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The situation of forests in Viet Nam is rather unique. The country significantly increased its overall forest cover from 27% in 1993 to 41% in 2016. The less bright side of things is that, in parallel, natural forests remained threatened, degraded and depleted – and with them, the living conditions for millions of Viet Namese people, as well as the wellbeing of plants, animals and humans alike. The country’s Government decided to take strong action to correct this, and has recently approved two significant Decisions aimed at increasing the size and quality of forests and combatting climate change. Viet Nam aims to expand forest cover to 42% of the country surface, to reach 14.4 million hectares by 2020. But there’s more than replanting trees involved.


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Vietnam forest 

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” This Native American saying seems more than ever timely. Massive forest cuttings are happening in various parts of the world, very often to sell the wood and land – for profit. Money. Until the forest has been cut.

For decades, Viet Nam destroyed vast forest areas, often for the same reason. While the forest cover has increased, there remains an important concern on forests quality. Indeed, as natural forests are being cut illegally the newly replanted forests will hardly ever gain the same quality as the original ones. Flowers and plants were destroyed, animals killed or fled when the cutting happened: simply planting new trees cannot bring back a biodiversity which has taken centuries to develop.

Viet Nam’s achievement: Strong commitments to forest protection and innovative approaches to make it happen

With support from the UN-REDD Programme, underpinned by Norway’s support, the Government of Viet Nam has made strong progress in the past year on the national forest policy agenda. Two key landmark decisions reflect this development.

Firstly, Directive 13 was issued in January 2017 directly by the Central Committee – the highest authority within the Communist Party. The aim is to increase the Party’s leadership in forest management, protection and development, while mobilizing government agencies, businesses and civil society at all levels to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of forest protection and development in Viet Nam. Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Ha Cong Tuan confirms the Decision “demonstrates the high political will of our entire political system.” He emphasized the importance this approval shows: “We have never had this at such high level before.”

Secondly, the country’s National REDD+ Action Programme (NRAP) was approved by the Prime Minister in April 2017. In practice, it offers a timely gateway to mobilize all relevant sectors and stakeholders, and trigger the required collaboration. Deputy Head of the Agriculture Department of the Government Office, the Prime Minister’s Office in Viet Nam, Dr. Vo Dinh Tuyen agreed that approving the Decision “truly reflects the high commitment of the Prime Minister and Government of Viet Nam as a whole in implementing the country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

These two critical decisions come at a time when Viet Nam is building on lengthy policy and technical processes from the past that start bearing fruits and recognition at the international level. In May this year, Viet Nam was the second country in Asia, and the seventh in the world, to sign a voluntary agreement with the European Union under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) scheme, opening the way for improved control and effective removal of illegal timber from Viet Nam’s thriving timber industry. The same month, Viet Nam’s national forest reference level also received international recognition, and Viet Nam has become the twelfth country in the world to have its national reference level formally acknowledged under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, and posted on the international website. This further step shows Viet Nam’s readiness to benefit from the international REDD+ mechanism, as an innovative option to co-finance national forest ambition and goals.

This convergence of political and technical achievements demonstrates Viet Nam’s leading role on the global REDD+ agenda. Building on national processes and resources, as well as international support under the REDD+ or FLEGT processes, this global leadership comes relatively cost-effective for international partners supporting the Government of Viet Nam. With almost $20M disbursed since 2013, the UN-REDD Programme funded by Norway is the central partnership with the Government of Viet Nam on its national REDD+ process. The continuous policy dialogue on forestry and national technical readiness on REDD+ has also been supported directly or indirectly by other programmes sponsored by the World Bank, USAid, JICA, and Germany, with more limited funding. Though limited in comparison to national public forestry budget and investments, international public finance has triggered valuable dialogue and piloting, which are now informing Viet Nam’s vision for sustainable forest management and REDD+. Cross-sectoral collaboration, improving the financial and economic environment for forest protection, addressing transboundary displacement, engaging private sector, strengthening law enforcement, integrating land use planning, exploring profitable and sustainable business models for natural forests – all these fundamental and innovative directions are now robustly anchored into the Government’s approach to sustainable forest management.

