Media Highlights

Damning evidence no match for dam pushers

By normal standards, the scrapping of two controversial dams planned in a protected area should have been a done deal by now.

But victories for the environment have become extremely rare in Vietnam in recent years and opponents of the two dams, to be built in the core of the UNESCO-recognized Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, appear to be seeing the writing on the wall.

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Environment risks overlooked when banks fund industrial production projects

Making profit is the most important task for every commercial bank, because of which the environmental risks are sometimes overlooked when banks approve the lending.

In general, credit officers do not pay much attention to the possible environmental risks when analyzing investment projects submitted by businesses for loans, simply because the requirement has not been legalized with the regulations stipulating banks’ relevant responsibilities.

The State Bank of Vietnam, the watchdog agency of commercial banks, also has not released any legal document, stipulating that banks need to consider environmental risks when they provide credit to fund enterprises’ projects.

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A mining site in operation. Photo: PanNature.

In fact, the duty of protecting the environment of all the subjects in the society has been stipulated in the 2005 Environment Protection Law already. However, the law only clarifies the responsibilities of production, service enterprises, while there have been no detailed regulations about the banks’ responsibilities.

An unreleased report by Nguyen Hong Anh from PanNature has pointed out that most credit officers would simply check if the enterprises-borrowers have the reports on the projects’ possible environment impacts, while some of them would check the enterprises’ waste water treatment technology and the re-settlement plans.

However, the officers would examine the matters based on their knowledge; while there has been no guidance on how to examine the issues.

Anh’s survey was conducted at 19 biggest commercial banks in Vietnam.

The problem is that the reports on possible environmental impacts are made by borrowers under the formalization, while in many cases, they do not contain true information or cannot suggest reliable solutions.

However, credit officers do not care about verifying the reports. They just need to be sure that such reports exist and that they strictly follow the stipulated procedures when considering the investment projects.

Meanwhile, banks, which have the right to fund or not fund the investment projects, can help minimize the environmental risks by asking the borrowers to work seriously on environmental protection solutions. In principle, the thorough examination over production projects would force enterprises to strive for clean and safe production.

Some international finance institutions in Vietnam including the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) all have the environmental and social standards that the partners or the donation beneficiaries have to follow.

However, the first research works on the role and responsibilities of Vietnamese commercial banks in the environment protection.

A survey by IFC conducted in 2012 showed that only three Vietnamese commercial banks have the environmental and social risk management systems, two of which (Techcombank, Vietinbank), use IFC sets of standards, while the other (Sacombank) has built up a policy of its own.

The State Bank of Vietnam has said it is compiling a legal document stipulating the responsibilities of commercial banks to ensure the environmental and social safety in credit activities.

Anh believes that it is necessary for the banking sector to join forces with involved parties to build up an environment risk classification and assessment system, which banks can refer to when making decisions on providing credit.

The state should think of a mechanism which allows non-state units to join the building of independent classification systems.

Commercial banks should be required to make public–the information about the credit provided to the production projects which may influence the environment and social security, so that people and independent supervisors can keep watching and reporting about the banks’ fulfillment of their duties.

Source: MONRE

Giant Laos dam underway… What’s next?

For those who had believed that Laos would stick to its pledge to shelve construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam, November 7 was a black day. It was on that day that Laos broke ground on the US$3.8-billion project despite vehement objections from environmental groups and its neighbors who said the 810-meter (2,600ft) dam would unleash massive ecological changes on a river that feeds around 60 million people.

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Vietnam may evict bears from ‘protected’ park land

Bears, some of them blinded or maimed, play behind tall green fences like children at school recess. Rescued from Asia’s bear bile trade, they were brought to live in this lush national park, but now they may need saving once more. The future of the bears’ sanctuary has been in doubt since July, when a vice defense minister ordered the nonprofit group operating the $2 million center not to expand further and to find another location. U.S. politicians and officials in other countries are among those urging the military to back off.

