The Bumpy Road to Commodification: Why Vietnam’s PES Program Can’t Value Priority Ecosystem Services

Authors: Pamela McElwee*, Rutgers
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: ecosystem services, conservation, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 4, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Vietnam has had a national PES law since 2010 and has distributed several hundred million US dollars over the past decade to forest owners and others living near watershed areas in return for providing ‘forest environmental services’. In reality, the entire system depends mostly on financing from hydroelectric companies and thus hydrological ecosystem services (namely regulation of water quantity) are the linchpin driving the policy. This is despite the fact that four other ecosystem services (ES) are identified in the 2010 law, including preventing soil erosion, providing habitat for aquaculture, carbon sequestration, and cultural ecosystem services (namely landscape value for ecotourism). This paper will examine why so many ES have proven “resistant” to commodification in Vietnam, based on interviews that I have been conducting on ES policy within the country since 2010, including key national ministry officials, academics, local officials, and ‘providers’ of ES. Key factors that have prevented many ES from being included in PES policy include disagreements on how to define some ES; controversies over how to measure certain ES; problems identifying ‘buyers’ for key ES; and bureaucratic infighting over financing of certain ES. I conclude the paper by noting that the slippery slope of commodification of ES has hit many speedbumps, and many ES are unlikely to find markets or buyers anytime soon.

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