Hanoi goes from bad to worse in sustainability ranking

By Nguyen Quy   November 19, 2018 | 08:14 pm PT
Hanoi goes from bad to worse in sustainability ranking
People in Hanoi believe heavy traffic is a major cause of the city's air pollution. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Vietnam’s capital city is among the least environmentally friendly cities in the world, a new survey says.

It says that Hanoi has slipped two places to rank in the bottom three of 100 cities assessed on three sustainability factors – people, planet and profit.

The Sustainable Cities Index was commissioned by Arcadis, an Amsterdam-based design and consultancy firm. It measured each city’s social, environmental and economic impacts.

Hanoi drops two places to 98th out of 100 global cities in new sustainability ranking. Graphics by Arcadis

Hanoi drops two places to 98th out of 100 global cities in new sustainability ranking. Graphics by Arcadis

Hanoi fared particularly badly against its peers in Southeast Asia, falling far below Singapore (4th), Kuala Lumpur (67th) and Bangkok (80th). Jakarta ranks 94th and Manila 95th in the survey.

Hanoi’s declining air quality, lack of green spaces and inefficient energy consumption were blamed for its low ranking.

The air pollution in Hanoi has been caused by construction projects, expanding fleets of cars and motorcycles and heavy industry, including steel works, cement factories and coal fired plants surrounding the capital city.

The city of 7.7 million people has more than five million motorbikes and 550,000 cars. Data shows the number of private vehicles has been increasing at a rate of 4.6 percent annually, but the amount of land allocated for transportation projects has only been expanding at a rate of 0.4 percent.

Private vehicles are one of the leading causes for dirty air in the city. Last year, the capital experienced only 38 days of clean air as pollution levels rose to match China's smog-prone capital, Beijing, according to a report by the Green Innovation and Development Center (GreenID) earlier this year.

Nguyen Duc Chung, chairman of Hanoi, said at a meeting with GreenID in July last year that monitoring results showed that air pollution in the city had reached the "red alert" level.

"The heaviest emissions are coming from vehicles," he said.

"Recent developments have benefited economic growth, but (problematic) issues related to sustainable development, and consequences on the environment increased," said Nguy Thi Khanh, head of the GreenID Hanoi.

Unpopular decisions

In its pollution fight, the Hanoi People’s Council, the municipal legislature, went against public opposition last July to approve a ban on motorcycles by 2030.

The ostensible aim was to boost use of public transportation, including a new metro system, but this is poorly developed sector in the capital city.

While public buses are cheap and affordable, most vehicles are old and have to share congested roads with cars and motorbikes, making them an unpopular choice for most commuters.

Over the past years, hundreds of decades-old trees in Hanoi have been chopped down to expand roads and lay the metro line network, with authorities consistently prioritizing urbanization over protecting the environment.  

One project to cut many trees was stalled by public protests and a campaign to save them in 2015. However, the felling of trees in different parts of the city has continued.

The Arcadis study ranked London as the most sustainable city, based on its innovative and well-connected metro network and trees-planting campaigns.

Singapore overtook Seoul place to become the world’s fourth most sustainable metropolis, while Hongkong, Taipei and Tokyo were other Asian cities that performed well on the index.

South Africa’s Cape Town, Egypt’s Cairo and India’s Kolkata joined Hanoi on the bottom rungs.

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