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Summary on results of strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for the Mekong delta integrated regional plan for the 2021 - 2030 period, with a vision to 2050

1. Summary of Necessity and Circumstances of the Regional Plan
Resolution 120 / NQ-CP dated 17/11/2017 of the Government on Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Delta (Mekong Delta ) and  climate change adaptation (CC) clearly states: “Mekong Delta is a large land occupied 12% of the national area, 19% of the national population, has advantages in the development of agriculture, food industry, tourism, and renewable energy; it is the largest agricultural production center of Vietnam, contributing 50% of rice output, 65% of aquaculture production and 70% of fruits of the country; 95% of rice for export and 60% of fish for export; having a convenient position in trade with ASEAN countries and the Mekong Sub-Region ... 
In the context of globalization and international integration, the Mekong Delta has many development opportunities but is also facing many challenges as this is the land is sensitive to the changes of nature. Climate change and sea level rise occurred faster than expected, causing many extreme weather events, affecting people's livelihoods and lives. The exploitation of water resources in the upper delta, especially the construction of hydroelectric dams, has changed the flow, reduced the amount of alluvium, reduced aquatic resources, deep saline intrusion into the region, impacted drainage. extreme to the region's socio-economic development. The downside from the high intensity economic development activities in the region has been increasingly fierce, causing many consequences such as environmental pollution, serious ecological imbalance, land subsidence, water level decline. underground, coastal erosion, many natural forests, especially mangroves, melaleuca forests and protection forests have been cut down, converted to other uses or severely degraded. In addition, the excessive exploitation of mud and sand, the construction of houses and infrastructure close to the banks of rivers, canals and canals increases the risk of landslides.
Meanwhile, the state management in some fields, the decentralization between the local and the central government is overlapping, lack of close coordination; the coordination mechanisms for the development of the Mekong Delta have not yet taken effect….
That fact requires a new vision, strategic orientation, comprehensive solutions, radical, synchronous, maximum mobilization of resources and the participation of all economic sectors for sustainable development of the Mekong Delta…".
Implementation of the Law on Planning No. 21/2017 / QH14 and Resolution No. 120 / NQ-CP dated November 17, 2017 of the Government on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta, adaptive to climate change, Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) was assigned by the Government to organize the planning of the Mekong Delta Region for the period 2021-2030, with a vision to 2050 (for brevity, in this SEA report it is abbreviated as "Mekong Delta Planning or Regional Planning or MDIRP".
To carry out the assigned tasks, within the framework of subproject 6 under component 1 of MD-ICRSL project (WB9), the MPI held an international bidding and selected a construction consultant for the task of planning. in the Mekong Delta in the period 2021-2030, with a vision to 2050, is the Joint Venture of HaskoningDHV (Netherlands) & GIZ (Germany) and sub-consultants (hereinafter referred to as Consultants).
2. SEA Organization
The outstanding feature of this SEA research process is that it is carried out almost concurrently with the planning study, so the environmental and social issues of the SEA are fully integrated into the research and planning process. Therefore, the organization implementing this SEA has many positive points but also many challenges compared to other SEAs established after the plan has been drafted.
In this integrated form, the environmental and social experts of GIZ (Germany) and the planning experts (HaskoningDHV, the Netherlands) simultaneously carry out their tasks according to the tasks assigned by MPI.
The SEA Consultant Team consists of 4 national environmental and social experts and 3 international experts, including 2 core VESDEC experts: Dr. Le Trinh, Assoc. Prof., SEA Team Leader, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pham Hong Nhat, the environmental expert, and some VESDEC specialists are also mobilized to support this study.
The SEA study is carried out in accordance with the requirements for the content and structure of Form 1A, Appendix 1, Circular 25/2019, while meeting the World Bank's environmental and social safeguards policies.
After 7 months of implementation, in mid-October 2020, the SEA consultant team has completed a draft main report with 700 pages, and volume of appendixes with 150 pages.
