A political economy of urbanisation and climate risk in Vietnam
This report uses a problem-driven political economy approach to analyse how the leadership of three mid-sized cities in Vietnam, Can Tho, Quy Nhon and Da Nang, are trying to pursue their urban growth ambitions under conditions of increasing awareness of climate change risks.
For nearly two decades, urban growth has been both an indicator and target for social development and economic progress in Vietnam. Under the banner of modernisation and industrialisation, the Ministry of Construction created a fine-grained regulatory structure that uses the classification of urban areas to encourage spatially balanced growth. In recent years, however, those regulatory structures have been used by some provincial authorities not only as standards for urban classification, but also as means targeting urban growth. The realisation of these urban growth ambitions has been facilitated by a shifting political economy in which a liberalised urban development sector fuses with the institutions of socialist planning, aligned with the interest of political and business elites.
However, this compromised urban growth machinery is increasingly meeting challenges with respect to social, economic and particularly environmental sustainability. Climate change-related risks serve as a magnifier for these challenges, especially in the realm of environmental hazards. Cities do not only grow into areas highly exposed to natural hazards such as floods or typhoons but also intensify the impacts of these very hazards, particularly flooding, due to their consumption of open space and encroachment into wetlands, floodplains and coastal areas.
Despite the emerging acknowledgement of such risks, incentives within the political administrative system continue to pull decision makers along an urban growth pathway that is likely to increase the vulnerability of Vietnamese cities to climate change. Getting incentives, standards and procedures, and systems of accountability for urban development right, therefore, becomes the key to urban climate change resilience.