Ramla Khalidi’s Letter from Hà Nội

November 27, 2023
UNDP in Viet Nam

As published in Digest Bulletin of UNDP in Asia and the Pacific

Ramla Khalidi’s Letter from Hà Nội

Almost one year ago, the Government of Viet Nam agreed with the International Partners Group on a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner forms of energy. In the months since, there has been a flurry of activity to support the operationalization of that initial agreement.  Now is an important moment to take a step back and reflect on a central question: what is actually meant by the ‘just’ in a ‘just energy transition’, and how can it best be realized?

Balancing Burden-Sharing and Local Empowerment: Critical Dimensions of JET in Viet Nam

There are many dimensions to the JETP. The first, and most obvious, is the commitment made by the International Partners Group to mobilise financial resources to facilitate Viet Nam’s emissions reductions from transformation in the energy sector. Seen in this way, the JETP is a down payment, a beginning, intended to produce catalytic investments in low-carbon energy, policy reform, research and development, and creation of decent jobs and training opportunities, to name only a few. These efforts will accelerate Viet Nam’s pathway towards the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement. 

The second dimension concerns burden-sharing. Who will shoulder the costs of the energy transition? There is no realistic road to net zero that does not include an elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. This implies higher electricity and petrol prices for consumers, at least during the transition period. Crucial to the implementation of the Political Declaration on JETP, the Government of Viet Nam must design mechanisms to ensure that access to electricity remains affordable and reliable, especially for low-income households and other vulnerable groups. 

The third dimension refers to emphasizing local value chains and local economic development. Let us take the example of Hạ Long Bay, a renowned UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in the northern province of Quảng Ninh. Many of us know this iconic site for the thousands of towering limestone islets. Very few know that Quảng Ninh province is also home to Viet Nam’s largest coal reserves. As the world grapples with the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, the question we must ask is: what does the energy transition mean for the people of Quảng Ninh, and others like them whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the coal mines and power stations?

The fourth dimension involves the buy-in and support of all relevant stakeholders. These include, but are not limited to, affected workers, local communities reliant on carbon-intensive industries, low-income communities and marginalized groups, NGOs and mass organizations, environmental organizations, renewable energy developers, labour unions, and governments and policymakers. By securing broad social consensus in the form of regular consultation, participation and feedback mechanisms, stakeholders gain the opportunity to voice their concerns, foster trust, and feel ownership over the transition process. Their diversified and specialized knowledge then paves a pathway for early identification of potential negative impacts, in turn enabling more adaptable and responsive mitigations. 

In Quảng Ninh, the just transition represents an opportunity to safeguard the pristine beauty of Hạ Long Bay for generations to come. But it also means much more than that. It means cleaner air, healthier lives, and a thriving tourism industry today and in the future that relies on the bay's preservation. It is also a chance to reorient the local workforce and economy through decent employment and capacity building by providing constituents with improved community well-being, green skills, and sustainable, decent job opportunities in renewable energy, ecotourism, and other green sectors.

UNDP in Viet Nam

Pioneering the Green Energy Journey and Inclusive Vision of the Just Transition Framework

Here in Viet Nam, the government has embarked on a journey to green the energy mix, reducing its heavy dependence on coal. The commitment to renewable energy sources like wind and solar is profound. 
That said, there are still many obstacles along the path to net zero. At the global level, developed countries must fulfill their obligations to mobilize and provide climate finance for developing countries to implement climate action with transparency. 

In Viet Nam, the JETP is a crucial step towards fulfilling national climate targets, but it only represents one aspect of the work required to keep the country on track. UNDP is working with the government and other stakeholders to promote a Just Transition Framework through an inclusive and consultative process. The proposed framework will not only identify negative social, economic, and environmental impacts, along with the actions to address them, but will also highlight ways in which affected people and vulnerable groups will be able to benefit from the new opportunities the energy transition will bring.

At the local level, this framework would also enable a community-centered approach ensuring that projects will not only provide benefits in the form of mitigated economic and residual risks, but also enhance opportunities beyond existing social and environmental safeguards. 

The just energy transition is the greatest technological, economic, and social challenge that the world has faced since the Green Revolution of the 1960s. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rise of Asia from the 1970s would not have been possible without it. Now, as then, realizing the power of green technologies, long-term planning, and worker empowerment will require strong support from the government, active participation from the private sector, and community engagement at the local level. Together, we can make this transition equitable, sustainable, and beneficial for all./.