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Economic downturn a chance to make climate change top priority   2009-06-09 - VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

Viet Nam News speaks to UN Resident Co-ordinator John Hendra on the eve of the mid-term Donor Consultative Group (CG) Meeting about the social impact of the economic slowdown.

While discussing the social impact of the economic slowdown at the Mid-term CG, the UN raised concerns over the issue of social protection. Could you elaborate?

In Viet Nam, there are three important dimensions to social protection: social security, health insurance and social assistance. The UN has many concerns right now. The first relates to the huge gap between existing information and a more nuanced understanding of the employment and social impact of the current economic slowdown. Another concern is the ability of the social protection system to adequately deal with emerging types of vulnerability and risk. Due to limited coverage of formal social security schemes, their geographically targeted nature, and the fact that most social assistance is based on household registration, current programmes often fail to reach informal workers and unregistered migrants or address risks such as increased illness, when almost 70 per cent of health expenditure is already out of pocket.

What would you recommend to address these concerns?

We urge the Government to step up efforts to implement the two labour force surveys it is planning to undertake in August and October, and to continue doing so on a quarterly basis thereafter. This will enable policy makers to gain a better understanding of impacts on employment. Secondly, efforts should also be made to support other important data collection exercises, such as the sentinel surveillance system of the National Institute of Nutrition, which can provide more timely information on the changing nutritional status of children. Thirdly, there is a need to develop a rapid impact monitoring system that can provide regular information on social development trends in Viet Nam, thereby helping policy makers develop effective evidence-based policy responses. Fourth, priority needs to be given to ensuring effective co-ordination and eliminating overlap among the many social protection programmes, including the 61 poorest districts initiative and Programme 135-2, to ensure maximum impact. Finally, priority needs to continue to be given to designing the more effective and inclusive social protection system required for a middle-income Viet Nam.

Can Viet Nam wait for its economy to recover to take measures to address climate change?

Action on climate change cannot be postponed. As Nobel Laureate Professor Paul Krugman said last month in HCM City "addressing climate change is simply the most important priority today".

I believe that the economic slowdown is a real opportunity for a more robust response to climate change. Many have called on rich countries to agree on a "Green New Deal", using economic stimulus packages to address climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, the US and China have introduced in their stimulus packages measures to improve energy efficiency. Investment to help Viet Nam "leapfrog" into energy efficient technology should similarly be prioritised.

What should Viet Nam prioritise in responding to climate change?

First of all, Viet Nam now has an excellent National Target Programme on Responding to Climate Change (NTP) in place which will help ensure that sector plans address climate change, raise awareness and pilot new initiatives on adapting to climate change and GHG emissions. Importantly, the NTP will also encourage essential research on rising sea levels and how Viet Nam should protect its deltas and coast.

In addition, Viet Nam needs to "climate proof" its infrastructure investment as well as invest in ways to adapt to climate change. It is essential to strengthen health services to reach the people who are most vulnerable to floods and typhoons; and to insert climate change into education. Energy demand is rising and much energy in Viet Nam is generated with fossil fuels. While this is needed for economic growth, priority needs to be placed on increasing energy efficiency.

How will the UN help Viet Nam in this area?

The UN has helped the Government formulate the NTP and is now helping several Ministries with implementation. We support the Government and donors to ensure co-ordination, research and information sharing, as well as policy dialogues and raising awareness. The UN is helping to formulate climate change scenarios for Viet Nam – focusing on what the climate will look like in the future and the primary effects of climate change.

The UN is also offering advice on how to integrate climate change responses in the forthcoming national socio-economic development strategy and plan. An essential element is strengthening the capacity to prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters, which are getting worse as a result of climate change. Through the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative, the UN is also helping Viet Nam estimate the amount of GHG emissions due to deforestation and supporting sustainable forest management. We have several energy efficiency initiatives with national partners and have also started to engage teenagers in dialogues on climate change.

Finally, the UN is actively supporting Viet Nam in preparing for the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Together with other development partners, we are providing training for the delegation. It is very important that Viet Nam play an active role in international climate diplomacy in order to ensure that a just and effective agreement is reached in Copenhagen.



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