Recent statistics released by the Ministry of Construction show that Vietnam now has 770 urban centres and the rate of urbanisation in the country reached 33.4 percent in 2013.

Nguyen Thanh Nghi, Deputy Minister of Construction, spoke with Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper about ‘green cities' as the key to sustainable urban development.

* Has Vietnam been able to finalise a definition of a green city?

A ‘green city' is generally a city that integrates green spaces. That is, it merges artificial and natural environments.

Vietnam is yet to develop a specific legal definition for this kind of city. Although the notion of ‘green' is also embedded in legal documents and standards that regulate trees, transportation, water and waste management, it is scattered and not relevant enough to ‘green cities'.

The Ministry of Construction and relevant agencies are pushing ahead to develop standards for green city assessment and guide the development of green cities in Vietnam.

* What do you think of current cities in Vietnam? How many urban complexes nationwide meet the requirements for green cities?

In my opinion, our country is undergoing rapid urbanisation. For example, in 1998, the urbanisation rate only reached around 24 percent, only to climb to more than 33 percent in 2013.

The urban economy contributes around 70 percent to the national GDP while average economic growth rates in urban areas are between 12-15 percent, 1.2 to 1.5 times higher than the average rate of the whole country.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that Vietnamese cities have failed to catch up with demand and there are significant quality issues.

There are inconsistent levels of technical and social infrastructure while overcrowding is commonplace. For all of these reasons, the national strategy on green growth for the period of 2011-20 aims to overcome these obstacles and charter a course for stable urban development.

I think the green city assessment criteria will be an effective tool to evaluate and recognise green cities in Vietnam. It will also help to plan out an investment route to pursue green standards for all cities throughout the country. Of course, it will take time and a detailed plan to make all cities meet the criteria.

In 2008, the Ministry of Construction issued Circular 15 detailing a six-point criteria. This included points on things like infrastructure, trees and environmental spaces, to assess new urban developments.

Under the circular, Hanoi's Linh Dam urban complex and Ho Chi Minh City's Phu My Hung were both recognised as model urban complexes.

There are also plans to develop new urban complexes in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hung Yen. These newly built complexes will be assessed and recognised as green cities should they meet the criteria.

* What legal avenues are there to enforce the policy on local governments and investors?

What needs to be done next is releasing the city planning standards together with green city assessment criteria, legal documents and policies to ensure practical enforcement. At the same time we need to encourage the development of green cities in Vietnam.-VNA