Vietnam Is A Test For What Happens When The U.S. Abandons Climate Diplomacy

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A motorcyclist wears a mask to block the smog in Hanoi. 

HANOI, Vietnam ― There was a time, a little over two years ago, when Ted Osius could imagine the smog clearing over this sprawling capital city, with its jungle canopy of ancient banyan trees and electrical wires alive with coal-fired power and its throngs of exhaust-coughing motorbikes.

Osius, who abruptly resigned late last year after three years as the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, now warns that the Trump administration’s retreat on climate change is encouraging Vietnam to dig in on coal power. Doing so would undermine years of progress in a country that, with 2,026 miles of coastline on its mainland alone, risks becoming a poster child for the effects of rising sea levels.

“The United States used to play a really useful role in influencing the Vietnamese to make good clean-energy decisions,” Osius told HuffPost this month in one of his first interviews since quitting in protest over a new White House policy to deport Vietnamese refugees.

“Apparently the United States government no longer focuses on policy decision-making that’s influenced by sound science,” he added. “That makes it harder to make the case to other countries that they ought to make decisions based on sound science.”

Nearly a year after President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords, Vietnam has effectively become a canary in the coal mine for how closely other nations will stick to the global agreement’s goals as the U.S. abandons them. 

Vietnam is under pressure, attempting to balance rapidly increasing energy demands with growing concerns over climate change ― and it’s finding a generous coal-friendly patron in China.

The Southeast Asian country began rapidly building up its coal-fired power capacity in 2011 as it transformed itself into a manufacturing hub and outgrew its hydropower resources. Back in its first major national plan for energy development, the country had aimed to increase its coal...

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