Cambodia is beginning to coordinate efforts to respond to climate change, a government official said ahead of high-level talks in California at which the environment is set to be on the agenda.
Recent years have already seen hotter weather and more irregular rainfall in Cambodia, which is predicted to be badly hit when global temperatures change further.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and leaders from the other nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are currently at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and discuss a range of topics, from regional security to trade.
The changing climate is also a priority for American engagement with the region, according to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. At a public forum last week in Washington, Rhodes reiterated that the United States has been working with ASEAN countries following the landmark global climate deal in Paris last year.
“We have good partnership with ASEAN on…combating climate change,” he said. “And ASEAN countries have various ways in which they are contributing to the Paris conference, and promoting sustainable development in a way to combat climate change.”
Cambodia has been ranked among one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in Southeast Asia. The impacts may already being felt. Between 2005 and 2012, the United Nations Development Program estimates that more than 22,000 Cambodians were affected by flood or drought.
Successive Cambodian governments under Hun Sen have not had a reputation as being forward thinking on environmental issues. Authorities have long struggled to get to grips with rampant logging that has wiped out large parts of previously forested land, and environmental regulations on industry are poorly enforced.
However, Sao Sopheap, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said the government had recently been taking proactive steps toward preparing Cambodia.
In January, the ministry released the country’s Climate Change Action Plan 2016-2018. The plan sets out priority areas for government departments to focus on, including the so-called “mainstreaming” of climate change in national and subnational planning and budgeting processes; environmental protection; biodiversity; the conservation of national resources; and strengthening knowledge management and information systems.
“In the region, Cambodia has been very proactive in adopting a strategic plan to the mainstreaming of climate change and responses to climate change working hand in hand with all stakeholders,” Sopheap said.
So far, he said, 14 government agencies have developed their own sectoral Climate Change Action Plans to contribute toward the country’s climate change efforts and toward the successful implementation of the country’s national strategic plan.
However, Sopheap said, “We are facing a lack of institutional capacity building, knowledge management officers, as well as a lack of technical and financial support.”
In recent years, international donors including the United States, Sweden and the European Union have provided both technical and financial support to help the government’s efforts in coping with climate change.
Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the board of directors at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said developed countries like the United States—who have over time contributed the most to global warming—must take a leadership role and help poorer countries like Cambodia to prepare for the negative effects of the changing climate.
“Industrialized and rich countries have an obligation to help developing countries in capacity building and response mechanisms to climate change. A determination as such was made at the Paris conference,” he said.
“Poor countries like Cambodia, Laos and Burma are the most vulnerable to natural disasters because these countries tend to lack capacity in response to, and in adapting to climate change.”