The SEA report includes a lot of forecasts, quantitative and semi-quantitative assessment for the 8 key environmental and social issues that have been selected (water resource degradation; land resource degradation; increased saline intrusion; degradation biological resources & biodiversity; increased wastes; increased pollution; social impacts and impacts on physical cultural resources) under the Alternatives of  "Without the Regional Plan" and "Implementing the Regional Plan”.
3. Key Environmental Protection Perspectives and Objectives of the Regional Plan
          The directions in the Mekong Delta Regional Plan always link economic development with protection of biological resources, environmental quality and social security, and climate change adaptation.
a. Key environmental perspectives and orientations
1. Promote the sustainable and resilient use of water resources around the issue of "living with floods, brackish water and salt water".
2. Reduce groundwater extraction and excessive sediment extraction.
3. Encourage natural and man-made systems that are more resilient, more resilient to the impacts of climate change and upstream development.
4. Strengthen the management and control of environmental pollution (water, land and air).
5. Restore and promote biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
6. Improve the sustainability of production and the environmental quality of products.
b. Main environmental goals
Regarding the protection and improvement of environmental quality, waste management:
-  Pollution reduction and control;
- Limiting groundwater extraction and providing alternative water sources;
-  Encourage environmentally sound and sustainable land and water use practices;
- Establish an effective water quality monitoring and incident management system;
- Improve air quality by stimulating energy transitions;
- Develop a solid waste and hazardous waste management strategy in the region
- Develop inter-provincial solid waste management facilities.
- Strictly comply with the criteria on solid waste, hazardous waste and wastewater treatment
- Water quality in canals and rivers reaches column A2 limit value according to QCVN at 50% of monitoring points (by 2030).
- 90% of the population in the main urban areas in the coastal provinces will be provided with clean water for year round living based on surface water.
Regarding the protection of biological resources, biodiversity, nature conservation and ecological landscape:
- To formulate a planning for the region's terrestrial nature conservation;
- To formulate a planning on regional marine nature conservation;
- Develop a systematic approach to forest development in the region
- Establish integrated sustainable management in coastal areas
- Developing Melaleuca forests in Ca Mau - Kien Giang
- To develop forests in the upper reaches of the Mekong River delta
- The rate of forest coverage will increase from 4.3% in 2020 to 6% in 2030 and 9% in 2050.
Regarding the prevention and response to natural disasters, climate change adaptation:
- Strengthen the dyke system, infrastructure for disaster prevention and response.
- Strengthen adaptive management.
- Set design standards for climate change adaptation measures.
- Establishment's capacity for water management operation and disaster risk management.
- Raise community awareness about the impact of natural disasters and trends.
Regarding prevention of erosion and flooding:
- Reduce the risk of coastal erosion and flooding.
- Coordinate to effectively minimize riverbank erosion and propose solutions based on nature.
- Regulate sand mining and promote beneficial reuse of dredged sediments.
- Integrated management of coastal area.

Salinity intrusion is one of the key environmental issues in the MD: Left: Map of salinity intrusion in the dry season from 1998 – 2016 and predicted for 2020; Land subsidence is also a serious environmental issues: Right: Area of significant land subsidence.

The Mekong Delta cannot sustainably develop without conservation and development of wetlands of special value: coastal mangrove eco-region (left photo) and inland melaleuca forest (right photo).

Unique biological resources in the Mekong Delta: not only biodiversity value, but also high economic values and ecological services: Left photo: Pangasius ((Pangasianodon gigas) can reach 300kg; Right photo: Economic and tourism of Phu Quoc Island can only develop sustainably if it does not continue to encroach on the natural forest (Violation: development of 4 lane road through primary forest in the core zone of the National Park)
4. Conclusions on the Suitability and Inconsistency or Contradiction of the Regional Plan's Goals with Environmental Protection Objectives
Through the results from the 7 chapters of the SEA report, there are some main conclusions:
1. The goal of the Mekong Delta Regional Planning Project is “Strengthening the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of sustainable development management in the Mekong Delta in order to maximize the potentials, strengths and resources of the region and minimize risks. risk in the context of climate change is completely consistent with the views of the Vietnam Government expressed through the directions of Resolution No. 120 / NQ-CP" sustainable development of the Mekong Delta to adapt to climate change".
