The time is now for Vietnam’s Blue Economy
In Vietnam, the economy of the sea and coastal provinces and cities accounts for almost half of its GDP.
Covering more than three-quarters of the planet, the oceans absorbs up to 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans – a massive buffer to the impacts of global warming.
Like clean air and fresh water, the oceans are a global public good – unrivaled in their importance as the largest and most critical ecosystem on the planet. More than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity for their livelihoods.
The global Blue Economy – made up of oil and gas, fisheries, coastal and marine tourism, shipping, ports, renewable energy, and marine and coastal ecosystems – contributes around US$3 trillion per year, or about 5%, to the world’s GDP. In Vietnam, a country with a coastline of more than 3,000 kilometers, the economy of the sea and coastal provinces and cities accounts for almost half of its gross domestic product.
But our oceans are facing serious threats from climate change, becoming more acidic, losing oxygen, and heating up. Left unchecked, this will have devastating impacts on both life under the sea and life on land, and ultimately on the very survival of people and our planet. Imagine a sea without living creatures, be it fish or coral.
Key indicators – from water and environmental quality to ecosystem diversity and productivity – have all declined. Sea-level rise is threatening the survival of small island developing states, and coastal livelihoods and infrastructure also face serious risks.
And this is just what is easily measurable. There are also immeasurable values such as tranquility and beauty, the interdependence and social cohesion among communities that live by and with the sea, and the mysteries of the deep that have furthered scientific inquiry and discovery.
Recent reviews show that a 1-meter rise in sea level would impact 11% of Vietnam’s population and 7% of its agricultural land. Depending on the severity of sea-level rise, climate change may eventually expose 38‐46% of Vietnam’s population to flooding.
Additionally, ocean pollution, especially plastics and marine litter, is directly affecting human and marine well-being. Globally, an estimated 8 million to 20 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, and microplastics have now been found in marine food chains reaching the extreme depths of the ocean. These plastics are now in our bloodstreams.
In Vietnam, an estimated 3.7 million metric tons of plastic waste is generated every year, of which only 10-15% is recycled. Around 2,000 tons of plastic waste leaks from the country into the ocean every day.
Removing plastic debris from the ocean floors would be like moving mountains. While trying to find ways to address this removal, the issue of plastic production also must be tackled at the source before it further pollutes ocean and human life.
As one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, Vietnam is determined to play a part in the global climate response.
At the COP26 meeting in Glasgow last November, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh pledged that Vietnam would achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Vietnam targets sustainable Blue Economy
The country is developing robust plans for sustainable development of its Blue Economy, ensuring that the benefits the ocean provides can be protected, preserved, and improved to provide for both current and future generations.
This will be key if Vietnam is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Last month, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) assigned the Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands (VASI) to work with partners to develop a sustainable development strategy for the maritime economy.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is supporting VASI to identify six marine economic sectors and to envisage the potential of the country’s Blue Economy by assessing the contribution of these sectors to Vietnam’s sustainable development.
Other UNDP projects in the country, such as integrated coastal management (ICM) – combining the management of human activities with the protection of critical ecosystems – support sustainable development that encompasses coastal and marine management, watersheds, river basins, and other associated ecosystems.
While the potential is huge for Vietnam’s fisheries and aquaculture, and marine renewable energy – especially offshore wind, biodiversity ecosystem services, and tourism – the key is to balance the growth of these closely linked sectors, as the development of one industry can have impacts on the others.
For this reason, strong and comprehensive national marine spatial planning is needed, including a master plan that transcends provincial boundaries, which can help the country focus on prioritizing public investment and encourage the private sector to invest in projects using green technologies for low carbon development of sectors such as offshore wind and tidal energy, industry, transport, and marine coastal tourism.
The promotion of nature-based solutions remains essential, particularly as climate change is happening at a speed and scale that are higher than anticipated, drastically affecting biodiversity and ecosystems. Any delays, and these plans and actions could be too late.
Vietnam has already made significant and commendable progress in establishing a comprehensive protected areas system, which so far includes 16 marine areas such as the Tam Giang – Cau Hai Lagoon – in the Central region.
About 12 million hectares of wetlands nationwide provide primary livelihoods and additional income for around 20 million people, and act as storm-surge buffer zones and carbon sinks, and prevent saline intrusion.
The UNDP, in its GCF coastal resilience project, is supporting the rehabilitation and regeneration of 4,000 hectares of coastal mangroves to protect vulnerable communities and livelihoods.
It is also critical to promote gender equality and strengthen the role of women, ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups in the Blue Economy, including opportunities in marine-related activities to realize their economic and social potential and to enable them to protect natural resources, while increasing opportunities for decent work.
Ensuring that the ocean is not compromised for economic growth – with the well-being of both defining progress – is fundamental to securing the protection of a resilient Blue Economy. This is a challenge not only for the governments and people of Vietnam, but for the world.
By Kanni Wignaraja & Caitlin Wiesen – Asia Times – May 10, 2022