Net zero — the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. A country, or the world as a whole, would reach net zero when the amount of carbon dioxide it adds is no more than the amount taken away.
In Vietnam, where the impacts of climate change are expected to be more severe than anywhere else in the region, near-term goals include cutting 9% of emissions from “business as usual” by 2030. It’s not among the more than 100 countries with a net-zero target in the decades ahead. In fact, Vietnam previously announced that it plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but with the exception of biogenic methane.
But during a recent discussion with COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin confirmed its intention to reach net zero emissions as early as possible based on further international support.
Vietnam affirmed its continuing policy of transitioning from a “brown” economy to one based on green, renewable energy with low carbon emissions, with a roadmap suitable to the country’s development needs and capacity.
Sharma visited Hanoi on May 28-29 ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference - COP26 scheduled in November in Glasgow. The COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Sharma also spoke with the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha, Chief Negotiator for Climate Change, and Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyen Hong Dien, as well as business leaders and civil society groups.
“It was a privilege to speak with ministers, businesses and youth groups about Vietnam’s progress in combating the effects of climate change. Vietnam is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change but it can also be a global leader in the transition to clean energy, by phasing out coal and ramping up renewables, particularly wind and solar power. To keep the goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degree celsius, I encourage Vietnam – and indeed all countries – to submit a more ambitious emissions reduction target ahead of COP26,” said the COP leader.
Sharma, who is also a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom, reiterated the London's support to Vietnam’s energy transition, including speeding up the development of the renewable energy sector. He said UK is determined to help the Southeast Asian country in its efforts on climate change through bilateral and multilateral frameworks, including the Green Climate Fund and the COP26 Energy Transition Council that are aligning international support with Vietnam’s unique needs.
Both parties also emphasized the importance of a speedy and prudent transition away from coal to clean and renewable energy under the upcoming Power Development Plan 8 (PDP8), building on Vietnam’s recent investments in solar and wind energy which will create economic growth and sustainable jobs.
The PDP8 draft, released in February, explains Vietnam’s bid to expand wind and solar capacity and increase their shares of the country’s generation mix. It also prioritizes enhancing grid infrastructure to ensure stable operation with a higher share of renewables.
Walking the talk
Different government and private organizations are continuously working on strategies on green growth. Part of making Vietnam a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 — or hopefully earlier — is setting targets on greening all economic sectors, promoting sustainable consumption and enhancing resilience during the green transition process.
The Ministry of Planning and Investment said science and technology, digital transformation, innovation culture, healthcare, education and equality in access to opportunities will be promoted to ensure inclusive growth of a cleaner, greener, more sustainable Vietnamese society.
Since the implementation of the national strategy on green growth for 2011-2020 in September 2012, measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions have been carried out widely and continuously. Energy consumption per unit of GDP declined by an average of 1.8% each year, while 46.9% of businesses target cleaner production last year compared to 28% ten years earlier.
Vietnam has also started embracing solar energy. After foreign banks limited funding to fossil fuel projects, Vietnamese utilities have now created a cheaper, more convenient alternative to power enterprises, farms and households: solar panels.
“I have never seen a country explode like this in solar. It’s almost unbelievable,” chief executive of Vietnam operations of UPC Renewables Logan Knox told Bloomberg.
Hanoi-based analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis Thu Vu said the national government was in favor of coal for a long time in the past, until it realized such power source is not anymore reliable, not to mention detrimental to the environment.
In 2020, the country added more than 9 gigawatts of solar capacity, from only 378 megawatts in 2019.
According to IHS Markit’s Clean Power Additions Ranking in February, Vietnam is among the top three nations leading the renewable energy shit in the Asia-Pacific. The country has already begun to unleash its technical and commercial potential for solar, onshore and offshore windpower. And as the renewable energy sector grows and picks up the pace, experts believe Vietnam will continue to lead the region to a more sustainable future.
“Our ranking shows that income level is not the sole determinant in a country’s willingness to pursue clean energy and than renewable energy is no longer a ‘rich nation’ luxury as its ost continues to decline,” writes Xizhou Zhou, vice president in the Climate & Sustainability Group at IHS Markit.
With the PDP8 getting a green light soon, Vietnam is foreseen to cancel new coal-power plants, and allow renewable energy to play a bigger role in Vietnam’s efforts to reshape its energy market.