2. The following views that have been applied in the planning process of the Mekong Delta are fully in compliance with the Law on Environmental Protection, the Law on Biodiversity, the Law on Water Resources, the Law on Forestry and other legal regulations of Vietnam and NQ120 / NQ-CP:
a. Formulating and implementing the Regional Planning according to the vision, goals, guiding views, guidelines and development orientations for the Mekong Delta region are set forth in Resolution No. 120 / NQ-CP on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta, in which focusing on changing development thinking, shifting from production based on natural resources to production based on technology application and innovation; turn challenges into growth opportunities; obey the laws of nature; regional development in accordance with practical conditions; and selecting a model adapted to natural conditions.
b. Ensure development based on green growth, emphasizing the importance of conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems; ensuring a balance between development and conservation, strengthening industry linkages and restructuring the economy towards improving productivity, quality, efficiency and competitiveness; and promote the potentials and advantages of the region.
3. The overall goal of the Mekong Delta development in the Regional Plan is “to achieve 17 general goals and 115 specific goals of Vietnam as specified in the“ National Action Plan to implement the 2030 Agenda. for the sustainable development "issued under Decision No. 622/QD-TTg dated 10/05/2017 of the Prime Minister" is completely in line with the sustainable development goals of the Government of Vietnam.
4. The following specific objectives of environment and natural resources set forth by the Regional Plan are completely consistent with the requirements of the Law on Environmental Protection, Law on Biodiversity, Law on Water Resources, Law on Forestry, and regulations. Other legal regulations of Vietnam and NQ120 / NQ-CP:
a. Promotion of sustainable use of water resources revolves around the motto "living with fresh water, brackish water and salt water".
b. Reducing groundwater extraction and excessive sand exploitation.
c. Encourage natural and man-made systems to better adapt to the impacts of climate change and upstream development.
d. Strengthen management and control of environmental pollution (water, land and air).
d. Restoring biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
e. Promote sustainable production and environmental quality of products.
None of the directions or projects proposed by the Regional Plan are inconsistent with or in conflict with the laws and views of the State of Vietnam and the protection policies of international donors.
5. Conclusions on Level of Positive and Negative Impacts of the Regional Plan on the Environment and Impacts of Climate Change
5.1. The Degree of Positive and Negative Impacts of the Regional Plan on the Environment
a. Positive impacts:
Because the goal of the Regional Plan is “Strengthening capacity, efficiency and effectiveness in managing sustainable development in the Mekong Delta in order to maximize the potentials, strengths and resources of the region and reduce risks in the context of climate change", so the Regional Plan has proposed development directions for sectors, fields and investment projects under the motto" Living with salt and brackish; living with floods "," climate change adaptation and upstream development ". Specifically:
(i) Focus on developing the most profitable sectors: agriculture, aquaculture, fruit trees, but reducing rice acreage; increase the area and output of brackish water aquaculture;
(ii) Convert most coal-fired power projects to natural gas (LNG) and increase renewable energy while increasing regional generation capacity;
(iii) Development of irrigation system (water resources management) suitable for climate change response;
(iv) Increase forest area; conservation and development of nature reserves;
(v) Development of ecotourism and eco-services.
The Mekong Delta region accounts for 12% of the area, 19% of the country's population, and it is the largest agricultural center in Vietnam: contributing 50% of the rice production, 65% of the aquaculture production and 70% of the fruits of the whole country; 95% of rice exports and 60% of fish exports. However, now the region is still a poor, compared to some regions in the country: transport, urban, rural, energy infrastructures ... have not been well invested. Left photo: simple, peaceful hamlet, house that has not been "bricked", typical in the MD; Right photo: a quarter of My Tho city- 3rd largest in the region (after Can Tho and Long Xuyen). Hopefully this rich land will take off if the Regional Plan will be successfully implemented.
With the above orientations, the implementation of Regional Planning has the following main advantages (proven through quantitative calculations in Chapter Three of SEA report):
(i) Clearly reduce the demand for fresh water due to the reduction of the rice area (it was calculated and gave detailed data comparing water demand). This is one of the biggest advantages of the Regional Plan, contributing to solving the pressure caused by the lack of fresh water for farming and living; contribute to limiting groundwater extraction, reducing land subsidence.
