Yet, the reality couldn't be further from the described vision. With an additional 40,000 megawatts (MW) of planned new coal plans and a further 15,000 MW under construction, Vietnam ranks as the fourth largest new coal plant builder in the world. The coal intensive power development has already taken its toll on local communities. The recent GreenID report shows the growing environmental and social costs of domestic coal combustion: Millions of people are affected by increasing air pollution, the loss of land, the use of scarce water and the negative impacts on other industries. In order to fuel the increasing number of coal power plants, Vietnam is shifting from being a coal exporter to an importer and is thus endangering the country’s energy security. At the same time, Vietnam has a great potential for renewable energies such as solar, wind and biomass energy. A transition towards a clean energy economy does not only offer the mitigation of environmental problems, but also the potential for highly qualified jobs in a growing industry. These will sharply contrast with the precarious working conditions in the coal sector, e.g. in coal mining.
With falling production costs and increasing competitiveness of renewable energies, Vietnam is at the crossroads: The country can either continue investing in the declining coal sector or become a promising, regional hub for clean energy.
Not only environmental impacts, but also economic and social consequences for all affected parties belong to the concept of a Just Transition. Therefore, a Just Transition promotes equality and justice for fossil fuel workers as well as for the communities disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel economy (e.g. working class and low-income people, women and youth). Two experienced experts from the U.S. guided the participants through the discussion: Dean Hubbard from Sierra Club and Betony Jones from UC Berkeley, who are both strongly dedicated to the goal of a Just Transition. Throughout the workshop, they provided a comprehensive overview on the concept of Just Transition and on associated research methods.
Several research questions emerged out of the discussions among the participants and trainers: What are environmental, social and economic impacts of the sustainable power generation? What can be done to ensure justice for the expected energy transition, in terms of social, economic and political aspects? Who are the main stakeholders and how could they be involved in the energy shift? These questions will be addressed by the individual research of selected participants during the next few months. This data will lay the foundation for the report on a Just Transition in Vietnam.
Attending the workshop, Mr. Tran Quang Huy, the president of the Vietnam Trade Union of Workers in Industry and Trade (VUIT), stressed the importance of an inclusive roadmap to a just transition that leaves no one behind: “We need to come up with strategies to move the Just Transition from awareness to action.”
The workshop provided a review of concepts, global practices, research methods and local experiences within the Just Transition framework. By offering a forum for an in-depth exchange of views from a variety of backgrounds, the resulting report will provide an inclusive analysis of the impacts from a shift to a cleaner energy supply and feasible recommendations for the Power Development Plan 8. The research is conducted in the framework of the 3 years project between FES and GreenID and the result will be presented in the international conference on Just Transition in September 2018.