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People's voice and access to justice key to resolving environmental disputes

Released at: 11:15, 25/01/2018

People's voice and access to justice key to resolving environmental disputes

Waste water treatment plant in a industrial zone (Photo from khucongnghiep.com.vn)

Discussion held by UNDP and NEU on January 25 debates findings from latest thematic research.

by Nghi Do

As environmental disputes, especially between citizens and businesses, are on the rise it’s important to ensure better environmental justice as well as people’s access to information and participation in decision-making in environmental matters that affect them. This was the core premise of a discussion on “Environmental Disputes, Social Changes, and Distributive Justice: Case Studies, Comparative Analysis, and Policy Implications for Vietnam” held on January 25.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Vietnam and the National Economics University (NEU) held the discussion to present and debate the findings of their latest thematic research, which provides insights into the causes and effects of past and ongoing environmental disputes. Utilizing environmental justice and social construction frameworks, the research presents policy options for Vietnam to consider in its efforts to promote a healthier environment for all.

According to the 2016 Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (2016 PAPI), environmental concerns ranked as the second most urgent matter that citizens expected the State to address (after poverty and hunger). In addition, the 2016 PAPI survey reveals that 77 per cent of respondents suggested the State give priority to environmental protection rather than economic growth at all costs. 

UNDP Country Director in Vietnam, Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, highlighted the need to better understand the dynamics of environmental disputes in Vietnam, the socioeconomic and political implications of safeguarding environmental rights, as well as access to justice for those who are victims. 

“The case studies analyzed in the research and the experience from other countries show that three factors are important in order to ensure environmental rights: i) consulting with communities before governments take action that will affect the environment; ii) ensuring individuals have access to information and participate in decision-making in environmental matters that affect them; and iii) providing access to courts or any mediation mechanisms to settle environmental disputes,” Ms. Wiesen said.

Most policy and research initiatives in Vietnam have focused on the levels of pollution, leaving environmental injustice under-studied, according to Professor Tran Tho Dat, NEU President. A one-sided focus on the harm from pollution can underestimate the sense of injustice that animates and amplifies environmental disputes.

“Environmental disputes are not just economic-technical issues but social ones,” Professor Dat said. “Research and international experience show that an administrative management system, on its own, cannot effectively control environmental pollution and resolve disputes. Therefore, it is necessary to have policies that encourage participation by social, political, and professional organizations, such as universities and research institutes, in the environmental management system.”

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