(ii) Reducing demand for pesticides and chemical fertilizers; reduce emissions from packaging containing pesticides (it was calculated and given detailed data comparing the uses of pesticides in various alternatives).
(iii) Significantly reducing air pollution due to the reduction of dust and toxic gas emissions (detailed data on dust and toxic gas emissions have been calculated, and options are compared); a reduction of about 3 times the amount of solid waste (ash, slag) due to the reduction of majority of coal power projects. The result is a reduction in negative impacts on air quality, health, and living conditions due to energy development; it does not cause an cumulative impact of air pollution in the region and for the Ho Chi Minh City and the Southeast Region (it was predicted the cumulative effect due to coal-fired power centers by air quality modeling, giving detailed data emissions of dust, toxic gas, polluted areas according to the plans).
(iv) Significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to a significant reduction in coal power projects, an increase in LNG and renewable energy projects while a large increase in generating capacity; Reducing the area of ​​rice land also contributes to greenhouse gas reduction but not much (it  was calculated and given detailed data on greenhouse gas emissions from many sources, according to IPCC 2019 guideline; comparing the options).
(v) Increase the capacity to absorb greenhouse gases and carbon storage due to increased forest area, especially mangroves (detailed data on the ability to absorb greenhouse gases and carbon storage have been calculated).
(vi) Strengthen systems to protect urban areas, rural areas, and production zones from damage caused by floods, landslides, and sea level rise by improvement of water resource management facilities.
(vii) Finally, integrate the above advantages: the Mekong Delta region will be developed  sustainably, increase GRDP, increase the standard of living for the people, reduce out-migration, reduce air pollution, increase biodiversity and adaptation better with climate change consequences and impacts from upstream.
b. Negative impacts
(i) Increase of waste and pollutant load:
Intensive aquaculture (brackish water shrimp) is the largest wastewater generating sector among the economic sectors in the Mekong Delta. Therefore, increasing the area of ​​brackish water shrimp farming will greatly increase waste (it was calculated and given detailed data on wastewater flow and BOD load in wastewater and compared the  options).
According to estimates in Chapter Three of SEA report in the alternative of “With the Regional Plan": in 2030: the total flow (m3 / day) of wastewater types and total daily BOD load in the wastewater (tons / day) will be higher than the alternative of "Without the Regional Plan" in 1.3 times and nearly 1.1 times, respectively, not to mention the amount of the bottom mud also increased significantly. The increase in waste is only due to the increase in wastewater from shrimp farming, while the wastewater, solid waste from urban, industrial, and tourism sources will be the same, because the Regional Plan does not adjust their growth targets.
(ii) The risk of ecological impacts and increased water pollution caused by dike construction projects and saline control works in coastal provinces:
-  The establishment of enclosed sea dikes is good for responding to waves and sea level rise, but would have a great impact on mangrove development by obstruction of natural flows, which impede river  - sea water exchange. This will harm the goal of developing a 500m wide mangrove forest along the East and West Sea.
-  In addition, the possibility of pollution of rivers and  canals inside the salinity control structures and sea dykes and the damage to aquatic ecosystems will increase by blocking rivers, canals, and obstructing the flow of water. This has been clearly demonstrated now in the Mekong Delta. Consequently, the social impact will increase.
These will be very large negative impacts that need to be considered, adjusted the planning and environmental impact assessment for irrigation development projects, aquaculture, and sea dyke establishment projects before being allowed to develop.
5.2. Impacts of Climate Change
a. Impacts due to the consequences of climate change on the regional planning implementation process
Although there are good implementation of climate change adaptation orientations and solutions, it can only partially mitigate the consequences of climate change because climate change is growing, the world and Vietnam cannot well control this natural factor.
