The Mekong Delta, the southernmost region of Vietnam, is fighting one of the most severe effects of climate change in the world today. Rising sea levels and increasingly sporadic weather patterns are straining the economically vital lowland, which is threatening the survival of the major agricultural industries that made up 15.3 percent of the national GDP in 2017. If action is not taken to counteract the literal rising tide of climate change, then the people of the Mekong will incur significant economic and social damages and may even become displaced by the incapacity to live where they once called home.
With such a vital part of Vietnam and greater Southeast Asia facing such a growing threat, a resolution was passed in 2017 by the Vietnamese government to domestically accommodate the changing region. It is called Resolution 120, and it has planned on “actively responding to climate change,” and “enhancing the management of natural resources and environmental protection.” Goals included increasing forest coverage to nine percent from the 2017 level of 4.3 percent and increasing the amount of high tech, sustainable agriculture practices to 80 percent of all production by 2050.
Furthermore, the national government of Vietnam formally recognized the threats of climate change on the Mekong Delta by stating: “Sustainable development of the Mekong Delta is of the interests of the nation.” Given the international community’s inability to limit carbon emissions, the declaration of the Vietnamese government about the local importance of sustainable development could perhaps serve as an important model of domestic actions that could be taken around the globe.
The resolution also emphasizes water resources as the core issue that should drive policy development for the Mekong as the water systems are the drivers of the region’s economy. For example, one concrete action currently functioning is an organization of the different ecosystems that live alongside the rice paddies and fisheries. Known as the Territory Space Organization (translated from Vietnamese), the policy splits the land into specific purposes depending on the local ecosystem, which enables a more streamlined and organized approach to sustainable development. Under the collaboration of several ministries of the national government and the National Committee on Climate Change, the Vietnamese national government has taken climate change very seriously.
Today, there have been continued efforts to protect the Mekong Delta, its industries, and, most importantly, its people. A total of US$1.6 billion under Resolution 120 have been used on activities in the delta, and earlier this year, the World Bank convened for the Mekong Delta Conference on June 19. The Conference underscored stronger institutional administration by the international community for the success of Resolution 120. As such Ousmane Dione, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam, declared that an additional US$880 million had been committed to helping the resolution’s implementation.
Later in his speech to the Vietnamese Congress, Dione decreed, “Efficient mobilization and use of financial resources has to be prioritized.” This serves as a call from the international community that the Vietnamese government needs to step up the funding for its sustainable development. Specifically the Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who holds the discretion of the Ministry of Finance’s distribution of funds for the Mekong Delta, is the individual most accountable for the success of these projects in the coming years.
While Vietnam’s current plans are necessary for the survival of the people in the Mekong Delta and the region’s economy, the reality is that they are left cleaning up a mess someone else made. Despite their minuscule carbon footprints, it is the people who are most vulnerable — like the small rice farmer in the Mekong — that are most vulnerable to our quickly changing climate. More frequent and severe extreme weather, significant flooding, and drought are displacing innocent people. Vietnam had the 27th largest carbon footprint in 2017, accounting for .59 percent of total fossil CO2 emissions that year. Its impact on the global greenhouse effect is a drop in the bucket of climate change with such a small output of carbon such that the only real control the Vietnamese government and people have exists in their capabilities to adapt to whatever the rising global temperature causes. The future of the small, Vietnamese rice farmer’s home lies more in the hands of our world’s largest governments and corporations than in his own.