Wednesday, March 8, 2023


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: As you all know, Vietnam is one of the top five most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. And I thought in coming to Vietnam, it was extremely important to come to the Mekong Delta, where anything that happens to the environment or to the climate or to sea levels, or to upstream river flow, is going to have an effect on the livelihoods of fisherpeople, aquacultural people, rice farmers, people who produce any crop. And it's such an incredibly important region, not only in Vietnam but in the world. And yet, as I heard over the course of today, people are already suffering some very difficult effects of the changing environment and of the more unpredictable weather patterns that many people around the world are dealing with, but that really hit home here in the Mekong Delta. 

So, you know, I started my day in Ho Chi Minh City dealing with an aspect of the environmental challenge, which is plastic pollution. Vietnam produces two to three million metric tons of plastic waste each year. Vietnam is not alone in producing plastic waste. All of our countries do it. But I was very impressed with the entrepreneurship of the citizens in trying to figure out how to put in place a recycling regime that incentivizes workers to pick up the waste, citizens to provide the waste and receive payment for doing so, and then for that recycling process to take hold. So I think with government regulations, which USAID is supporting, that effort is likely to scale quite significantly within the next couple of years. And USAID is going to be a part of supporting that effort. Obviously here, meeting with the family that owns this fish farm, one of the most severe aspects of the changing environment is salination and the effect that that has here in the Mekong Delta on fish that are freshwater fish – and that these fish farmers have worked with over many generations suddenly asking themselves, can this – these fish – survive with the changing nature of the water? We also, before coming here, met with rice farmers who themselves were diversifying their crop production – moving away, in fact – from a reliance on rice because it was so vulnerable to the changing climate patterns and to unpredictable rainfalls, and now working more with fruits – with oranges, with lemons, et cetera. And again, that is the kind of diversification that USAID all around the world tries to find ways to support, so that when livelihoods are jeopardized, we are there working with, in this case, our Vietnamese partners to ensure that there is a backup plan.  

And what was very impressive about meeting with ordinary Vietnamese, who suddenly find this climate and environment changing around them, was how entrepreneurial already they're being in thinking through what they can do differently. You know, and it varies, but many of them are hearing directly from the government on ideas about how to adapt to this changing climate and environment. The last thing I would just say is that while my focus today has really been on adaptation, how to adapt to the climate change that we know is already happening with extreme weather events – with rising sea levels, water levels, et cetera – USAID has made very substantial investments in Vietnam in mitigation, namely in helping the economy go green. And we did stop at a garment factory that has shifted to drawing on solar energy, instead of using coal, to use biomass from rice hulks – husks, excuse me – in order to power the steaming system that's so important for making garments. And in general, USAID is looking, as part of the V-LEEP program, which some of you know well, to accelerate that transition to the green economy. We know that Vietnam has set the target of being net zero by 2050, of course, with 25 percent of Vietnam now reliant on solar energy. Already huge progress has been made. But we know that the emissions from the United States, from neighbors of Vietnam, and from Vietnam itself, that all of us need to play a role in trying to accelerate those timelines. And so that's another aspect of my visit here, is to understand, both through conversations with the government, the private sector, and ordinary citizens, what more can be done to accelerate, again, the shift to renewables, including, but not only solar. So that was my day and I'm eager for your questions.  

REPORTER: Thank you for inviting us here. You think that your impressions about the climate change in Vietnam has changed when you come here and hear from the local [people]? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's a great question. It is well known globally that Vietnam, as a coastal country and as a country with such a rich delta as the Mekong Delta, is vulnerable to climate change. That is known all around the world. It is not something that Vietnam is responsible for. Of course, large emitting countries like the United States and some of Vietnam's neighbors, you know, played a huge role in global emissions. What is very different for me now, having talked to fish farmers and talked to rice farmers and talked to people shifting to learn about citrus fruits that they never thought about before is – you know, then you can really put yourself in the shoes of somebody whose father, grandfather, great grandfather produced rice – could predict, you know, how the rice season was going to progress when the rains would come, when it would get drier, could plan their harvest accordingly, could take loans according to when they knew that they would be able to.  