Better forests for better climate and livelihood

Viet Nam’s vow for forest management, protection and development includes expanding the forest cover to 42%, to reach 14.4 million hectares of forest by 2020[1]. Moreover, it acknowledges the fact that replanting trees is not enough, as more than 20% of the country’s richest natural forests have been depleted over the past 20 years. The Government now set its priority to increase the quality of existing forests and protect the natural forests, connecting it with actions against climate change.

“The recently approved National REDD+ Action Plan presents a compelling vision for how REDD+ can help Viet Nam deliver on the Paris Agreement, promote green growth and achieve the sustainable development goals”, said Deputy Ambassador Ms. Kari Eken Wollebæk of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Hanoi. “We see that the forest agenda is moving beyond its traditional boundaries, directly interlinked with strategic challenges of socioeconomic development and security in Viet Nam”, she added.

With joint forces from many different Ministries, provincial bodies, non-governmental organizations and enterprises, Viet Nam is committed to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2030 with its own resources, as committed in the Paris Agreement on climate change. The reduction could reach up to 25% with international support. The forest and land use agendas are key pillars of this national commitment to the international community on climate mitigation and resilience, and the new ambitions and approaches in the forest sector could help secure and even increase such targets.



Big goals, no small challenges

The highest political commitment is reinforced by the Government’s manifested recognition that such ambitious goals entail serious challenges, and that many efforts are still needed to implement these targets. Vo Dinh Tuyen acknowledges “a number of challenges to implementation”, particularly on achieving effective multi-sectoral coordination, on building the trust and incentive mechanism necessary for various stakeholders to work together and implement national directions, and on leveraging private sector’s potential for green investment.

Insisting on lessons learnt, Vo Dinh Tuyen referred to the participatory and cross-sectoral process that led to the National REDD+ Action programme. “When developing this programme, we have assigned the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to coordinate and involve other ministries, and a drafting team of 21 members coming from all relevant departments and ministries was set up”. This unusual practice for Viet Nam paved the way for further collaboration across sectors in view of the implementation of the plan.

To mobilize and engage sectors and stakeholders in the battle, the new directions show a growing recognition that forests are no longer seen as just timber stock, and offer many more services and opportunities for sustainable development – a testimony of an increasing maturity and thorough transformation of the relationship between Viet Nam and its forests. Vice-Minister Ha Cong Tuan refers to the pioneering role played by Viet Nam on promoting payments for ecosystem services. “Our innovating policy is to look at the forest not only as forest products or to exploit timber, but also to create sustainable mechanisms from forest environmental services that are international experiences.”  Domestically-raised resources for payment for forest ecosystem services are expected to increase from $60M in the past years to $100M annually from 2017 on. Decision 13 and NRAP open the way for further exploring additional mechanisms to sustainably change the economic balance of power in favour of rich and standing forests.

“Whether or not REDD+ becomes a financial game changer for the forestry sector globally, REDD+ has already triggered major changes and progress towards sustainable forest management in Viet Nam”, concludes Ms. Louise Chamberlain, Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme.


Prime Minister / Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (2017): “Decision On Approval of the National Action Programme on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions through the reduction of Deforestation and Forest Degradation, Sustainable Management of Forest Resources, and Conservation and Enhancement of Forest Carbon Stocks (REDD+) by 2030”. Decision No: 419/QĐ -TTg. Hanoi.
The official copy of the Decision can be found here (in Viet Namese only). Click here for the English translation (PDF).

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Viet Nam / The Communist Party of Viet Nam (2017): “Directive Of The Secretariat On enhancing Party’s leadership in forest management, protection and development”. Directive No. 13-CT/TW. Hanoi.

[1] Susan Minnemeyer, Elizabeth Dow Goldman and Nancy Harris / World Resources Institute (2017): “New Deforestation Hot Spots in the World’s Largest Tropical Forests.” Accessed 12 May 2017.

MARD’s Decision No. 1819/QD-BNN-TCLN dated 16 May 2017 on the National Forest Status 2016.


For more information, contact Theresa Schwarz, UN-REDD Communications Specialist (UNV) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[1] Source: NRAP

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