World Environment Day, a United Nations initiative to promote environmental awareness, annually falls on June 5. The Ministry of Environment is set to mark the day by raising awareness on air pollution, while environmental groups and civil society organisations are focusing on addressing climate change.
Every year on June 5, countries around the world celebrate World Environment Day, a United Nations initiative to promote environmental awareness.
Some countries began celebrating the day since 1974, while Cambodia started in 1996 following a sub-decree issued by the government.
This year, the Ministry of Environment is set to mark the day in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet city today under the theme of “Together to Prevent Air Pollution”.
The event this year will mainly focus on preventing and reducing air pollution, which is caused by burning garbage, fossil fuel or burning forests.
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, says that the event this year was organized to encourage the private sector, as well as communities and individuals, to join together to find a sustainable solution to reduce pollution from all types of waste, especially plastic waste.
“World Environment Day will also urge the government, industry, communities, and everyone to join together to seek renewable energy, green technology, air quality improvement in cities, regions, and around the world,” Mr Pheaktra says. “This day also seeks to inspire all citizens to understand the impact of pollution on health and the environment, and to reduce pollution on the environment altogether.”
At the same time, environmental youth groups and civil society organisations are urging the government and the general public to be more aware of climate change, waste and natural resources, noting them as challenges that require immediate solutions.
Sar Mory, vice president of Cambodian Youth Network, says that climate change is a challenge for the global community, including Cambodia.
“Factors contributing to climate change include many forms such as deforestation, the depletion of natural resources and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Mory says.
He adds that Cambodia should take urgent measures to effectively protect and restore forests, as well as protect rivers and natural resources to prevent climate change.
Mr Mory says that the youth, which make up the majority of the country, also play an important role in the protection of the environment.
“In the context of Cambodia, we want Cambodia to contribute to maintaining environmental resilience and adapting to climate change through effective conservation of natural resources, especially forests,” Mr Mory says. “And we urge and promote the extraction of renewable solar energy, and we do not want to see the construction of hydropower dams that affect the environment and cause pollution such as flowing wastewater into the sea, and so on.”
Nop Navy, a speaker at an event on Sunday to celebrate World Environment Day in Phnom Penh, says that climate change has seriously affected two key sectors, namely health and agriculture.
“Climate change affects all of us, everyone is affected, such as when the weather is extremely hot, it makes us sweat, feel uncomfortable, and affect our work or learning,” says Ms Navy, head of the Climate Change and Adaptation project at BBC Media Action. “And in the rainy season, there are many mosquitoes that cause dengue fever, cold and other diseases.”
“In addition, climate change also affects livelihoods, because most of our citizens depend on the agricultural sector,” she adds. “So, lack of water to use in the dry season, and floods during the rainy season can damage crops, causing monetary losses.”
Khieu Raksmey, 24, from Prey Veng province’s Peam Chor district, echoes Ms Navy, adding that her family are farmers who are affected.
“It is strange these years, which are extremely hot and have less rain,” Ms Raksmey says. “And farmers like my parents depend on rice cultivation. So if there is no rain, it is difficult to grow crops.”
“So, I would like to ask the government to help address environmental issues, increase natural resource conservation and disseminate awareness on climate change adaptation to the people in the countryside,” she adds.
Roeun Sreyneang, a student at the Natural Resource Management and Development department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, says that climate change has seriously impacted communities in rural areas.
“I think that climate change is a very important issue in Cambodia, because it seriously affects people,” Ms Sreyneang says. “When I did an internship in Stung Treng province, I saw many trees were cut down, and people suffer from water shortage and a lack of irrigation systems.”
Ms Sreyneang urges everyone, especially the youth, to participate more actively in the protection of the environment, including by reducing the use of plastic, fossil fuels and electricity.
“Our youth, please join together to address the problem of climate change in order to protect our earth,” she says.
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 13 calls for action to combat climate change and its impact by strengthening sustainability and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
Leang Sophal, from the Climate Change department at the Ministry of Environment, says that climate change is a global issue, and Cambodia is highly vulnerable. He adds that Cambodia is committed to work together with other countries and development partners to respond to climate change, both in adaptation and mitigation.
“We have international mechanisms with other countries as well as development partners to implement some activities, such as reducing the use of diesel to hydropower, using clean energy such as solar energy or green power, which can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.
In addition to climate change, waste management is also a challenge in Phnom Penh and some provinces.
The Ministry of Environment, as well as City Hall and local authorities, have been working hard to address the problem.
In May, a group of 20 youths set up a campaign to clean Boeng Trabek canal and other locations in Phnom Penh.
San Daravit, the group’s leader, says Cambodia suffers from lack of waste management, which affects the health of the people in garbage disposing areas.
“The disorder is related to waste disposal habits, slow waste collection, and another thing is that our country does not yet have the policies that punish those who throw garbage in the public places,” Mr Daravit. “So, there are many factors that should be strengthened.”
Salath Srey Lang, a 23-year-old member of the group, says that it plans to plant 100,000 trees in some provinces in early August.
“We plan to plant 10,000 trees in each province in order to raise awareness and protection of forests,” Ms Lang says.