From the information and data in the above chapters of the SEA study, in the process of implementing the Regional Plan, the projects in most of the following areas will be affected by large to serious climate change:
- Projects for agricultural development: due to reduced freshwater flow, increased drought and temperature;
- Coastal aquaculture projects: due to loss of area, increase in salinity due to sea inundation;
- Irrigation (water resources development) projects, especially projects to establish freshwater storage areas: due to the reduction of freshwater flow from upstream because of the consequences of climate change combined with water-using works in upstream areas. save;
- Projects to develop the hubs, urban areas, industries and tourism: due to reduced freshwater flow, increased drought, temperature and increased epidemics;
- Road traffic development projects: due to floods, natural disasters and temperature increases;
- Forest development and nature conservation projects: due to loss of area by sea water inundation, coastal erosion; habitat changes.
b. Impact due to the implementation of Regional Plan on climate change
(i) Increase in GHG emissions compared to nowadays:
It was calculated and forecasted that: by 2030, the total amount of GHG (calculated by CO2e) of sectors in the Mekong Delta will be at least 154 million tons. The energy sector under the Regional Plan, despite a large reduction in GHG due to the majority being converted to LNG, is still the largest source of GHG emissions due to the high increase in total generation capacity and large amount of GHG emissions from gas power, although less than coal. Next is GHG emissions from fuels for purposes other than power generation (industry, transportation, services, domestic ...); Agricultural activities also make a significant contribution. Other sources such as domestic animals, land use, fertilizer use, field burning ... GHG emissions are negligible. By 2050 the total greenhouse gas emissions by CO2e emissions in the Mekong Delta could increase 1.45 times compared to 2030.
(ii) Increased CO2 absorption and carbon storage due to increased area and quality of forests, contributing to limiting the impacts of climate change due to GHG emissions: the total amount of CO2 absorbed by forests in the Mekong Delta by 2030 will be over 93 million tons; By 2030, the amount of carbon stored in mangroves in the Mekong Delta is about 73 million tons. Other forests and vegetation also contribute to CO2 absorption and carbon storage. This is a positive impact.
5.3. Negative Environmental Impacts cannot be Overcome and Causes
Through research, calculations and forecasts in Chapter Three, it is possible to identify the following types of impacts that will not be able to overcome or overcome to an acceptable level, it requires huge resources:
(i) Increased saline intrusion inland: because this is a natural phenomenon, its magnitude is getting worse;
(ii) Increased drought: because this is a natural phenomenon, its magnitude is getting worse;
(iii) Fluctuations in flow with negative trends;
(iv) Decreasing the amount of alluvial and sediment brought to the Mekong Delta, leading to increased risk of riverbank erosion.
The above natural environmental problems are caused by the impacts of climate change combined with the negative impacts of water use works of upstream countries. Therefore, the Mekong Delta region cannot overcome by itself, but must have appropriate adaptation measures.
6. The Effectiveness of SEA
6.1. Summary of the Adjustments to the Regional Plan
Initially, the Planning Consultant introduced 3 priority plans for the development of the Mekong Delta in the period 2021 - 2030, with a vision to 2050:
- The economic development priority plan: "Maximize economic growth based on promoting comparative advantage in the region" (DO3)
- The plan to prioritize the protection of the environment and natural resources (DO4)
- Social Development Priority Plan (DO5): "Maximize social development and economic development towards equity".
After analyzing the pros and cons of all 3 options and absorbing the opinions of ministries, sectors, localities and the SEA consultant, the Regional Planning Consultant combines the advantages of all 3 priority options. (DO3, DO4 and DO5) and planning the Mekong Delta region for the period 2021-2030, with a vision to 2050 following the principle: “Towards sustainable development based on a balance between the three pillars of economy, society and the environment ”(details are given in Chapter Four).
6.2. Adjustments to Component Projects
Projects that have been adjusted according to the Planning Team's view of nature conservation and environmental protection have been quantitatively calculated by the SEA consultant team to demonstrate that this adjustment is of great environmental benefit and likes Climate change response:
(i) Adjustment and conversion of more than 10 coal-fired power centers to use LNG in order to reduce the majority of air pollution emissions, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce almost all coal slag generation. By 2030, the Mekong Delta will develop an additional 11 large capacity gas / LNG power plants, with a total maximum installed capacity of 17,000 MW and some new capacity in the following period.
