A workshop under the title “Thinking about Growth: Alternatives, Challenges & Tendency”, which was jointly organized by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung (RLS) and the Vietnamese non-governmental organisation GreenID, was held in Hanoi, Vietnam on October 8th, 2013. With regard to the diverging perspectives on economic growth and environmental sustainability in Germany and Vietnam, the workshop’s main objective was to exchange concepts and concerns in order to develop a mutual understanding and to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences.
In her opening speech Ms. Tran Hong Nhung, a Project Manager at RLS, introduced the speakers which not only included members of GreenID, RLS and the German Left Party (Die Linke), but also covered a wide range of important actors in the field of green economy including the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Institute of Strategy and Policy in Natural Resources and Environment and WWF Vietnam. Stating that growth is a necessary condition, Ms. Tran Hong Nhung also revealed the crucial point of the discussion between the attendant Vietnamese and international participants with the latter questioning this assumption.
Mr. Hans Thie, an expert on political economy of The Left, held a speech under the slogan “Green Growth: Useful – Too Modest – Misleading” which summarized the international attendants’ perceptions of Green Growth appropriately. A central assumption, which seems to be shared by most Vietnamese participants, is that there needs to be a clear distinction between the global North and the global South. In the global South, economic growth is still a not disputable imperative. Here, the term “Green Growth” can be useful to at least organise the process in the most environment-friendly way possible. Still it is too modest because it only focuses on technical improvements instead of reconsidering the social and economic system. When it comes to the global North, the term “Green Growth” is misleading as it is highly questionable if further growth is needed here. According to the German speakers, dependency on growth should be left behind as the concept of infinite growth is not sustainable with regard to the limitation of resources. Mr. Steffen Kuehne, an expert of RLS on sustainability, therefor introduced “Decoupling”, as a relative or absolute reduction of resources per unit GDP, and “Degrowth”, which means a shift of focus from efficiency to sufficiency, as two major concepts leading to the so-called “post growth era”.
The speeches held by Mr. Nguyen Tuan Anh, a representative of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Mr. Nguyen The Chinh, a professor from the Institute of Strategy and Policy in Natural Resources and Environment, Mrs. Nguy Thi Khanh, Director of GreenID and Ms. Pham Thi Cam Nhung, the coordinator of WWF Vietnam, showed that “Green Growth” is an important issue in Vietnam. Economic growth in Vietnam has been fast in the last decades but being almost exclusively dependent on the use and exploitation of natural resources, there is a strong need for a renewal of growth not only to protect the environment but also to ensure competitiveness in the global economy. For that purpose, a set of strategies and solutions has been developed on governmental – but also on local level. However, it became clear that for now, economic growth remains the great objective in Vietnam and alternative concepts are unlikely to be applied in the near future. Still, the increased awareness and understanding on both sides might prove valuable from a long-term perspective.