one of five most vulnerable countries to climate change and sea level rise in the future. Seeing severe consequences, the Government of Vietnam has introduced a strategy to cope with climate change called the Green Growth Strategy. I still remember that the Ministry of Planning and Investment used to have an office in charge of this issue.
Indeed, we have focused too much on economic data like GDP, FDI and other macroeconomic indicators other than sustainable economic growth approaches.
To describe impacts of climate change on the environment, I want to describe four elements: Earth, water, air and ecosystem.
With respect to water, according to research by scientists, Vietnam has a dense river system making up about two percent of the world’s system. Lying in tropical monsoon climate zone, it receives huge rainfall every year. But, why do we still we lack water? Our water is even polluted on the surface and groundwater because of waste discharge from industrial zones.
Soil environment is not better as we used to pursue profits by excessive use of chemical fertilisers and plant protection chemicals to stimulate crop growth in a long time. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the population are still farmers living in the rural environment. The devastation of soil resources is thus exponentially greater. For that reason, how can the earth be healthy?
Regarding air, Vietnam is one of a few countries to suffer overloaded traffic and outdated vehicles, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, two major cities of Vietnam. CO2 emissions cause greenhouse effect and widespread pollution.
With regard to ecosystem, according to scientists, Vietnam's tree coverage is 35-40 percent. Primary forests modestly account for only 5-7 percent. With such a low rate, how can forests can hold the soil and water to prevent pollution and erosion? In addition, wrenchingly, the mangrove forest area is increasingly shrinking. According to scientists, mangroves are considered carbon sinks that protect fishery resources, protect the mainland and provide ideal living habitats for marine species, shrimp and fish to grow.
How do you assess the impacts of climate change on the environment, society and economy of Vietnam?
In Vietnam, the temperature is forecast to rise 0.3 - 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2010, 1- 2 degrees Celsius by 2020, and 1.5 - 2 degrees Celsius by 2070. The highest temperature growths are envisaged in Northwest Vietnam and Northern Vietnam. And, when temperature rises, sea water level will rise. According to medium scenarios, the sea water level rises by 0.7- 1 metre. According to international forecasts, if the sea level rises by 1 metre, we will lose 5 percent of the total area of the country. Worse, we will lose two deltas. Agriculture will suffer most as food production will decrease on shrinking farming areas. Even, we may lose 50 percent of food production output. Food security is very important to any country. It is even more important to Vietnam as 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas.
Climate change also affects energy security which has strong influences on political and economic security. Vietnam is forecast to be at risk of energy shortage in the next decade. More sadly, coal - a primary source of energy for the time being - is projected to run out in 50-70 years and oil energy sources are also in a similar situation.
What should Vietnam do to positively respond to climate change and environmental protection?
Energy or electric power is the lifeblood of the economy. Vietnam's economy cannot develop without this important element. So, instead of using the resources endowed by nature, we can create our own sources of energy such as biomass and nuclear power. I want to emphasise the development of biomass energy sources. This energy is essentially the high development of wind energy, solar energy and bio-energy. These sources of energy are renewable. Indeed, many countries in the world successfully produce these energies although they lack fossil fuels.
I think the key to climate change issue is not merely economic issue. Success may not come even if the government spends a lot of money on a project. We will not be successful either if we only determine with our spiritual strength as we used in previous phases of economic development. If we want to make a success in climate change, we must base on scientific and technological foundations, especially new technologies, smart technologies and environment-friendly technologies. Vietnamese people need not be "so creative" in dealing with climate change. They should learn from the experience of developed countries.
Of course, this is a very long story because we see it every day via information about weather, rain, wind, storm, and flooding. A big difficulty in mitigating climate change is it touches interests, economic and political strife. I hope that the Government will pay more attention to scientists and experts engaged in planning and executing medium- and long-term energy policies. I do not expect to see a complete victory in the fight against climate change, but I hope to see that Vietnam will do its best to mitigate negative impacts on daily life of very citizen and every family.

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