Pressing Appeal for the Release of Vietnam’s Climate Defenders Takes Central Stage at COP28

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai has evolved into a focal point for environmental justice, as civil society groups amplify their call for the immediate release of Vietnam’s climate defenders. In light of Vietnam’s recently disclosed Resource Mobilization Plan (RMP), delineating the nation’s strategy for enacting its energy transition package, the predicament of detained activists has assumed a prominent position, urging a global response.

Esteemed organizations, such as 350.org, Global Witness, International Rivers, and CEED International, have joined forces to denounce the disconcerting trend of globally criminalizing climate defenders. Their collective concern centers on individuals like Hoang Thi Minh Hong and Danh Dinh Bach, pivotal figures advocating for a sustainable and climate-friendly Vietnam.

Hong, formerly associated with 350.org, received a three-year prison sentence on charges of tax evasion, a move widely censured as an endeavor to suppress environmental activism. The international community has expressed profound apprehension regarding the arbitrary detention of environmental activists, leading to Vietnam’s nomination for the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award by CAN International.

Cansin Leylim, Associate Director of Global Campaigns at 350.org, underscored the injustice inherent in transition agreements like the Joint Energy Transition Plan (JETP) when those dedicated to a brighter future find themselves incarcerated. Emphasizing the urgency of releasing Hong and fellow environmental defenders, Leylim highlighted its intrinsic connection to ensuring a habitable planet for succeeding generations.

Agnes Hall, Director of Global Campaigns at 350.org, drew attention to the worldwide erosion of civic space, rendering it increasingly hazardous for individuals to critique government policies or champion climate justice. Hall argued that the suppression of voices undermines democratic participation, weakening the collective force required to hold decision-makers accountable in the pursuit of climate justice.

Guneet Kaur, Environmental Defenders Campaign Coordinator at International Rivers, emphasized the pivotal role played by these detained climate leaders in advocating for a departure from coal in Vietnam. Kaur expressed reservations about the absence of safeguards for environmental human rights defenders within the JETP framework, casting doubt on the meaningfulness of Vietnam’s energy transition.

Shruti Suresh, Interim Co-Director of Campaigns at Global Witness, highlighted the prevalent use of criminalization as a tactic against environmental defenders. While overt attacks are conspicuous, criminalization operates under the cloak of legality, affording governments and corporations the ability to act with impunity. Suresh underscored the imperative to address not only immediate arbitrary detentions but also the enduring threats faced by defenders participating in substantive dialogue for a just energy transition.

Gerry Arances, Founder and Executive Director of CEED, voiced concerns about the financial aspects of Vietnam’s Resource Mobilization Plan. Over 90% of the funds pledged to Vietnam materialize as loans rather than grants, with half carrying market-level interest rates. Arances questioned the legitimacy of labeling this a contribution to a just energy transition, asserting that the ultimate burden falls on the Vietnamese people.

In solidarity with their Vietnamese counterparts, Arances advocated for a fair, comprehensive, and expeditious transition to renewable energy, safeguarding human rights and equitably delivering resources to climate-vulnerable countries like Vietnam.

As COP28 unfolds, the urgent plea for the release of Vietnam’s climate defenders stands as a poignant reminder of the challenges confronting those dedicated to a sustainable and equitable future. The international community is now tasked with redirecting its focus to these issues and collaboratively working towards justice for those committed to safeguarding the planet.

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