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Heavy Use of Cambodia’s Natural Resources Has Climate Effects, Experts Say

Cambodian fishermen move their fishing net from the Mekong River as they catch fish on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, because of its reliance on agriculture and fisheries in a changing hydrological system.

Cambodia may not be an industrialized nation, and therefore not putting as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as other countries, but it nevertheless is contributing to climate change through deforestation, experts say.

Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, because of its reliance on agriculture and fisheries in a changing hydrological system.

Meanwhile, only about half of its forest cover remains, thanks to rampant logging in recent decades. That takes away a potential carbon sink, and contributes to global warming in its own way, even as Cambodia remains vulnerable.

Pech Sokhem, a Canadian climate adaptation specialist, said Cambodia is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its reliance on natural resources. “Eighty percent of the population lives in a rural area,” he said. “People rely on water resources, fisheries. People are mostly poor.”

Cambodians are also especially vulnerable to disasters, like flooding, drought and disease, he said.

Shannon Siyao Wang, environmental planning coordinator for the Great Mekong Subregion at the Asian Development Bank, told VOA Khmer that Cambodia can improve its environmental management through carbon and energy taxes, to push private investment in renewable energy.

“So it’s very important that through the formulation of the national environmental strategy we look at how we could potentially mitigate some of the environmental degradation, by introducing environment policy legislation, as well as deploying financial options to address this issue,” she said. “The current environmental status in Cambodia is quite well known; we are facing deforestation, water pollution. The land pollution rate is also quite high, due to agricultural production, as well as due to the impacts of climate change.”

Some policies are addressing climate change, she said. “So we are on the right path. But we do need the whole-government approach, and everyone should collaborate together in ensuring the consistency of the policy.”

Cambodia should now look for environmental polices that can be supported by international partnerships, she said.

Sao Sopheap, cabinet chief for the Ministry of Environment, said Cambodia is working to address climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency, in a national strategy that is nearing completion.

Pavit Ramachandran, a senior environment specialist for Southeast Asia at the ADB, said Cambodia has taken some steps on climate change. “I think the rural sector, the agriculture sector, will still be an important sector to address, in terms of looking at climate change impacts, impact on crops, and the associated impact on farmers and the rural population, but also the urban sector, in terms of usage of water and land resources,” he said.

ADB funding for climate is now available, he said. “So I think we would like to help Cambodia access and mobilize resources under these funds and also ensure that there are viable projects that actually draw down these funds.”

Pech Sokhem said Cambodia needs to work to attract more funds for the climate change from the industrialized countries that are most responsible for carbon emissions. “Cambodia is a country that needs to demand justice from the developed countries that caused the effects. They have the obligation to solve the challenges.”

More than 190 countries are going to meet in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, under the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to discuss global climate change and the international response to it.