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Assuring environmental security in Việt Nam: An urgent task


   Assuring environmental security has become a global issue which requires international efforts and collaborations. Challenges to environmental security have posed threats not only on social, economic and food security but also on national security and humankind survival. At present, environmental security is an urgent issue in Việt Nam. International and domestic researchers have agreed that national security and environmental security are interlinked because environmental security is part of non-traditional security which is a component of national security. Therefore, ensuring environmental security is important for ensuring national security nowadays.

   Environmental security from national security view point

   In Việt Nam, the Law on National Security 2004 stipulates that national security is a stability and sustainable development of socialism and Socialist Republic of Việt Nam, and the inviolable independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. National security is composed of protecting national benefits and removing threats to those benefits. Nowadays, due to the negative points of development as well as rapid globalization, a concept of national security covers not only preventing and responding to war risks but also responding to climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, water shortage, terrorisms, epidemics and transboundary crime. Non-traditional security threats could lead to a collapsibility of a nation or a government without military operations.

   One of the emerging non-traditional security issue which receives attention from academia around the world is environmental security. In 1972, environmental security was for the first time ingrate into an agenda of the United Nations (UN) Conference on Human and Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. The UN General Assembly first mentioned environmental security in 1987 in an official document. According to this document, “improper and wasteful management of natural resources poses security threats. Environmental degradation has threatened development and become a cause of social tensions and uprising that have negative impacts such as poverty, illiteracy and diseases.”

   On April 24, 1986, the accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant marked the world worst disaster. President Gorbachew then proposed to consider ecological security as a first priority in the former Soviet Union. This helped strengthening the confidence in the importance of environmental security. Right after being elected as the American President, Bill Cliton announced that environmental security was an organic component of national security. In this vein, the Cliton Administration incorporated environmental security into national strategy national security report in 1994. In 1996, EU officially included environmental security as a component of national security. So far, the US, Russia, Japan, the UK, Canada, EU and many other countries have issued a national environmental security strategy.

   According to the UN Security Council (1992), environmental security is the scarcity of natural resources, environmental pollution and other threats to the economy that could pose risks to poverty, political instability and could trigger wars. The Millennium project by the UN’s Council on America notes that environmental security is ensuring safety and protect against environmental threats due to poor management and design. Despite ongoing controversies, academia has recognized that environmental factors play a direct and indirect role in political tensions and armed conflicts, and agreed that environmental security and national security have strong linkages.

   At present, the world is facing some major environmental security issues: climate change (notably global warming), water scarcity, marine resource depletion, ozone depletion, desertification, forest degradation, biodiversity losses and acid rain deposition. In addition, Việt Nam is facing numerous threats regarding environmental security, including climate change, water security, marine security, trans-boundary pollution and forest and biodiversity degradation.

   To address this issue, our Party and Government have affirmed that environmental protection is one of the vital issues of humankind, a crucial factor to ensure human health and life quality, contributing to socioeconomic development, security stability and national defense, and contributing to international integration. In particular, environmental protection and climate change responses are an important part of the 10th Party National Congress. It is emphasized that enhancing natural resource management, environmental protection, and proactive responses to climate change towards sustainable development with a view of ensuring holistic approaches of harmonization of sectors and regions and ensuring readiness to respond to traditional and non-traditional security risks. In addition, environmental security has been mentioned in the Law on Environmental Protection 2014. It is defined as ensuring insignificant negative environmental impact on the political stability and socioeconomic development of the nation. Therefore, it can be said that environmental security has received attention from the international community as well as Việt Nam and has been initially legalized.

   Current status of environmental security in Việt Nam

   Climate change impact

   It is obvious that one of the most important environmental security issues nowadays is climate change. According to international organizations’ assessment, Việt Nam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, in particular increasingly severe storm surges, flooding and drought. Based on a global climate risk indicator report in 2016, Việt Nam is ranked the 7th in terms of long term climate change risks. Data from Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology and Climate Change (IMHEN) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) show that over the last 30 years, on an annual average, about 500 deaths and missing and up to 1.5% GDP losses have been caused by natural disasters. Averagely, Việt Nam is directly affected by six to seven storm surges per year.

