29 Sep 2016 Story Environmental rights and governance

Cambodia to overhaul entire system of environmental governance

Government will create new environmental code and modernize Environment Ministry in bid to tackle raft of environmental threats

Cambodia has witnessed a remarkable period of growth. Its economic expansion has meant that Cambodia is rapidly becoming a lower middle-income country, an achievement that is lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Yet this rapid pace of economic growth has brought with it a host of environmental problems. The rapid degradation of natural resources, increasing levels of water and air pollution and the growing amount of solid waste in urban areas continue to damage the environment and harm human health. The threat from disasters triggered by climate change, such as drought and floods, is also on the rise.

Cambodia has struggled to address these challenges. Historically, the country has ranked among the world’s poorest performing when it comes to protecting the environment. Acknowledging the need to act, the Cambodian government has decided to reform its entire environmental governance system. It aims to transform its Ministry of Environment into a more professional, modern and efficient organization. It will also seek to create a new legal framework for environmental protection and natural resource conservation. 

Dr Say Samal, Cambodia’s Minister of Environment, said, “The transformation of our country's environmental governance is an urgent priority and a major step forward for Cambodia as we aim to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals.

“With these new measures we will ensure that policies can deliver on the multiple objectives of environmental protection, sustainable natural resource management and our people’s well-being. This will ultimately lead to a greener, more equitable and more sustainable society.”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through the SWITCH-Asia Regional Policy Support Component will work with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the reforms, the foundations of which are expected to be finalized in December.

UN Environment, which already works to strengthen environmental policies in other Asian countries, will provide financial resources and technical expertise to help shape the way Cambodia tackles the environmental challenges that confront it.

The reform of Cambodia’s environmental governance system will lead to the greater conservation and protection of vital resources, such as fresh water. The use of water in agriculture is set to expand dramatically as Cambodia continues to convert more land to farmland, which requires largescale irrigation. This will place an immense burden on the country’s fresh water supply.

The reform project, which UNDP will facilitate, will be comprised of three pillars: modernizing the Environment Ministry, establishing the National Council of Sustainable Development (NCSD) and developing a new environmental code.

UNDP Cambodia, USAID, Japan, and UN Environment will also help the Environment Ministry create a tool that improves the mapping of the country’s rich ecosystems. Mangroves play an essential role in the lifecycle of many marine organisms. They serve as spawning or nursery grounds for several commercially critical fish species. These ecosystems also play an essential role in protecting the coastline by providing a buffer against climate change-related sea level rise, cyclonic activity and storm surges. Mapping these vital resources will help the government better conserve and protect them.

UN Environment will also provide advice to the government on a range of issues, including green urbanization, education and how to raise awareness about sustainable consumption and production.

The initiative will help policymakers in Cambodia make better decisions about the efficient use of land and the sustainable management of natural resources, helping them to identify parts of the country that are suitable for conservation, community involvement and development. The project will also help the government assess the costs and benefits of development in order to improve natural resource use and limit over-exploitation.

UN Environment believes that the SWITCH-Asia partnership with UNDP – the first of its kind – will lead to major policy changes in the country thanks to input from the government, NGOs, development partners, and representatives from local communities and indigenous peoples.

The activities under this cooperation agreement will help Cambodia integrate Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production patterns) into Cambodia’s national legal framework.

For more information please contact: Sara.Castro [at] unep.org