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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Cutting emissions: Navigating conflicting interests

By Ngoc Phan

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Despite international efforts and discussions for decades on end, combating greenhouse emissions remains an uphill task

Greenhouse emissions continue rising without waiting for an international consensus to emerge. In 2014-2016, emissions flattened due to feeble growth. However, they grew again in 2018 (up 2.7%) and 2019 (up 0.6%).

Covid-19 dragged down energy demand so emissions in the energy sector dropped by 5.8%, the sharpest since World War II and equivalent to the total emissions ascribable to the European Union (EU)(1). However, as the global economy is expected to bounce back this year, the fight against greenhouse emissions will be a challenge.

Self-interest behind

Self-interest explains the slow progress. Many individuals and organizations remain suspicious of scientific forecasts of greenhouse emissions. They included former U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration. A survey by Yale College in 2019 shows that 48% of voters in the United States would not support the President’s declaration that global warming is an urgent matter if lawmakers did not take action.

Besides, greenhouse emissions and climate change transcend borders. Many will therefore wait for others to act first.

Economic imperatives play a crucial role, too. Initiatives aimed at reducing emissions face resistance from developing countries and even developed ones as poor countries are hit the hardest by such programs.

If the world adopts ideas such as carbon emission tax, arguably the most reasonable, electricity prices will rise significantly over the next decade(2). The same applies to gas, imposing a burden on poor households, developing countries and emerging economies. It is worth remembering that billions of people still lack access to electricity.

… the country still relies heavily on thermal power
generation – PHOTOS: THANH HOA

Negotiations for interest

This explains why countries such as India (the fourth biggest contributor to global emissions, after China, the U.S. and the EU) and Africa are not part of emission reduction agreements. Given the necessity of growth in pulling citizens out of poverty, they cannot let emission reduction take precedence. Moreover, they argue that the onus falls on developed countries, which benefited tremendously from non-renewable energy, to lead the fight against greenhouse emissions.

It is therefore important to provide funding support to developing countries grappling with the carbon tax. However, large-scale funding is unrealistic. As countries try to consolidate the budget and reduce the deficit, negotiations will continue—developing countries will expect support while developed countries will call for voluntary participation in campaigns against climate change.

Vietnam in the midst of negotiations

Previously, as part of the Paris agreement, Vietnam pledged to cut emissions by 8% by 2030, with 25% as a possibility if there is international support(3). Vietnam is not among the group of more than 100 countries that promise to reach net emissions of 0 over the past 10 years.

The 8% decrease is more for illustrative purposes, to show Vietnam’s commitment to a global effort. The 25% brought up for the scenario where international support is available is worth highlighting. Vietnam will only voluntarily cut emissions if there is help available.

Recently, Vietnam has increased these figures to 9% and 27% respectively(4). This arguably arises from the rapid growth of renewable energy in Vietnam, recently deemed as having the third greatest capacity for installing solar energy equipment in the world, after the U.S. and China in 2020.

However, 9% is only a number of paper considering Vietnam’s development needs. Thermopower plants running on fossil fuel are unlikely to get global funding.

Woeful networks for power transmission and storage have led to an excess of solar power. Whether Vietnam can cut emissions by 27% depends on the free financial support she receives to boost electricity transmission and storage (it takes almost US$33 billion alone to expand the national electricity network, according to Power Development Master Plan 8).

While Vietnam waits for international partners to pour money into helping her with the remaining 18% (27% – 9%), Vietnam must continue relying on thermopower plants to ensure reasonable access to electricity. These projects will be funded mainly by domestic developers. However, commercial banks will increasingly adhere to global trends and say No to power projects based on fossil fuel.

In the worst case—the 18% cannot be sold successfully and thermopower plants are in trouble— Power Development Master Plan 8 will be hampered, too.

(1) https://www.iea.org/articles/global-energy-review-co2-emissions-in-2020

(2) https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-is-humanity-so-reluctant-to-save-itself-from-climate-change-2020-02-21

(3) https://www.moit.gov.vn/CmsView-EcoIT-portlet/html/print_cms.jsp?articleId=17504

(4) https://dangcongsan.vn/thoi-su/viet-nam-cam-ket-hanh-dong-quyet-liet-de-ung-pho-toan-dien-voi-bien-doi-khi-hau-579100.html

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