Vietnam: Norway helps build Green One UN House in Vietnam

The Norwegian government has pledged 1.8 million USD toward the building of the Green One UN House in Vietnam.

The grant agreement was signed in Hanoi on Apr. 15 between the visiting Norwegian State Secretary for International Development, Hakon Gulbrandsen, and Setsuko Yamazaki, Country Director of the UN Development Programme in Vietnam.

“This grant aims to support the UN reform and the aid effectiveness agenda in Vietnam and at the same time to support a demonstration model for green buildings in Vietnam,” said State Secretary Hakon.

As a tripartite undertaking between the UN, the Government of Vietnam and donors, the office building is expected to enable the UN in Vietnam to use energy and water more efficiently, thus minimizing the ecological footprint of the UN in Vietnam.

According to the Norwegian Embassy in Hanoi, the building will allow co-location of UN staff who are currently scattered in 10 different locations throughout Hanoi.

Norway is among the first donors strongly supporting the “Green One UN House” idea, along with the UK, Ireland, Finland, Australia and New Zealand. From the beginning, the country granted 200,000 USD towards the eco-design of the building.

Its latest grant increased the total pledges by donors to more than 50 percent of the total retrofit cost which is estimated at 8.5 million USD.

The Vietnamese Government is contributing a high value land site and is likely to offer the premises on a rent-free basis for a minimum of ten years.

The Norwegian State Secretary is on a working visit to Vietnam from Apr. 15-16, during which he will meet with Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen, Vice Minister of Planning and Investment Cao Viet Sinh and other officials.

He will also visit the Mekong Delta to learn more about the challenges of climate change in this vulnerable region.

U.S. – Vietnam Partnership

07 December 2008

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment, and Science Claudia McMurray visited Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho City, Lam Dong Province, and Dong Nai Province November 18 to 22 to promote environmental and scientific cooperation between the United States and Vietnam. Two specific goals of her trip were to highlight the importance of cooperation on climate change research and mitigation, and to encourage efforts to preserve wildlife, as well as combat illegal wildlife trafficking.

On November 20, Assistant Secretary McMurray participated in the inauguration of the U.S. government-funded Delta Research and Global Observation Network, or “DRAGON” Institute, in Can Tho. She told the audience the center will provide “the opportunity for scientists from the U.S. and Vietnam to work together to find solutions to the challenges climate change presents to management of each nation’s river deltas,” as the Mississippi and Mekong deltas have common vulnerabilities.

A day before Assistant Secretary McMurray arrived in Vietnam, the United States and Vietnam announced the establishment of a joint working group to study the effects of climate change. The group will operate under the U.S.-Vietnam Science and Technology Agreement signed in 2000.

Assistant Secretary McMurray also met with officials of the Ho Chi Minh City Forest Protection Department and Customs Bureau, with whom she stressed the U.S. commitment to stopping illegal wildlife trafficking, a black market trade that nets traffickers between ten and twenty billion [U.S.] dollars a year. “Some may not know this,” said Ms. McMurray, “the largest market for [illegal wildlife and wildlife products] is China but the second largest market is the U.S.”

Ms. McMurray visited the Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai province to view rehabilitation centers for the Asian black bear and golden-cheeked gibbon. Both species are endangered because of relentless pressure from poaching for traditional Chinese medicine and the pet trade. She said the U.S.-Vietnam partnership aims to curb both the demand and supply of trafficked wildlife through steps such as wholesale advertising in the United States to raise awareness, and training Vietnamese forest protection forces and customs officials to improve crackdowns on traffickers.

During her visit, Assistant Secretary McMurray also stressed the need to balance economic growth with environmental protection. “The U.S. underwent a period of strong economic development and had conflicts between economic development and environmental development,” she said. “Vietnam should not forget the environmental issue because of economic interests.”

SLP Environmental Consultants expand their environmental consultancy services into Vietnam

Rapid industrialization, an evolving environmental regulatory system and a growing awareness of the importance of protecting the natural environment has resulted in SLP Environmental Consultants extending their environmental consultancy services into the Vietnamese market.

Over the last decade, industrial activities in Vietnam have made a significant contribution to the stable development of the country’s socio-economic and national economic development targets. However, in the development process, these industrial manufacturing activities and associated infrastructure expansion works have taken their toll on Vietnam’s natural environment and environmental law enforcement has historically been patchy and often lax.

