Work began yesterday on Cambodia’s first national environmental plan in more than a decade. Once completed, the National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan (NESAP) will form the backbone of Cambodia’s environmental policy until 2023. The far-reaching plan – which is expected to be put into effect in late 2016 – aims to take stock of Cambodia’s natural resources, measure the economic benefits of environmental sustainability, and introduce financial incentives to encourage businesses to go green.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Asian Development Bank, which is providing consultation and expertise for the drafting of the law, met for their first workshop on the issue yesterday at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Though NESAP is still in the early planning stages, the advisor to the Ministry of Environment, Sao Sopheap, hopes it will help address the long list of environmental problems that hamper development in Cambodia. Farmers in Battambang have gone into debt after losing multiple rice crops due to drought this year, while flooding has ravaged villages in Kampot.
“With natural disasters and climate change, we have been constantly affected by floods and drought,” said Mr. Sopheap. The new plan aims to help the country protect its most vulnerable citizens from disasters such as these by encouraging sustainable development.
Until now, Cambodia has not had a comprehensive environmental policy. NESAP will fill this gap by providing a far-reaching policy addressing everything from drought to sewage to air pollution. The Asian Development Bank is providing technical support and funding to help the Ministry of Environment draft the new regulations, and a rough draft is scheduled to be completed by May of next year.
Like the UN’s recently-announced Sustainable Development Goals, NESAP will set specific, quantifiable development targets for the country, such as reductions of air pollution and increases in sustainable water supplies.
Environmental protection often falls by the wayside during periods of rapid development such as Cambodia’s, where the average annual GDP growth rate has topped 7.5 percent since 1998. Pavit Ramachandran, Senior Environment Specialist at the Asian Development Bank, said the country cannot afford to squander its natural resources just to make easy money.
“I think the distinction of grow first and clean up later is an artificial distinction,” he said, “and in the case of Cambodia it doesn’t hold true.” According to the World Bank, roughly 75 percent of Cambodians rely directly on agriculture or fishing for survival, and Mr. Ramachandran said it is essential for the government to ensure these resources are protected.
He added that Cambodia should invest in environmental protection now in order to ensure that the natural resources many Cambodians depend on are not depleted. “Much of the country still depends on its natural resources for sustenance,” he said. “So this is important from a poverty-reduction standpoint.”
As more farmers move to Cambodia’s cities seeking economic opportunity, the growing population places more pressure on the cities’ already overloaded infrastructure – another problem the Ministry of Environment will seek to address with NESAP. “Pollution control is an issue [in Phnom Penh],” said Mr. Sopheap. “The lifestyles are changing, people are migrating and residing more in the cities, and creating an amount of waste that is larger and more difficult to manage.”
As part of the development of NESAP, the government is making its climate and environmental data more publicly available. Government employees will not be the only ones given access to more comprehensive data, Mr. Sopheap said.
“The whole environmental program will help us strengthen our database information web portal,” he said. “We hope to have better access for the public to database information.”
While the plan is built around improving Cambodia’s protection of its natural resources, Mr. Sopheap emphasized that the committees drafting the policies will be realistic about the challenges facing the country.
“There is a lot of waste in terms of economic loss, and in terms of the environment,” he said. “We have a lot to work on.”