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Hydropower lucre hides major fault lines

The controversy over the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done for the Song Tranh Dam, now blamed for causing many tremors and quakes in the central province of Quang Nam since last November, has exposed major problems in the assessment and approval process of such projects.

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Viet Nam loses ‘green’ image

Viet Nam was enduring adverse affects to the environment after 25 years of economic development, said environmental experts.

The comment was made at a recent workshop on harmonising economic development and environmental protection held in the northern province of Ninh Binh by PanNature, a non-profit organisation focused on bio-diversity conservation.

The seminar aimed to create a floor for scientists and experts to raise opinions about the environment.

Photo: PanNature.

Dr Nguyen The Chinh, deputy head of the Institute of Natural Resources and Environment Strategy and Policy Planning, pointed out that Viet Nam was using more natural resources to reach its economic targets.

Chinh made a comparison that if GDP growth in 1990 was at level 1, it had climbed to level 3.5 in 17 years. However, water and power consumption doubled while land usage increased by 1.5 times.

Statistics from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment revealed that from 2002-09, the country lost 1,000ha of mangrove forests each year.

Worse still, the legacy of fast developing cities and provinces left a shortage of suitable waste water treatment in residential areas, industrial zones and craft villages.

Solid waste also was not collected and processed properly.

Dr Nguyen Manh Ha from Ha Noi National University’s Centre for Natural Resources and Environment Research said that Viet Nam used to be known as a small country with diversified biology, but now it was known for environmental damage.

According to Ha, police confiscated 23 tonnes of ivory, 100 tonnes of pangolin, and more than 100kg of rhino horn between 2007-11.

He also expressed his concerns over the construction of hydroelectric power plants which he blamed for the disappearance of many forests and wild animals.

To Xuan Phuc from the US-based Forest Trends said that forest protection was also an issue since Viet Nam was one of leading exporters of timber and wooden products. His figures showed that each year, Viet Nam exported 5-6million cubic metres of timber.

In addition, Phuc considered Vietnamese people’s habit of using wooden products another threat to the country’s forests.

Most participants shared the view that assessing the environmental impacts of a project was vital to protecting it. However, Nguyen Khac Kinh, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Association for Environment Impact Assessment, admitted the work had not been taken seriously.

He also criticised a policy that permitted investors to hire a company to appraise their projects.

“It’s understandable that investors will hire companies that will provide them with a ‘green’ report,” he said.

Source: Vietnam News

Eco experts back ‘green economy’

The rapid industrialisation and economic development of Viet Nam over the last 25 years has created a negative impact on the environment according to Nguyen The Chinh, deputy director of the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources.

Chinh made the statement in an appearance at a one-day workshop titled “Harmonising Economic Development and Environment Protection in Viet Nam: Practice and Policy Challenges”.

Journalists and policy researchers share their views. Photo: PanNature.

He said that the development process led to problems with the ecosystem and that climate change will hugely affect Viet Nam, and added that solutions must be sought that improve the situation without compromising the economic growth rate.

Those present at the workshop, including 20 researchers and 50 representatives from the United Nations Development Programme, the Asia Foundation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Development, and NGOs discussed methods to both develop the economy effectively and protect the environment across the country.

Chinh drew attention to efforts already being made, particularly in rural areas, to find methods that combine environmental protection with macro economic development.

He also gave his backing to the green economy scale, a fiscal proposal recently submitted to the Prime Minister, which prioritises spending for sustainable growth, social welfare and environmental protection.

But he admitted that this new model scale faces challenges if it is to be imposed. “Before we can approach a new green economy scale we must establish a whole new economic growth model. Its main tasks should be ecosystem restoration and the establishment of a low-carbon society establishment,” the deputy director said.

Workshop participants visit the Van Long Nature Reserve, where local communities
take part in ecotourism activities and conservation of natural resources. Photo: PanNature.

Participants discussed measures that would be needed if the scale is enforced. These include raising awareness, investing in modern technologies, reforming the tax system and committing two per cent of the annual state budget to ecosystem restoration.

