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Monday, 25 January 2016 09:20
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Blue marine economy: Problems and approaches for Vietnam

(LLCT) - The marine economy has significantly contributed to the country’s economy, but its development scale is so far not commensurate with the sea’s potential and values. Development of the blue marine economy is the right choice to develop rapidly, efficiently and sustainably the marine economy in the direction towards industrialization and modernization.

By doing so, Vietnam can become a country with “sea-generated strength and sea-generated wealth”, as it is put forth in the common goals of the Vietnam Marine Strategy towards 2020, contributing to implementation of the National Strategy towards 2020 and the National Action Plan on green growth for the period 2014 - 2020. The blue economy and green growth will provide an opportunity for Vietnam to restructure its marine economy (including coastal economic spaces, the island economy, marine economy and oceanic economy and other branches of the marine economy). Yet it is also likely to face a variety of issues related to sustainable development of the sea and islands in the near future.

1. The blue economy in the world and Vietnam

Although there are many different interpretations, “Green Economy is understood as the economy that not only brings happiness and social justice to humans, but also substantially reduces environmental risks and ecological crisis”(1). In a simple interpretation, the green economy is an economy that has low-carbon emissions and provides in-depth growth. It saves natural resources and is friendly to the environment. It renovates technology, ensures a sustainable growth and creates employment and social justice, aimed at improving humans’ life.

For over 20 years, the world has attempted to implement sustainable development, but in fact the achieved results are very “unstable” and sustainable development is only the goal for social expectation. Therefore, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference (June 2012), the states jointly identified 6 groups of issues to be addressed for promoting sustainable development of the Earth: green growth, natural fund, ocean, green city landscape and sustainable energy(2). Building a blue marine economy is a global but new issue, although it has existed for 20 years of implementing sustainable development with 8 millennium development goals (from Rio 92 to Rio+20).

From awareness to action, the Manado Ocean Declaration was signed adoption by representatives of 92 marine states (including Vietnam) on 14 May 2009 in Manado, Indonesia, with 21 points emphasizing the role of oceans, ocean change and climate change, blue ocean economy, commitments to strengthening protection of oceans’ health and using oceans to mitigate the impact from climate change(3). The Manila Declaration of the 4th East Asian Sea Congress (November 2009) put forth solution to integrating the issues of climate change into the general plan for managing the coastal areas of East Asian countries towards building a green economy in the region. The Summit Rio+20 (June 2012) issued the Ocean Declaration Rio+20 to continue affirming: climate change has an impact on the oceans and makes change to the health of oceans; on the contrary, ocean change is also profoundly changing the state of the climate system.

With the message “A healthy ocean will bring long-term benefits to humans now and in the future”(4), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has built the Ocean Health Index (OHI) on the basis of 10 key objectives related to oceans’ service functions (supplying food, providing opportunities for fisheries, natural products, keeping carbon, coastal protection, livelihoods and economics, tourism and recreation, cultural icon species, clean water areas and marine biodiversity). In 2012, UNEP tried to assess nearshore sea areas of 71 marine states and gave average points according to the 100-point scale. As the result, the average global index was 60 points. There were 5% of states that had reached over 70 points on the average by indicators; and 32 states were below 50 points; Vietnam achieved exactly 50 points. The Global Programme of Action for managing marine pollution from land-based sources (GPA) has offered the approach: “link of river basins and the sea”, and has established a network of partners at global and regional level. It now calls for establishing networks of partners at state level, including Vietnam(5).

Recently, many seminars on the topic of blue marine economy have been held at international, regional and national levels, including Vietnam. Significantly, the 4th Congress of East Asian sea was held in Chongwon, Korea (July 2012) with the participation of 10 countries (including Vietnam) who committed to “building a blue marine economy in East Asian countries with the creative role of science and technological innovation”. In December 2013, in Washington DC (USA) there was the Summit on ocean economy towards blue growth. It was an important high-level forum to share awareness, knowledge and experience in developing the blue sea and ocean economy at global, regional and national levels. Accordingly, the Summit emphasized the group of key issues: pricing the service values of marine and ocean resources systems, including ecosystems; integrating services of marine ecosystems into planning of development investment, with a focus on marine protected areas; developing sea and ocean energy, renewable energy, food security and blue marine navigation; promoting blue economic growth, focusing on protecting marine resources, marine highways, developing the economy based on conservation of the marine natural fund; the role of technology and technological innovation, regarding the seas and oceans, in economic development and in handling the marine environment; economic and ecological challenges, focusing on waste, marine pollution and demands for planning marine spaces and challenges for green growth; the best practices of governance of seas and oceans.

This world of transformation and globalization, with the particularly important role of seas and oceans, the interdependence is more clearly expressed than ever - globalization affects countries and regions and on the contrary, the appropriate and efficient development of a country will much contribute to global issues.

