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Ahead of $15 billion climate deal, Vietnam's human rights record is scrutinized

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Wealthy nations and private investors are set to give Vietnam billions of dollars to help fight climate change in a way that boosts the country's economic development. But as NPR's Michael Copley reports, the climate deal has come under fire because of Vietnam's human rights record.

MICHAEL COPLEY, BYLINE: In 2021, Vietnam said it would eliminate or offset its climate pollution by midcentury. The pledge was the result of a campaign by leading climate activists. State media reported at the time that Vietnam would need financial help from wealthy nations to meet its goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHAM MINH CHINH: (Through interpreter) Vietnam wants to strengthen cooperation with international community in sustainable investment and development programs and projects in the time to come.

COPLEY: A year later, a group including the G7 and big investors, said they'd get Vietnam at least $15.5 billion through a program called the Just Energy Transition Partnership. But by the time the deal was announced, climate activists who'd paved the way for it were imprisoned on what human rights experts say are trumped-up charges. Emilie Palamy Pradichit is a human rights lawyer in Thailand. She says the way the deal was handled leaves a troubling impression.

EMILIE PALAMY PRADICHIT: That countries who are supporting the partnership and international financial institutions do not really care much about civil society and climate activists being in jail.

COPLEY: Now, environmental and human rights groups are calling on President Biden and other world leaders to pressure Vietnam on its human rights practices. The groups want Vietnam to free all activists and stop suppressing civil society before it gets the climate funding. Activists say what's happening in Vietnam highlights a broader challenge of ensuring human rights are upheld as countries try to deal with the problem of climate change. Vietnam did recently release one of the climate activists, but so far there's little evidence that the government is changing course. That's according to Ben Swanton. He works for a human rights group called the 88 Project.

BEN SWANTON: There's no desire or no political will to engage with civil society.

COPLEY: Swanton says it's hard to see how a climate program that's aimed at benefiting local communities could succeed in that environment.

SWANTON: Without the involvement of civil society, there will be no one to hold the government accountable when it backtracks on its promises.

COPLEY: The White House and Vietnam's embassy in Washington didn't respond to messages. A plan for carrying out the funding program is expected by November.

Michael Copley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Copley
Michael Copley is a correspondent on NPR's Climate Desk. He covers what corporations are and are not doing in response to climate change, and how they're being impacted by rising temperatures.

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