By Trina Loken, MAGG Graduate (2017)
Having traveled through Viet Nam and worked with environmental NGOs previously, arriving in Hanoi to begin my six-month internship in the Climate Change and Environment unit of UNDP Viet Nam felt both familiar and different at the same time. Upon getting settled, I quickly reconnected with my love of Vietnamese iced coffee, and rejoiced in the hustle and bustle of a city teeming with life, rice noodles, and motorbikes. Of course, there are also challenges to living in Viet Nam’s capital. Crossing a street during rush hour, for example, is no small feat, as the city’s large population predominantly uses motorbikes – and increasingly cars – to get around. I have quickly found myself to be in the walking minority, as I insist on getting to work by foot most days. Other realities of life here, such as poor air quality and not being able to drink the tap water, can also be frustrating. It reminds me how lucky we are in Canada to have access to these luxuries and that we should never take them for granted. These daily issues also give a taste of the major environmental challenges facing Viet Nam. There is good news, however, in that there is important work being done to help the country respond to climate change.
Working in the Green One UN House, which is home to numerous UN agencies, has provided me with a place to learn about and contribute to UNDP’s work on environment, climate change, and disaster reduction. These themes have real-time relevance to Viet Nam. With a long coastline area home to many vulnerable populations, there is a real imperative to equip people with new skills and resources, and to bolster existing infrastructure to be able to withstand the effects of climate change. This work requires incredible foresight, effective coordination, and technical expertise from the Viet Nam Government, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society actors. Leveraging sources of non-traditional financing, mobilizing resources effectively, and closely monitoring progress to ensure long-term resilience is of high consequence.
I arrived at an exciting time for the office. UNDP Viet Nam, in conjunction with the Government of Viet Nam, recently announced support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for a project that will directly benefit vulnerable coastal communities’ resilience to climate change impacts. Now that this project has been approved, it is time to begin the implementation stage. I am happy to be working with the team on this project, as the learning opportunities related to planning, monitoring, and evaluation are immense.
In fact, having the chance to work on climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) has been illuminating. While I am no stranger to climate change and environmental issues, my previous work was on mitigation or to the effects of climate change on food, nutrition, and health, specifically. I had not, until starting this internship, spent significant time considering the technicalities of responding to climate change in terms of ecosystem protection or developing climate-resilient infrastructure. While these are areas that countries around the world (Canada included) must now address, in an international development context, the impacts from climate change can potentially backslide years of progress made towards human prosperity gains. While I cannot claim any kind of expertise in CCA or DRR from just a few weeks, my understanding of how the UN works with the Viet Nam Government and other partners to address key challenges has already expanded significantly. In addition, living in a country where the stakes are high and climate change’s effects are immediately felt, brings a strong sense of urgency and purpose to the work that the UNDP office is doing here. I am grateful to be a part of it.