In Vietnam, the economic restructuring associated with renovation of the model for growth towards a more sustainable and efficient development is one of the key and paramount tasks. On 25 September 2012, the Prime Minister issued Decision No.1393/QD-TTg ratifying the National Strategy for green growth, and later, in Decision No.403/QD-TTg dated 20 March 2014, approved the National Action Plan for green growth for the period 2014-2020. The National Strategy for green growth has determined: “green growth is based on increased investment in conserving, developing and efficiently using natural funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to improve the quality of the environment in order to stimulate economic growth”. The overall objective is that: “Green growth, a low carbon economy, and enriching natural funds have become the mainstream tendency in sustainable economic development; reduction of emissions and increase of the capability to absorb greenhouse gas have gradually become important and mandatory indicators in socio-economic development”. Currently, sectors and localities are implementing the National Strategy and Action Plan on green growth, including the marine economy.

The capability to develop a blue economy in Vietnam is indeed a matter of great national implication as the “brown economy” is an “obstacle” to sustainable development. Therefore, the birth of the Green Growth Strategy is an affirmation of the right development trend for the Vietnamese economy in the long run. It proactively and gradually shifts from the “brown economy” to the “green economy” with the following fundamental benefits: Contributing to poverty reduction, natural disaster mitigation, adaptability to climate change and ocean change, maintaining and working towards enhancement of natural funds, improvement of cultural funds, guarantee of social justice and towards sustainable development.

2. Opportunities and challenges for blue marine economic development in Vietnam

Great opportunities

Green growth and the blue economy are becoming a global concern and considered to be the driving force for recovering and boosting the global economy and as a tool for sustainable development.

The Party and the State of Vietnam has issued sustainable development strategies, the Vietnam Marine Strategy towards 2020, the National Strategy for green growth towards 2020, Strategy of exploitation and sustainable use of natural resources and marine environmental protection towards 2020, Vision towards 2030 in Decision No.1570/QD-TTg dated 6 September 2013, as well as international commitments to the environment and development.

Vietnam has favourable natural and socio-economic conditions, as well as potential and advantages for development of the marine economy towards green growth and sustainable development. Especially, given their location, the coastal areas, islands and archipelagos, can allow to form coastal economic zones and island-specialized economy, where economy is associated with national defense.

The Government has issued policies, strategies and approved master-plans and plans for implementation of the tasks related to green growth in our country, such as the National Plan for green growth for the period 2014 - 2020, Decree No.25/ND-CP of June 2009 on general management of natural resources and protection of the environment of the sea and islands. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has started the Project on developing tourism for the sea, islands and coastal areas of Vietnam up to 2020, and so on.

The resources as support for the formation of a blue marine economy in Vietnam are diverse and very significant, including quite substantial human, financial and investment resources; attention is being paid to material - technical facilities and infrastructure for development of the marine economy, as well as to environmental protection and nature conservation in the country.

Major challenges

The achievements in developing the marine economy in our country are remarkable; however, we still face many challenges and difficulties in moving from “the brown array” to the “green array”.

This is a new issue, so the perception of green growth and blue economy by sectors, industries, coastal localities and people is still incomplete, even very different.

Sectors and localities have not yet prepared all conditions for shifting the marine economy from “the brown array “ to the “green array”. In particular, now the infrastructures of the sea, and coastal areas and islands are still weak, outdated and fragmented; the equipment is not concerted and has low efficiency.

There is still lack of scientific, technological data and information on natural funds of the sea and islands; lack of a database on the sea and islands and  ecosystems as the basis for taking specific actions related to the development of the blue economy in the country.

The exploitation and use of the sea and island resources is inefficient and unsustainable. Marine resources are mainly exploited in the material non-renewable way. Little attention is paid to the functional, immaterial and reproducible values of marine resource systems, such as the position values of sea spaces near the sea and islands; the service values of ecosystems; even the cultural values of the sea.

The marine environment is being polluted and marine ecosystems degraded; untreated waste is increasingly drained into the sea from river basins, coastal areas, as well as from the inhabited islands.

Marine biodiversity and resources of marine products are being declined, and important marine ecosystems degrade. Important coastal natural habitats have been lost or become narrowed in area (by approximately 60%). Fish schools tend to move further offshore due to structural changes of coastal sea circulations in association with climate change; the tendency of river - estuarine interaction has significantly changed.

Currently, the sea, islands and coastal areas of the country are still largely managed by sectors (sectoral management) through laws and policies for the sectors. The institutionalization of the mode general and united state management regarding the sea and islands has been slow. This has led to overlapped management in the current sectoral laws and policies, and to the low effect of law implementation. Marine spatial planning, or sea use planning are the advanced tools of sea management (by sea space) in the world, but so far Vietnam has yet to adopt them.

Besides marine disasters, Vietnam is one of the few countries most strongly affected by climate change and ocean change, including sea level rise (primarily in coastal areas and small islands). In addition, the problem of complex and prolonged dispute of sovereignty over the sea and islands in the East Sea has also significantly impacted on the development of the blue economy in Vietnam.

3. Some requirements and approaches to developing the blue marine economy in Vietnam        

On 9 February 2007, the 4th Plenum of the CPV Central Comitee (10th tenure) issued the Vietnam Marine Strategy towards 2020 (Marine Strategy); the Plenum identified the overall goals to be achieved by 2020 according to which Vietnam strives to become a country with marine-generated strength and wealth, and to promote the potential of the sea in a long term vision, to contribute importantly to the cause of national industrialization and modernization.