   Climate change scenarios 2016 show that an average sea level rise in the period 1993 - 2014 is 3.34 mm/year, of which the southern central coastal area suffers the most, with the sea level rise of above 5.6 mm/year. According to an average scenario, by 2050, the sea level rise will have been 22cm, and 53cm by 2100. Sea level rise causes farm land losses and has direct impacts on food security, economy and water leading to increasing poverty and famine, job losses and migration. Therefore, climate change has been causing temporary or permanent displacement and migration in some severely affected areas.

    Water security

   Statistics show that river basins in Việt Nam account a total area of 1,167,000 km2, of which 72% is located outside of its territory. A total amount of surface water in its territory is about 830 - 840 billion m3 with the majority depends on outside water sources, which pose a great risk of water security. Water security depends heavily on water extraction for socioeconomic development in river basins. Although Việt Nam has participated in multilateral and bilateral cooperation on water security, it is facing numerous challenges.

   In Mekong River basin, hydropower dams in China, Laos and Cambodia pose threats to water availability, fish, sediments and ecosystems in Việt Nam.

   In addition, the lowering water level in the Mekong River is the main cause of droughts and salinity in the Mekong Delta. Furthermore, the Red River originating from China tends to become more polluted. In the meantime, conflicts in water exploitation and usage are getting more serious, with the main problem of tensions between upstream and downstream and among sectors over wastewater issues.

Việt Nam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change

    Maritime environmental security

   Although Việt Nam has maritime advantages, it is facing a challenge of environmental security and sovereignty. A workshop on environmental security in the East Sea held in the US in 6/2016 addressed measures for protecting natural resources and the environment of the Spratly Archipelago of Việt Nam. Data show that 80% of coral reefs in the East Sea is deteriorating, leading to fish stock decline. Recently, China’s large scale illegal construction and developments in the East Sea has been a cause of negative environmental impact in this sea.

   At present, 70 - 80% of marine litters are from untreated solid waste wastewater from factories, industrial parks, residential areas through rivers to the seas. In addition, capacity in marine pollution control remains limited. In April, 2016, a seriously environmental incident happened the seas in four coastal provinces causing huge socioeconomic losses and marine environmental degradation, and threatening people’s livelihood and social security. This shows that some localities have not paid due attention to environmental protection in their economic development. This is an expensive lesson for Việt Nam in harmonizing environmental protection and socioeconomic development.

   Pollution in some critical areas

   The National State of Environment Report period 2011 - 2015 shows that a domestic solid waste collection rate in urban suburbs is about 84 - 85%, 40% in rural areas and only 10% in remoted and isolated areas. A total amount of hazardous waste generated per year is about 800,000 tons. However, only 40% of industrial hazardous waste and 80% of medical hazardous waste are collected, posing great risks to environmental pollution.

   In the meantime, forest fire and illegal logging, rapid development of industrial parks, factories and enterprises and enabling environment for attracting investment without adequate considerations for environmental protection in some localities are posing risks to environmental security and human health. There are over 300 industrial parks nationwide and some hundreds of industrial clusters. However, up to 70% of the industrial parks do not have proper wastewater treatment facilities. Over 90% of the production, trade and service facilities do not treat their wastewater. Over 4,000 serious polluters and 55% - 70% of the enterprises are not in compliance with environmental impact assessment or environmental protection commitments. Up to 98% of enterprises violate wastewater treatment regulations and 100% do not have proper treatment for hazardous emission.

   Transboundary pollution

   Over the past years, some nuclear power plants in China have been built near its border with Việt Nam. This is a concerning issue as it is a serious transboundary pollution threat to environmental security and national security. Việt Nam is facing a risk of becoming “a landfill for the world’s industrial waste”. Statistical reports by General Department of Custom reveal that the year 2011 witnessed 17 cases of hazardous waste transport with the total amount of 573 tons. In 2012, 30 cases with 3,868 tons were detected and sophisticated.