It is not uncommon to read reports in the Vietnam press of rivers and groundwaters polluted by large volumes of untreated industrial effluent and municipal wastewater, or how the uncontrolled burial of hazardous wastes has contaminated groundwaters making them unusable for drinking water supply. Atmospheric pollution has also risen as a result of rapid industrialization and smoke, dust and odour pollution from facilities such as cement manufacturing and seafood processing plants is widespread.

One environmental pollution incident extensively publicised in the Vietnam press over the last few months is the Taiwanese-financed monosodium glutamate producer Vedan Vietnam who were caught red-handed polluting the Thi Vai River in Ba Ria Vung Tau Province, 67km south of Ho Chi Minh City. They have been discharging thousands of cubic metres of untreated wastewater into the river every day for the last 14 years and as a result a 15km stretch of the river is now grossly polluted. The Vietnamese Government have suspended the factories operations and fined the company a US$7.5 million retrospective environmental protection fine, and additionally some 1,000 local residents whose health and livelihoods have suffered are preparing a class action against the company. According to the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency (VEPA), the Thi Vai River receives daily some 34,000 cubic metres of untreated wastewater discharged from nearly 200 companies operating in the river basin and as a result ships can no longer anchor at Go Dau Port in Dong Nai Province because of pollution damage.
There is also a requirement for the public infrastructure within Vietnam to be improved. The World Bank estimates that only 14% of wastewater in Vietnam’s main cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Hai Phong is treated and only 50% of rural families have access to sanitation. Ho Chi Minh City is currently improving its sewerage system and wastewater treatment facilities, but there is extensive scope for new projects and the expansion of such utilities across the country.


Vietnam was recently described in a UK Trade and Invest Report as one of the most attractive emerging markets globally. Foreign Direct investment (FDI) is at record rates with Vietnam currently ranking fifth in the world with a FDI estimate for 2008 of US$60 billion, with additional billions being loaned for new infrastructure projects by International Financial Institutions such as the Asian Development Bank. These projects include hydroelectric power plants, wastewater treatment and waste disposal facilities, urban mass transit schemes, new expressways and the upgrading of existing roads and canals. Industrial growth for the period January to September 2008 was reported by the General Statistics Office as 15.2% and this rapid growth is demonstrated by the fact that by 2015 six new steel smelting plants with associated deep water ports will have been constructed in Vietnam. Currently Vietnam has a heavy reliance on imported steel and they wish to increase their domestic production of cast iron and steel of different kinds to meet increasing domestic demand and develop a new export market.

Vietnam is also capitalizing on its prime location as a tourist destination with the construction of new urban centres such as Thu Thiem Peninsula, located directly across the Saigon River from the historic core area of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. Leisure resorts in the design phase include Da Nang New City and Phu Quoc Island which are being touted as ‘clean tourist destinations’ incorporating sustainable development principals and special environmental protection initiatives. Such projects are viewed favorably by the Vietnamese Government. Furthermore Vietnam as a developing country finds itself in the advantageous position of being able to learn from the experiences of other more developed countries and design and build green sustainable buildings and infrastructure which will have a huge benefit for the local, regional and global environment.


As Vietnam’s economy grows at a breakneck pace, many Vietnamese are quite rightly worried about the potential trade-off between economic development and the environment. There is a rising consensus that economic development should not come at too high a price and more consideration needs to be given to sustainable development and protecting the natural environment for future generations. Environmental pollution in particular is threatening to undercut recent economic gains as it has a detrimental effect on human health and the ecosystems that Vietnam relies on for sustenance. Environmental pollution also has economic consequences as agricultural and aquacultural production is increasingly affected.

To put the problem in perspective, the number of polluting companies is now so high and the effects of pollution so visible that some banks are exercising corporate social responsibility and refusing to lend to polluting companies without concrete evidence that they are taking real steps to tackle their irresponsible environmental behavior.

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AFP: Vietnam rejects Posco steel mill project: reports

The headquarters of POSCO in Seoul

The headquarters of POSCO in Seoul

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam has rejected a proposal by South Korea’s Posco Group to build a 5.4-billion-dollar steel mill near a coastal resort, citing environmental concerns, state media reported on Friday.

The hot-rolled steel mill proposed for south-central Nha Trang’s Van Phong Bay would have breached environmental protection rules, said a decision from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, according to the Tien Phong (Pioneer) daily.