To imagine what it would be like for all of those traditions to just go poof. And that is really what so many individuals here and in other countries around the world as well are grappling with – is that all of the predictable, traditional ways of doing things are now requiring individuals and local authorities and partners and friends like the United States to think, okay, this is already here, this is upon us, this is affecting livelihoods now. And to act with urgency to try to bring the private sector in not only to the shift to renewables where the private sector has already made significant inroads, including here in Vietnam, but also to get the private sector interested in helping people adapt for companies to see it as in their business model, where they can actually make money, for example, using Fintech or, you know, I've heard here that there's no insurance schemes. You know, it's a major issue in Vietnam. Well, you know, if you're in the insurance industry in the region, you know, maybe this is a market that would be good to get into since there are going to be, you know, weather events that – where insurance will come into play and where there was going to be a lot of enthusiasm, given the climate risks, to take out insurance. In food security, we see all around the world that investments in drought resistant seeds or in watersheds and different kinds of irrigation systems can help, again, blunt the worst effects of increased rainfall or, you know, rising water levels.  

So bringing the private sector in is something that we want to work with urgency here in Vietnam to do, but not only, again, on the renewable side, but also on helping ordinary people who didn't bring this upon themselves – who were just living, you know, their lives producing for their country, for the world in the way they always had. And suddenly, as it were, the ground kind of shifted beneath their feet. And so, we feel a responsibility, both as a large emitter, but also as a real friend and partner of Vietnam's to be part of the solution with those farmers. And so, these kinds of conversations are really important to take back as we think about how we plan the next three years, five years, ten years in supporting this effort, you know, to help a region that is exceptionally vulnerable and the people within that region adapt their lives and their livelihoods according to this this very dramatic change in weather patterns.  

REPORTER: So what approach has USAID supported Vietnam to deal with climate change and how can it [inaudible] make it furthermore? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, well, I think climate and environmental programs are becoming a larger and larger share of USAID's programing all around the world. I mentioned in the environmental space, for example, cutting down plastic pollution, which also affects the ocean and the animals within the ocean, as well, and fish and others who are affected by plastic pollution. You know, it's one thing when the government puts in place a plan to increase recycling, even paying citizens here, you know, to turn over their waste, but it is another thing to communicate that plan and to change behavior. So, USAID is working with the government and with local entrepreneurs to try to dramatically increase citizen awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution, of the possibility to earn at least a small amount of money by delivering your waste and of the chance all of us have to be part of shifting to a recycle or reuse culture.  

So, that's one example in the environmental domain. V-LEEP, you know, this $300 million program, I think, has played a very catalytic role in helping parts of the Vietnamese economy already transition to green energy and, as you know, Vice President Harris announced the sequel to V-LEEP when she visited in 2021. And so, there are a number of dimensions of that initiative where we are, again, working with the private sector and with the government to try to support the government's effort to get to net zero by 2050 for sure, but even sooner if that ends up being possible. And then, you know, when it comes to adaptation, I think, here again, behavior change is going to be critical. Access to learning, learning from all over the world about new seed technology, about new irrigation technology.  

You know, for many of the farmers, we heard a desire – this fish farm has shifted already to ecotourism as – and this is a, you know, an institution that has existed for 25 years doing one thing, but just in the last couple of years, Mr. Bay Bon has decided it's important also to diversify and to make sure that his business and his family's business is not only dependent on freshwater fish, but also has – in case the salination issue becomes more severe where there is the prospect of having another source of income and apply with it. So talking to a couple of his neighbors, they're very interested in how they too can diversify but don't yet know exactly what next steps to take. So, as USAID expands into the Mekong Delta with a significant new adaptation focus, we're going to want to think through, again, how to support fisherpeople, fish farmers who are looking not only to rely on one mode of livelihood, but to try to hedge against some of these changing patterns.

USAID Administrator Travels to Vietnam


Administrator Samantha Power travels to Vietnam to strengthen a partnership marked by years of expanded engagement and cooperation, built on a foundation of jointly addressing the legacies of war.

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