   A study by IMHEN in nine Northern provinces shows that the air environment is under pressure of transboundary pollution from East and Southeast of China, in particular in winter time. Due to the seasonal Northeast wind, the air from China (with possible amount of 55% of SO2, 48% of NO2 and 30% of CO) causes acid rain deposition, which leads to reduced pH in lakes and ponds and rapid decline and degradation of ecosystems.

Planting mangroves to protect coastal villages and livelihood from wind and wave destruction

   Biodiversity and forest resources degradation

   The National State of Environment period 2011 - 2015 also shows that the quality of natural forests continues to decline. Although forest covers tend to increase, most of the forests are planted forests with low biodiversity. In 2014 alone, 3,157 ha of forests suffered from forest fire, increasing by 157.2% compared with the previous year. Over the last 22 years (1990 - 2012), a losing rate of mangrove forests has been 1.7 times higher than the period of 47 previous years (1943 - 1990).

   Statistics shows that as of 2012, 56% of mangrove is recently planted with poor diversity and quality.

   Biodiversity degradation, invasive alien species and genetically modified organisms tend to increase. Many invasive species such as Mimosa pigra, gold snail, red ear turtle, and viruses causing green ear pig diseases have destroyed plants, horticulture, posing great risks of unbalanced ecosystems and human health. Many wildlife species are now endangered. Some maritime creatures are in serious degradation. According to IUCN Red Book, the number of endangered species in Việt Nam has increased from 25 in 1996 to 188 in 2014.

   Environmental issues in mining

   A current status of mining exploitation in Việt Nam reveals shortcomings. Some large stock mineral resource mines have been divided into fragmented parts. In particular, illegal exploitation of gold, precious stones, tint, lead, coal and sand has created considerable environmental impact, posing risks to environmental security. The issue of “sand thieves” causing bank erosion and pollution has not yet been addressed.

   Some measures for ensuring environmental security in Việt Nam

   First, developing a set of environmental security criteria and indicators suitable in the Vietnamese context to assist policy and decision making processes. This tool will provide information for police makers and decision makers to assess and control environmental security and issue timely measures to ensure environmental security.

   Second, developing and completing legal documents and mechanisms to prevent, respond and ensure environmental security. This is an urgent task for effective environmental security management, contributing to sustainable development. Improper regulations should be removed. In addition, based on scientific findings, a legal framework and enabling policy mechanism for environmental security should be established. A possibility of developing Law on Climate Change should be studied. Temporarily, environmental and climate change criteria should be studied and integrated into a bill on planning which is under scrutiny by National Assembly and Government.

   Third, enhancing international and regional cooperation, take advantages of overseas resources such as capital, science and technology and management experience. Environmental security is a global issue that requires joint effort and collaboration of nations and organizations.

   Fourth, placing importance to scientific and technological research and development to wisely use natural resources, treat pollution, recover from natural disasters and respond to climate change. In the meantime, clean energy such as nuclear power, wind power, solar power should be developed to ease pressure on hydropower and provide energy security.

   Fifth, promoting propaganda and dissemination of regulations on environmental protection including environmental security; assisting businesses in accessing information and complying with environmental regulations.

   Sixth, harmonizing socioeconomic development and environmental protection, changing the mindset toward strict pollution control and prevention.

   Seventh, enhancing biodiversity conservation, forest protection, controlling and banning invasive species, strictly issuing mining permits. In the meantime, capacity building for meteorological forecasting and integrating climate change into national and local strategies, master plans and programs.

Tạ Đình Thi
Director General of Personnel and Organization Department, MONRE
Phan Thị Kim Oanh
Insitute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment
Tạ Văn Trung
Vietnam Environment Administration
Bùi Đức Hiếu
Department of Personnel and Organization, MONRE

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