Vietnam’s first Goldman Prize winner pushes for renewable energy and conservation

Known as an environmental pioneer in Vietnam, Khanh Nguy Thi has led her NGO in combating coal use.

Khanh Nguy Thi is an environmental pioneer in Vietnam. She has led her NGO, the Hanoi-based Green Innovation and Development Centre, or GreenID, to the forefront of policy discussions surrounding clean energy development in the country.

Her efforts to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal-fired power plants has resulted in both real policy changes and international renown in the form of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize. Khanh spoke with Mongabay by phone from her home in Hanoi and shared more about her work.

Mongabay: When did you first get involved in working on the environment?

Khanh: I’ve worked on environmental issues for quite a long time. I was involved in coordinating an integrated community development project in 2003, and in that we focused on women’s health and environmental issues in the community. At that time I was more focused on water and sanitation.

Then I moved to work with an NGO working on the environment, water and river protection for five years. Since 2011, when I founded GreenID, I’ve been more focused on energy and environmental governance.

Why did you choose to focus on these issues?

I saw that there was little, or even no, effort from civil society on the energy sector. It had some NGOs working on hydropower, working on water, but when I had a chance to look at the energy sector I saw that there was a big gap for civil society to be involved, and it has a huge impact on economic development, the environment and society.

I saw that a lot of negative impacts from hydropower had accumulated, and we had to solve the problem, which is a big burden for both the government and society. So I was very curious about how it would develop, and when I looked at the power sector I realized it really needed effort from the early stage, from the beginning.

What is the aim of your organization?

We started GreenID with a focus on sustainable energy and green development. We believe that is the way to help to develop our economy without sacrificing our environment. So with that concept in mind we do a number of things regarding promoting sustainable energy, including energy efficiency and renewable energy, and at the same time advocating for the reduction of coal power.

What is your strategy for pursuing these goals?

We do our work at both the policy level and the grassroots level. At the policy level we do a lot of analysis on energy policy, energy planning and also air pollution, and how it’s linked to power development. We also engage with the energy planners to exchange concepts and also to contribute our ideas to the consultation process for power planning. We analyze and propose our recommendations for planning. We send our comments to all of the related agencies in the Communist Party of Vietnam, the National Assembly and the government.

We provide ideas and constructive recommendations, but we do not implement any projects together with the government; we’re an independent group.

How does your work bring change in communities?

We connect different dots, so we generate an analysis of a scenario for clean development, but we also demonstrate the solution in the community. We do local energy planning, and we’re championing that approach in Vietnam. This mobilizes the local community to make a plan for their energy consumption, and also energy production, at a small scale.

We inspire them to think about what should be the sustainable development path for their community, how they can take action as an individual, as a household and as a community together.

What tangible results has this strategy produced?

I think we’ve seen some progress recently. This reflects that the government listens to the people. I heard that the revised power development plan, which was approved in 2016, will come online very soon, and I think that’s very good because that reflects where we need to change. This plan will cover the next 10 years of power development.

The government cut 20,000 megawatts of coal in this revised plan in comparison to the old one, along with canceling the planned nuclear power project. I think those are good steps. In terms of policy it’s a good direction, but in the implementation stage we still need to solve a lot of things.

What are your goals moving forward?

I want to continue our efforts to support the government’s policies toward clean energy. As a non-profit group we really want to set up a sustainable energy fund for the public so that we can mobilize different resources and efforts from different actors, such as businesses, development partners and financiers, to support a 1 million solar rooftop program. I think that is ambitious, but we really want to start. We can have a big vision or goal, but we need to start from very small things.

We set this goal in order for us to achieve it, and to mobilize the public and also gain support from decision makers and the private sector. But I believe that if we can work together, then we can make it happen, because it’s good for all us. If each household participates in generating power for their house, we can become a symbol of clean, green development.

Lastly, how did you feel after learning that you had won the Goldman Prize?

It surprised me, and was a great honor. It is the first Goldman Prize for Vietnam. I think it’s not only my honor, but is the recognition by the international community of Vietnam for the work that citizens like me are doing toward the conservation of energy.

I never thought about any prize though. I think that when we try our best, we can achieve some success and gain recognition from the community. That’s very important. When we make the effort, we will get the results. That is the principle.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com

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