To achieve that goals, the four following basic requirements should be thoroughly grasped:

Developing an efficient and sustainable marine economy means the necessity to synchronically solve: the relationship between economic development and national defense and security at the sea; the relationship between economic development and social security of the sea and islands; the relationship between economic development and rational use of resources of the sea and islands; the relationship between economic development and protection of the marine environment; relationship between development of the sea, coastal and island areas and development of the mainland.

Marine science and technology must become the engine for development of the sectors related to the blue economy. The capacity of marine science and technology should be strengthened to meet the requirements of renovation, international economic integration and to serve effectively the cause of national modernization and industrialization. The State shall encourage the pushing up and expansion of international cooperation in the fields having scientific and technological applications and the transfers of technologies friendlier and cleaner to the sea environment.

There must be inter-sectoral and inter-regional master-planning and management for the sea, island and coastal areas in order to ensure coherence in marine economic grow that the early stages of the development. Sectors and branches of the marine economy in each area should be reasonably restructured on the basis of “vision of the sea from the mainland” and “vision of the mainland from the sea” in order to effectively support each other in exploitating marine resources and performing the tasks of defending sovereignty over the sea and islands.

Maintaining a peaceful environment in the East Sea to create favorable conditions for the development of the marine economy. This guideline was mentioned in many documents of the Party and the State, expressing the goodwill of the Vietnamese nation, especially this is also one of the three guiding principles of the Law on the Sea of Vietnam (2012).

Given the above requirements, one of the important guiding viewpoints is to attract all resources for socio-economic development and protect the marine environment in a proactive, possitive and door-open manner; to promote fully and effectively the internal resources; increase international cooperation, strongly attract external resources according to the principles of equality, mutual benefit and firm protection of national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is necessary to focus on perfecting the legal system and national and local marine policies on the inter-sectoral basis to exercise general and uniformed management of  the sea and islands. At the present, the Law on resources and environment of the sea and islands is being drafted to further institutionalize the mode of integrated and uniformed management.

It is necessary to develop an overall and comprehensive strategy with long-term vision for exploitation and use of resources of the sea and islands in order to ensure energy security, development of the blue economy towards sustainable development. It is necessary to attach importance to solutions to exploiting the functional, immaterial and reproducible values of the systems of resources of the sea, coastal and island areas.

The  “sea natural funds” should be urgently inventoried as a basis for carrying out long-term plannings for using the sea and islands at national level according to the ecosystems-based approach. On that basis, we should allocate “marine spaces” to sectors and coastal localities for detailed master-planning of sectors and localities in the framework of the assigned “quota of space”.

We should attach importance to regional lines in sea and coastal economic development to promote the impact of marine economic zones, while minimizing contradictions in regional development. The Inventory made in 2010 showed that 30-70% of the volume of waste polluting the sea were discharged from the mainland and river basins. So the approach “From upstream to the sea” should be early applied to setting up the plan for developing and managing the country’s coastal areas to minimize the impact from the mainland. Waste and pollutants must be managed and efficiently treated before being drained into the sea from coastal river basins.

It is necessary to form and implement integrated management of coastal areas, including an inter-sectoral coordination mechanism between central authorities and local authorities; apply functional zoning to the coastal areas for sustainable development on the basis of considering mixed effects of climate change and sea level rise. In the forthcoming time, the implementation of Decision No.158/2006/QD-TTg on the Program of integrated management of coastal areas should be accelerated for 14 provinces of the Central part of Vietnam, and to strive, so that by 2020, integrated management to different degrees will be applied to the entire coastline of 28 coastal localities.

Building capacity of supervising, observing and measuring, mitigating and handling natural disasters and incidents which may happen to the sea, coastal and island environment. Investment development projects, socio-economic development master-plans and plans forcoastal, sea and island areas must take into consideration the sea environment - resource issues and risks. The lost ones and the degenerated important ecosystems (coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds) should be prevented and restored from degradation.

Extended planning and efficient management should be applied to the system of marine reserves towards 2020 for developing fisheries and sustainable marine ecotourism. We should continue to assess the rich, beautiful sea, island and coastal areas of national and international values to be submitted to competent agencies or international organizations for recognization and honoring. We should conserve and restore biodiversity and aquatic resources, species of marine products which are being reduced.

Encouraging local communities to participate in the process of sea and island management through using the approaches such as management of sea spaces and community-based co-management of the sea and islands.

It necessary to regularly enhance the awareness of the people communities on the coast and islands regarding the blue economy, green growth and sustainable development. Focus must be put on improving the livelihoods and reducing poverty for people on the coast and islands to help them to change their individual behavior in treating the marine environment.

The roadmaps of applying low-carbon, low-waste and cleaner marine technologies should be formed and carried out in sectors of the marine economy and maritime service. The marine alternative and renewable energy should be researched and used, such as sea wind energy, solar energy on islands, ocean energy (waves and currents). But note that it is impossible to develop tidal energy in our country because the sea tide here has a small amplitude.


Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi

Vietnam National University Hanoi


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