What motivates Vietnam to strive for a low‐carbon economy? – An explorative case study on the drivers of climate policy in a developing country

By Anne Zimmer, Michael Jakob, and Jan Steckel

Against the intuition of standard economic theory on collective action problems a number of developing countries engage in unilateral climate change mitigation policy. Ostrom (2010) gives several potential reasons why conventional theory fails to explain this observation, as for example the existence of multiple benefits. By analyzing the case of Vietnam, this study intends to give insights on the potential motivation for climate policy in a developing country. By means of qualitative interviews with Vietnamese policy makers and other stakeholders we examine the determinants that have shaped climate related policies recently launched in Vietnam, focusing on renewable energy policy and fossil fuel pricing policies. We find that emission reductions are not a main objective of these policies. Distinguishing between domestic and external factors, we argue that multiple policy objectives related to multiple benefits stemming from climate policy played important roles for national policy making as well as Vietnam’s international climate policy. Along the lines of Kingdon’s (1995) ‘multiple streams framework’ our analysis suggests that the interplay of those external and internal factors has opened a ‘window of opportunity’ enabling a policy change from a climate policy focused on adaptation to one in which increased emphasis is put on mitigation

Concluding thoughts

Contrary to what would be expected from conventional theory, Vietnam has recently launched climate change mitigation policies and voluntarily committed to emission reduction targets. The aim of this study has been to shed some light on Vietnam’s underlying motivations to adopt these policies. Our analysis suggests that a complex interplay of different factors, domestic as well as external, has driven Vietnam’s national and international policy making opening a ’window of opportunity’ for climate policy in Vietnam. Multiple policy objectives, some of which have a higher priority than climate change mitigation, facilitated the adoption of policies that also aim to reduce emissions, such as the Green Growth Strategy. Green Growth is regarded as a means to address issues like declining rates of economic growth, restructuring the economy, addressing energy security concerns and accessing international finance at the same time. As Vietnam’s own emissions only have a low impact on global climate change and their abatement can barely serve to reduce its own vulnerability, it is not surprising that emission reductions per se do not seem to be a major goal of the policies but rather a ‘cobenefit.‐ of policies aiming to promote other goals in the first place.

So far, most important policies launched are only strategies and most climate measures have only been announced and not yet implemented or are currently of little effectiveness. A successful implementation of the measures very much depends on fundamental structural changes such as a reform of the state owned enterprises and, related to this, a fossil fuel fiscal policy reform. It therefore still remains to be seen whether Vietnam will accomplish the realization of its goals and achieve the announced emission reduction targets. There are reasons to believe, however, that there is a serious interest by Vietnam’s policy makers to transform their announced strategies into binding national laws, as indicated e.g. by the party resolution on climate change and green growth currently prepared. Although announced policies if implemented successfully would still result in a remarkable increase of Vietnam’s emissions compared to today, they would nevertheless contribute to climate stabilization efforts by attenuating the expected increase in its future emissions. Also, they would establish a solid institutional base with respect to more ambitious climate policies in the more distant future.

Even though we argue in this paper that it has been the combination of country specific conditions leading to the adoption of climate change mitigation policies in Vietnam, some general insights could still be applicable to other developing countries facing similar problems. Taking multiple objectives and potential co‐benefits into account could increase the willingness of other developing countries to voluntarily engage in mitigation action. Such measures could in turn help to dampen the expected steep increase in these countries’ emissions and enhance global cooperation in order to achieve a more
comprehensive climate agreement at a future stage. As a consequence, a major task for international climate policy will be to identify how climate policies would affect different countries’ objectives and their motivations to adopt climate measures. In particular, international donors could strengthen voluntary climate policies in developing countries by
supporting them to overcome barriers for exploiting negative cost options. International climate finance, e.g. the Green Climate Fund, could provide additional incentives for energy system transformations.

Source and full paper: http://www.icpublicpolicy.org/IMG/pdf/panel_46_s2_zimmer.pdf

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