Toward Better and More Sustainable Decade

6:53:48 AM | 12/8/2021

Sustainable development is a megatrend that all mankind is striving for and an important guideline, viewpoint and strategic goal that the Government of Vietnam is determined to achieve. Especially, during this tough time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, it is more important than ever to realize the goal of “Toward a better and more sustainable decade: Leaving no one behind”. Vietnam Business Forum’s reporter has an interview with Mr. Pham Tan Cong, President of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and Chairman of the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD), on this matter. Mai Anh reports.

What do you think about the delivery of sustainable development goals in Vietnam in recent years?

According to the Sustainable Development Index Report released by Bertelsmann Stiftung and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), sustainable development is an urgent need and a vital trend in human development history. At the 2015 United Nations Summit, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was unanimously adopted by UN member countries. This program set out the vision for the next 15 years of development with 17 sustainable development goals and 169 specific targets coupled with actions and global partnerships for implementation.

Without a doubt, since the 2030 Agenda was adopted by the United Nations (UN), the progress toward prosperous and harmonious development under all three aspects of economy, society and environment in each country is now specifically and consistently destined. During nearly six years of pursuing sustainable development goals, Vietnam has achieved many remarkable outcomes in economy, society and environment. Globally, Vietnam's SDG rankings kept improving in 2016 - 2021, from No. 88 out of 149 countries in 2016 to No. 51 out of 165 countries in 2021.

Vietnam has reportedly performed well in some criteria like ending poverty, ensuring some aspects in equitable and inclusive quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all; empowering all women and opportunities for political participation; ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; and especially strengthening means of implementation and revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable development.

Some other goals such as promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation can be basically achieved by Vietnam if they can resolve some existing matters.

However, some goals are unlikely to be achieved by Vietnam by 2030, including ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; and especially sustainable urban and rural development. This is one of the challenging goals for Vietnam by 2030 because only three out of 10 targets of this goal (accounting for 30%) have been (basically) completed by Vietnam.

Up to this point, among 17 sustainable development goals, Vietnam is assessed to have completed two: Education quality and Responsible consumption and production. Although the road ahead to realize SDGs is still rough, the fact that Vietnam has gradually risen to higher positions in SDG rankings has shown unremitting efforts of the whole political system, businesses and people to achieve committed SDGs.

At the COP26 Climate Summit, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh affirmed that, despite being a developing country that has been industrialized for just three decades, with its renewable energy advantages, Vietnam will develop and implement robust GHG emission reduction measures with its own resources and with cooperation and support of the international community to achieve zero net emissions by 2050.

How has the effort to promote and enforce sustainable development affected the business community?

For businesses, sustainable development can be simply understood as a corporate governance strategy that is developed to adapt to all circumstances, based on the harmony of economic benefits (profit and revenue) with employee interests and environmental protection. Therefore, in recent years, many businesses have gradually shifted their business approach and strategy from “business for profit” to responsible business.

Recently, especially during the fourth outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainable development not only acts as a compass in a stable state, but also plays an important role in leading businesses to adapt and revive in the time of crisis. Companies adopting sustainable development strategies in general and applying the Corporate Sustainability Index (CSI) developed by VCCI in particular have shown much better resilience than the rest. They are more resilient and their resilience is also higher as a result.

The COVID-19 pandemic motivates businesses to change their thinking about crises, thereby making better, even more focused preparation and investment to establish the risk management framework and the continuous action plan. When a crisis occurs, they can immediately initiate defense and troubleshooting mechanisms to enable more sustainable recovery and development. Until the pandemic is controlled and the economy recovers, based on their competitive advantages built from human resources and employees' trust, they will have a solid foundation to soon revive and return to the growth trajectory.

What is the biggest challenge for the Vietnamese business community to achieve sustainable development goals in the coming time?

The current biggest challenge to the Vietnamese business community in delivering sustainable development goals is low awareness and capacity of all systems (people, infrastructure, finance and institutions), slowing changes in production and management habits. The knowledge of sustainable development of many agencies, businesses and people is still incomplete and inconsistent. Social and economic policies still favor rapid economic growth and social stability, without due attention paid to sustainability in utilization of natural resources coupled with environmental protection.

Public budget is a primary source of finance for carrying out sustainable development goals in Vietnam, while the balance and expansion room of the state budget are facing challenges. Private resources and social resources mobilized for this cause are limited when private businesses are largely small and micro, typical of low competitiveness and poor operational efficiency. FDI enterprises have not yet created widespread effects of productivity and advanced technology.

Besides, many Vietnamese enterprises still use outdated technology, have low labor productivity, low competitiveness, and low scientific and technological development level (especially R&D and technology transfer). Natural resources have been severely reduced and partly destroyed by the extensive growth pattern which relies on fossil energy as an input amid insufficient application of new technology to reduce material consumption.

Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic is exerting a negative impact on global social and economic life, stalling production and supply chains, closing many service sectors and broadly affecting the development of sustainable enterprises in Vietnam.

Would you introduce VCCI's action programs to support the business community to effectively carry out the National Strategy on Green Growth in 2021-2030 and the Government's 2050 Vision?

The National Action Plan for Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was issued under the Prime Minister's Decision 622/QD-TTg, which clearly states 17 sustainable development goals of Vietnam to 2030, including 115 specific targets in correspondence with global SDGs adopted at the United Nations Summit in September 2015. The Action Plan demonstrates the Government's efforts and commitments in realizing SDGs of Vietnam

On October 1, 2021, the Prime Minister approved the National Strategy on Green Growth for the 2021-2030 period, with a vision to 2050 with ambitious goals enabling Vietnam to catch up, move with and go past, heading for aspirations of economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and social justice.

This is the clearest evidence of Vietnam's determination to opt for economic restructuring together with changing the growth model towards green growth, because green growth has really become a megatrend and a goal that all countries are aiming for, especially countries heavily affected by climate change like Vietnam. Delivering green growth is also considered a new approach in economic growth in order to achieve inclusive prosperity for countries, ensure economic benefits and harmonize socio-economic development with natural ecosystem restoration and preservation. Boosted by green growth, core cultural values are transmitted, shared and instilled in people's lifestyles.

In that general trend, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) have always upheld the role of directing and supporting businesses to achieve sustainable development goals in the past and in the future as well.

The 8th Vietnam Corporate Sustainability Forum and the 6th CSI Awarding Ceremony will be held by VCCI and the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD), in collaboration with relevant agencies on December 9, 2021 in Hanoi.

We have worked closely with the National Council on Sustainable Development and Competitiveness Enhancement as well as central and local agencies to implement initiatives such as organizing policy dialogue forums on sustainable development; launching a program to benchmark and rank sustainable businesses based on the CSI Index; engaging businesses in the Green Growth Strategy and the High-Level Forum for Global Green Goals 2030 (P4G Forum); and adopting circular economy initiatives.

VCCI and VBCSD also recommended and advised the Government to carry out solutions to challenges in the public-private partnership (PPP) model in order to create a favorable investment environment and engage the business community to realize Vietnam's sustainable development goals.

VCCI and VBCSD have also actively encouraged and supported enterprises to apply sustainable business models, cleaner production technologies, adopt efficient use of natural resources, and environmental protection; promote innovative startups and effective policies on SME support. At the same time, VCCI and VBCSD supported them to improve labor productivity in enterprises; develop high-quality human resources and improve management capacity and corporate governance.

Thank you very much!

By Lan Anh, Vietnam Business Forum