(ii) Proposing to add renewable energy projects (solar power, wind power, waste power) to increase energy sources and reduce environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Wind and solar power plants in the provinces with maximum installed capacity are expected in the period 2021 - 2025 and beyond is 9,500 MW.
(iii) Adjusting the area of ​​rice cultivation in the whole region from about 1.9 million hectares at present and 1.6 million hectares by 2030 in Decision No. 324 / QD-TTg dated March 2, 2020 of the Prime Minister to 1,427. 900 ha (by 2030) and 1.36 million ha by 2050: to reduce freshwater demand for the whole region to adapt to saline intrusion and water use impacts in the upper Mekong. This is a major adjustment of thinking and traditions in land and water use and climate change response in the Mekong Delta.
iv) Adjusting the area of ​​aquaculture shrimp farming from the current 811,000 ha to 900,000 ha (2030) and 950,000 ha (2050) in order to increase economic efficiency and to adapt to saline water intrusion and respond to climate change.
(v) Adjust the current forest area to only 4.3% of the Mekong Delta natural area to 9.0% by 2050 in order to increase the efficiency of nature conservation and response to climate change.
Thus, this SEA has a great effect in integrating economic development planning with environmental protection, social security and climate change adaptation in the Mekong Delta.   

Left photo: Map of transport infrastructure development; Right photo: Map of proposed protected areas in the Mekong Delta Region.
6.3. There are still no Consensus Between the Requirements of Development and Environmental Protection
Through forecasting and assessing the impacts on major environmental and social issues of the directions and projects proposed by the Regional Plan and solutions to promote positive impacts, limit and minimize impacts Negatively, it can be seen that the Regional Plan has a number of issues that still do not have consensus between the development requirements and environmental protection:
- Conflict between the orientation to build enclosed sea dykes and their goals and requirements to develop the area of ​​mangrove forests from 4.3% at present to 9% by 2050;
- Conflict between development of coastal irrigation works to control saline intrusion and the requirement of controlling pollution, protecting water quality and biological resources;
- Conflict between the requirements to minimize waste generation and the orientation to increase the area and productivity of brackish water shrimp.
- Conflict between land use for economic development and the construction of biodiversity corridor from Ca Mau to Can Gio (no land area available for forest planting).
6.4. Issues Need to be Further Studied
In order to achieve the goal of sustainable development in the Mekong Delta, climate change adaptation and settlement of above contradictions, a number of environmental issues need to be further studied after the SEA and the regional planning process:
(i) Strengthen research and prediction of climate change impacts on key environmental and social issues in the Mekong Delta. To prioritize research on forecasting saline intrusion, inundation caused by sea level rise, land subsidence due to increased effects of climate change.
(ii) Strengthening research and forecasting changes in hydrology and trans-boundary pollution transport due to upstream development.
(iii) Research on forecasting and detailed assessment of negative impacts on flow, ecology and environmental pollution and social impacts of sea dyke construction and construction projects.
(iv) Continue to research and develop models of organic shrimp farming combining mangrove protection;
(v) Research on organic farming models in the conditions of "living with salt - brackish" to reduce the use of chemicals and fresh water while ensuring productivity. Nowadays, the motto "living with salty and brackish" is a good idea, but not easy to implement effectively.
In addition, it is necessary to study in depth the following groups of basic scientific topics:
(vi) Formulate and implement projects, research topics on causes, mechanisms of land subsidence, areas at high risk of subsidence and mitigation measures.
(vii) Establish and implement projects and topics on research, investigation, survey, identification and inventory of biodiversity in the Mekong Delta.
(viii) Project formulation and implementation: Research on environmental zoning in Mekong Delta for environmental protection planning and socio-economic development in association with environmental protection and sustainable development.
(ix) Establish and implement the project: Study to assess the load capacity of the main rivers in the Mekong Delta, propose a waste discharge zoning for the entire Mekong Delta.
(x) Formulate and implement projects and topics on ecological and social impact assessment studies due to the main water resource and salinity control works in the Mekong Delta and propose solutions to overcome.
October, 20th, 2020
Source: VESDEC Office

Author: VESDEC

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