The newspaper, and other media reports, said another reason the government scrapped the project was that it would have clashed with the planned development of a major container port in Van Phong Bay.

Dung asked Khanh Hoa province leaders to discuss other possible sites for the mill, according to the news website VietnamNet.

The premier, in a televised address to the national assembly on Thursday, said the communist government had “refused a project worth 4-5 billion dollars in steel” for environmental reasons, without naming the project.

He added that the government was determined to prevent further pollution in the country of 86 million people, where rapid industrialisation since the 1990s has caused widespread river and air contamination.

In January local authorities had given Posco and local ship builder Vinashin the green light to build the mill, including a 1,000-megawatt power plant.

But the news triggered a wave of protests in the local media, with residents and tourism operators saying it would spoil the environment in the seaside resort, where a number of new luxury hotels are now being built.

The Korean industrial giant is already building a 1.1-billion-dollar steel plant, set to start operation next year, in the southern industrial Ba Ria Vung Tau province near Vietnam’s largest urban centre and port Ho Chi Minh City.

AFP: Vietnam rejects Posco steel mill project: reports

Vietnam environment minister proposes higher fines for polluters

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s environment minister on Tuesday proposed raising penalties for industrial polluters and admitted that current fines are too low to act as effective deterrents.

Pham Khoi Nguyen was answering questions in the national assembly following a series of pollution scandals in which companies from Taiwan and other countries have been caught pumping toxic wastewater into rivers.

Nguyen, the minister for natural resources and the environment, admitted that the problem was widespread and that after over a decade of rapid industrialisation “Vietnam’s environment now is seriously polluted.”

“At present, Vietnam has 110 industrial zones in operation,” the minister said, adding that less than one third of them had adequate treatment systems for wastewater and other toxic effluent.

The government was aware of at least 4,000 factories and other entities now polluting rivers and the air, he said, but he added that his ministry lacked the resources and staff to effectively crack down on them.

Nguyen said environmental inspectors have to inform factories of site visits in advance, and that polluting factories now face maximum fines of just 70 million dong (4,100 dollars) per breach of regulations.

“Many factories accept paying the fine in order to operate,” he said. “The level of the fine is not high enough to be a threat. We have proposed raising the maximum fine to 500 million dong (29,800 dollars).”

Vietnam Cracks Down on Polluters

Pollution in a Vietnamese river. Robert Judges / Alamy

Pollution in a Vietnamese river. Robert Judges / Alamy

Long before a government report confirmed it, villagers living along the banks of the Thi Vai river in the Mekong Delta knew full well that the waterway was dead. They had complained for years that industrial waste discharged into the Thi Vai had poisoned their wells, killed all the fish and was making them sick. Yet it wasn’t until cargo companies refused to dock at the river’s main port — saying that the toxic brew was eating through the ships’ hulls — that Vietnam officials were willing to get tough on polluters.

Last month, with pressure mounting, investigators announced they had caught a Taiwanese-owned monosodium glutamate factory red-handed. Though it had taken three months of undercover work, inspectors discovered that Vedan Vietnam, a foreign-owned company, was illegally dumping untreated waste into the river. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Pham Khoi Nguyen called it “not just a violation but, in fact, treacherous behavior.” An unprecedented crackdown followed: a Korean MSG manufacturer was nabbed dumping toxic waste. Several foreign-owned starch factories, which can release cyanide during processing, were shut down. On October 10, inspectors caught a Vietnamese leather tanning company pumping carcinogenic chemicals into a river in Ho Chi Minh City.

This sudden, aggressive enforcement of environmental regulations has become almost a rite of passage for industrializing nations. Now it’s Vietnam’s turn. The communist government’s embrace of the free market has lifted millions out of poverty over the last decade. But just as in neighboring China, environmental considerations have been largely pushed aside in the race to build factories and industrial parks, few of them equipped with adequate wastewater treatment facilities.

The predictable result: pollution of the country’s lands and waters on a shocking scale. According to Vietnam’s state media, thousands of large — and small-scale industries — discharge at least 33,000 cubic meters of waste into the Mekong River system every day. Midwife Le Thi Thanh Thuy, who lives a kilometer from the Vedan plant, tells pregnant women living along the Thi Vai River not to drink the water. Even some well water burns people’s skin and isn’t used to wash clothes. “They are so poor, they don’t have enough money to buy rice,” says Thuy. “So how can they buy water?”

