NGOs at COP28 demand Vietnam free climate advocates before it gets energy funding


by Alec Luhn | Mongabay

8 December 2023


  • Vietnam has unveiled the resource mobilization plan for its just energy transition partnership (JETP) at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.
  • The $15.5 billion plan, a partnership between Vietnam and G7 countries, outlines the policies and financing Vietnam will need to achieve 47% renewable energy and peak emissions in 2030.
  • Environmentalists are calling for Vietnam to release imprisoned climate activists and guarantee protections for civil society before the JETP can move forward.
  • In the past two years, Vietnam has imprisoned six leading environmental advocates, including individuals working on alternatives to fossil fuel expansion.

Environmental groups at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai have demanded that Vietnam release imprisoned climate advocates and guarantee protections for civil society before a Western-backed deal to finance its energy transition moves forward.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh unveiled Vietnam’s resource mobilization plan for a “just energy transition partnership” at the summit on Dec. 1 while flanked by the president of the European Commission and the U.K.’s secretary of state for energy security and net zero. An emerging manufacturing hub, Vietnam pledged in its JETP agreement last December to peak its greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 rather than 2035 and get 47% of its energy from renewables that same year. The new plan explains the policies and financing Vietnam will need to do that, including a list of hydropower, solar, wind and coal plants it will build.

A Dec. 6 press conference organized by climate advocacy group questioned how the $15.5 billion JETP between Vietnam and G7 countries can be truly “just” when six leading voices on this issue have been imprisoned by the communist regime in the past two years.

Hanoi is trying to suppress criticism of the JETP, which fails to set a timeline for the closure of coal power plants, activists said.

“We need to have just energy transition to tackle the climate crisis, but you cannot have an energy transition when you have defenders and civil society unable to participate in decision-making,” Shruti Suresh of Global Witness said at the press conference. “And it’s absolutely shocking that the EU, the U.S. and other big donors … are going ahead with this investment without addressing the critical concerns of civil society.”

One of those imprisoned, former government employee Ngo Thi To Nhien, had advised United Nations agencies and international development banks on crafting Vietnam’s JETP. She was jailed in September for allegedly buying confidential documents, charges that send the message that “research on energy policy is now off limits to civil society,” according to free speech group The 88 Project.

Also in September, activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong, a former Obama Foundation scholar at Columbia University and the first Vietnamese person to visit Antarctica, received a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. A U.N. Human Rights Council working group previously raised concerns about a “systemic problem with arbitrary detention” in Vietnam.

The JETP format is meant to marshal funding from wealthy donor countries, international development banks and commercial banks to jump-start energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries where coal emissions are still growing. These deals have been signed with South Africa and Indonesia and discussed with India and Senegal.

But the lack of safeguards for environmental defenders in the primary JETP framework document has led to a “governance black hole” that could be exploited by other countries receiving JETP funds, said Guneet Kaur of the International Rivers campaign.

“You put people who work on the transition away from coal in jail, and then there is nobody to say anything on whether this is a good solution, a false solution, is it moving away from coal, is it producing more greenhouse gases,” she said.

When questioned by Mongabay during a business panel at Vietnam’s COP28 pavilion, Luong Quang Huy of Vietnam’s natural resources and environment ministry repeatedly said he didn’t know anything about the arrests of the six advocates. The European Union pointed to an October statement on Hong’s conviction in which it urged Vietnam to abide by commitments “to consult with non-government stakeholders” as part of the JETP. The U.K. government, which has been accused of its own crackdown on climate activists, declined to comment, and the U.S. government had not responded as of publication time.

While Vietnam has greatly scaled back its previous plans for coal power expansion, its JETP program contains several “red flags,” according to Gerry Arances of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development. The country will build new coal plants through 2030 at a rate behind only China and India, and it will continue to operate existing coal plants “flexibly.” It promises to develop a road map to either decommission or convert plants to burn ammonia and biomass, the latter of which has been linked to deforestation in Vietnam.

Of renewable energy projects in advanced planning stages, the majority are hydropower, even though existing dams have displaced more than 200,000 people and in many cases had to be shut down due to lack of water this past dry season.

“It can’t happen overnight, everybody knows that,” Huy said when asked about the lack of a hard deadline for the coal phase-out. “And we need to ensure that those things are being done properly and to take care of all the people working in the industry as well.”

G7 countries, which enjoyed widespread coal power for a century, are also at fault for not offering enough grants and low-interest loans to JETP recipient countries, Arances said. Almost half of the funding for Vietnam’s JETP will be loaned at commercial rates, and less than 2% will be given as grants.

“It’s basically saying that the people of Vietnam will actually fund their transition,” he said. “If you really want to retire coal plants, then the international financial institutions, or U.K., EU, U.S., should actually bankroll it.”




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