In his speech at the COP 26, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh announced that the country would aim at a net zero emission target by 2050. With this significant move, Vietnam now joins the group of about 140 countries who have pledged to net zero emissions by the middle of the century.
Strong determination is needed for Vietnam to realize the net zero emissions commitment, as that would involve radical changes in the economy structure. Harmonizing domestic economic development and global environmental commitments is often not easy. This particularly applies for developing countries where demand for increasing emissions in a traditional development pattern is high and resources to switch to a new greener pathway typically are limited.
Vietnam has opportunities to pursue the net zero emission target with domestic resources and international support.
A concrete and actionable plan for net zero emissions would be vital to guide the process. Key elements of the plan include clear and ambitious targets, detailed responsibilities of stakeholders, and close monitoring mechanisms.
The intention of replacing coal by imported liquified natural gas for power generation would need careful reconsideration. Natural gas is not a zero-carbon energy. In addition, it will take years to establish the infrastructure needed for the new gas power plants. This poses high risks of stranded assets. By the time the gasp power projects finish, their electricity costs would have been too high compared to zero-carbon energy sources of solar and wind power. Solar and wind power are already cost competitive to gas power, and technology costs of solar and wind are projected to continue declining quickly.
Increasing targets for solar and wind energy in the coming Power Development Plan 8 would boost their uptake.
The country has the potential to achieve over 90 per cent penetration of domestic solar and wind power, coupled with off-river pumped hydro energy storage, in its electricity mix at a competitive cost. Impetus for ramping up renewable energy uptake could be built upon Vietnam’s early success in solar and onshore wind power development that has positioned the country the top in Southeast Asia.
Offshore wind power’ (OWP) has sizable potential to contribute to GHG emission reduction significantly. Vietnam has 475GW of OWP technical potential within 200 km of the coast, equal to about 8 times Vietnam’s total installed power capacity as of 2020. By replacing coal power with 25GW of OWP by 2035, as suggested by the World Bank, Vietnam could avoid over 200 million tons of CO2 emissions, nearly one third of the country’s energy sector emissions under the business-as-usual scenario.
OWP could be deployed at scale to meet domestic demand as well as export to other countries. This new maritime economy sector could be developed based on the country’s existing offshore oil and gas industry.
Other strategies include enhancing energy efficiency, upgrading transmission, investing in energy storage systems, and developing a competitive wholesale electricity market.
Decarbonization in other sectors such as transport and industry would be vital. Potential policies include incentivizing electric vehicles, reforming subsidies for fossil fuels, and speeding up the implementation of carbon pricing. These would need to be reflected in the coming National Energy Development Strategy, apart from the Power Development Plan 8.
Boosting efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation would facilitate the net zero emissions while mobilizing international financing.
International cooperation is crucial for Vietnam to unlock opportunities to pursue the net zero emissions targets. The COP 26 outcomes are expected to increase the developed countries’ assistance to developing countries. The international assistance would facilitate renewable energy uptake, forest development and protection, new technology penetration, and transition to green and sustainable growth.
Opportunities exist for Vietnam to embark on the post pandemic green recovery and to enhance its contribution to global emission reductions.
Dr Do Nam Thang
Australian National University
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition IV- 2021)
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