Source: VietnamNews


 * The workshop “Harmonising Economic Development and Environment Protection in Viet Nam: Practice and Policy Challenges” was organized by PanNature with generous financial support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

Introducing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in mining and quarrying industry

A workshop on “Introduction of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)”, co-organized by the Consultancy on Development (CODE) and the Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) has taken place in Hanoi.

The workshop was attended by numerous experts and management from the National Assembly (NA) Committee on Science, Technology and Environment, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Vietnam Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the US’s Revenue Watch Institute.

Photo: PanNature.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Doctor Vo Nhan Tuan, Vice Chairman of the NA Committee on Science, Technology and Environment said that the implementation of EITI in Vietnam may meet some difficulties, such as the actually implementing in reality. Therefore, the workshop offered opportunities to have information and international material as well as propose specific solutions for real circunstances in a country promoting the value of the mineral ore industry in economic growth.

Almost all delegates in the workshop agreed that the participation of EITI could be a good tool which helps Vietnam concretize its policies on the real situation as the EITI itself is a solution for a more transparent environment in the mineral exploitation industry.

EITI is a volunteer coalition initiative amongst the government, companies, local civil society organisations and international organisations aiming to enhance transparency and accountability in the extractive industry. To date, there are 35 EITI implementing countries around the world. The EITI is also widely supported by extractive companies and the civil society organisations. So far, there are 50 top international extractive companies and hundreds of the civil society organisations and mining associations.

Vietnam has a variety of mineral resources with over 60 types of minerals in 5,000 ore deposits. Some are substantial reserves at world and regional levels, such as bauxite, titanium, rare earth and limestone. Some are potential reserves, like coal with more than 210 billion tonnes and iron with 3.5 billion tonnes

Sustainable development as well as transparency in Vietnam’s mineral ore industry in the development and integration process with the world’s mine ores industry is an important requirement for the development process. Vietnam is targeting to build and develop it’s exploitation industry and mineral resource processing with modern technology and eco-friendliness in order to ensure sustainable development, and meet the local demand for consumption and export for a long time.

Although, Vietnam has had access to the EITI since 2007, the research process and the building of participation steps for Vietnam previously stopped at the first step.

Source: CPV Online

Laws still cannot help protect the forests

Though Vietnam has a close legal framework on protecting forests and wildlife, the laws seem unhelpful. Green forests still have been devastated, while wild animals still have been killed.

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Fresh water shortage threatens sustainable development

Vietnam could face a fresh water crisis because of poor resource management, a new report says.

It says the problem could be exacerbated by the fact that most of its rivers originate in neighboring countries who could build upstream dams and block their natural flow.

The report was released on May 29 by People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) an environmental non-profit organization.

Photo courtesy of PanNature.

 Vietnam has an availability of 830-840 billion cubic meters of freshwater per year on average, including surface and ground water, the report says.

Up to 63 percent of this volume is sourced from neighboring countries. The remaining water availability is around 4,000 cubic meters per person, which could fall to 3,100 cubic meters by 2025.

If the rivers’ upstream countries do not allow fair share and reasonable use of water resources in transnational rivers, Vietnam will face a certain shortage of water.

“It could lead to a freshwater crisis that could threaten sustainable socio-economic growth and food security,” the report says.

It notes that although Vietnam does not belong to the group of countries facing a serious water shortage at present, water availability varies regionally within the country.

The worst water conditions are reported in the provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and the northern mountainous regions.

Meanwhile, climate change has altered the courses of the rivers and changed rainfall patterns in the south-central and southwest regions.

Due to rapid increase in demand, underground water levels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have fallen by a meter per year on average. The situation is no better in the Central Highlands due to overexploitation of resources for irrigation of coffee plants and other crops.

Availability of fresh water derived from river basins has declined due to high agricultural and industrial usage and high levels of pollution.

Deforestation, mining and infrastructure development have degraded water quality, the report says.

The report’s authors propose the establishment and empowerment of river basin commissions to ensure better use of fresh water resources in the country.

Source: Thanh Nien News

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