Enforcement gets short shrift, because local governments benefit from development, says Doan Canh, a professor at the Institute for Tropical Biology. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has only a few environmental inspectors, who typically must get permission from factory owners to inspect an industrial site. And when a company is found to be illegally discharging wastewater, the fines are too low — Vedan was fined several times in the past for a total of $1,400 — to be a deterrent. “I gave evidence of serious pollution from these factories, particularly Vedan, in 1994,” says Canh. “But the relevant state agencies have let those violations continue for years.”

What angers villagers is that the pollution is there for anyone to see. Le Thi Nung doesn’t need a scientist in a lab coat to tell her that the river is full of poison. Her village in Dong Nai’s district of Long Thanh once depended upon fishing and small farms. “After Vedan opened, the pollution killed all the fish so I had nothing to feed my seven children,” she complains, adding that the factory brought few of the promised benefits, only cancers and stomach ailments. With no other options, Nung’s 19-year-old daughter married a Taiwanese man twice her age. The family now lives on the $100-$200 she sends home every month.

Environmental degradation is beginning to threaten some of the economic gains Vietnam has made. Once lucrative shrimp farms are dying, and the country’s efforts to market itself as a tourist destination are undermined by images of poisoned rivers. And while it is doubtful that the Thi Vai river’s chemical stew could actually eat through a steel hull, the threat that ships would not stop at the Go Dau port, delivered a clear message about the potential economic impact of pollution.

On Tuesday, October 14, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered the government to get tough on polluters. It fined Vedan $16,000 and ordered to the company to pay $7.6M in environmental back dues it owes. These are fees the company was supposed to pay in order to pollute. They had not paid these fees in several years and so criminal charges could still be filed. This should send out a clear message to all manufacturers, says Natural Resources and Environment Minister Pham Khoi Nguyen.

But the Prime Minister’s call for tougher enforcement also cautioned local authorities to balance environmental protection with development to ensure growth is sustainable. In a press conference after the charges against Vedan were made public, Nguyen, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, conceded he was under a lot of pressure. “Many local officials have called me to say that we have to lower standards on the environment,” the Natural Resources and Environment Minister said, “otherwise they can’t attract foreign investors.”

Meanwhile, Vedan is still making condiments for Vietnam’s dinner tables. Despite the tough talk, it does not appear that the government is going to shut them down.
Vietnam Cracks Down on Polluters – TIME

Fish vanishing from Southeast Asian oceans 

Southeast Asia’s oceans are fast running out of fish, putting the livelihoods of up to 100 million people at risk and increasing the need for governments to support the maintenance of fish stocks, an Australian expert said.

Fisheries in the region had expanded dramatically in recent decades and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines were now in the top 12 fish producing countries in the world, Meryl Williams said in a paper for Australia’s Lowy Institute. “As the fourth largest country in world fish production, Indonesia is a fisheries giant. Yet … Indonesian marine fisheries resources are close to fully exploited and a significant number in all areas are over-exploited,” she said. Williams, a former director general of the international WorldFish Center, said the number of fishers was still increasing in most Southeast Asian countries despite a trend since the 1980s to close frontiers due to territorial claims and overfishing.

In the Gulf of Thailand, the density of fish had declined by 86 percent from 1961 to 1991, while between 1966 and 1994 the catch per hour in the Gulf by trawlers fell more than sevenfold.

In Vietnam, a new fishing power and a rising source of imports by Australia, the total catch between 1981 and 1999 only doubled despite a tripling of capacity of the fishing fleet — a sure sign that fishing was reaching capacity, she said.

In the Gulf of Tonkin, where Vietnam shares resources with China, the record was even worse with fish catch per hour in 1997 only a quarter of that in 1985. “In the Philippines, most marine fisheries were overexploited by the 1980s, with catch rates as low as 10 percent of rates when these areas were lightly fished,” she said.

Williams said Southeast Asian fisheries were serviced by a plethora of regional bodies and agreements, but few acted effectively on illegal fishing and shared stock management. At the same time, illegal fishing was “dynamic, creative, clever and usually one step ahead of authorities”.

A Southeast Asian government may issue a single fishing licence only to find it being used by four different boats, she said. In Indonesia, foreign fishing vessels, often Chinese in joint-ventures, operated on the “margins of legality” in a geographically vast archipelago. reuters