Politicians worldwide are addressing the issue of climate change. How they have dealt with the issue has been described as controversial due to a dilemma between environmental protection and economic development.
As the effect of climate change intensifies, it is youth leading the battle against it in a bid to ensure a safe future for their children. CPP lawmaker Sous Yara, NGO Forum coordinator Mak Bunthoeurn and Politikoffee member Yong Heng discuss what young people can do to address climate change.
KT: What have you found out about the involvement of young Cambodians, who make up the majority of the population, in addressing climate change today?
Mr Heng: I have studied European countries, and I have found that climate change is nothing new in those places. In Southeast Asia, however, the issue is still relatively new to the people, especially those in developing countries. However, government and civil society have been working hard to promote public consciousness, particularly among young people. Meanwhile, our young environmental activists have been working tirelessly, cleaning the city, building e-bikes, planting trees and protecting the forest. However, there has not been any large-scale activity such as the “climate strike” movement, like the one started by the famous Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Environmental protection is tied with the freedom to gather among our young people. If we have more of this freedom, our young people will be able to work on the cause more effectively, such as lobbying for a law for the good of the environment.
Mr Bunthoeurn: I agree that climate change is still new in Cambodia, although it has always been there. For the Cambodian people, especially the young ones, who will be affected the most by climate change, they are still unfamiliar with this issue.
Mr Yara: We understand that climate change is everyone’s problem. The United Nations and its members have been doing everything they can to promote actions. Each member state has its own policy for adapting to climate change. We want our young people, the future of our country and the world, to understand our policies as well as the science behind climate change. All of us have to work together to prevent the world’s temperature from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is better than gathering themselves and acting based on sentiment, although the act of gathering is not illegal in Cambodia.
KT: What can you say about young people’s concerns or attitudes toward climate change?
Mr Heng: In the city, very few young people use bicycles as transportation. There is no road for cyclists. Our people are not used to public transport either. They have no choice but to drive their motors to work or study. Many rich people in Phnom Penh, meanwhile, like riding cars alone instead of sharing the ride. In addition, our young people are the group which consumes the most compared to other age groups. All of these factors pollutes our environment and destroy people’s health. But, we cannot blame anyone. The government is working very hard with its partners to improve public transport and sanitation services.
Mr Yara: We have to understand the changes our country has experienced. Phnom Penh has become a bit grey due to the increase in the population. The negative impacts come from people’s lifestyle while the dust from construction sites gets into the air, but it is a result of development. The impacts are noticeable but not threatening. Our heavy industry is not big enough to pollute our environment seriously. I hope our young people think more critically about that instead of pointing their fingers to anyone.
Mr Bunthoeurn: However, in the past few years, we have seen that our youngsters are forming groups to protect our environments using different ways, an implication of the improvement in their consciousness. The main challenge, as I can see, is how to encourage them to be engaged in environment protection in both urban and rural areas.
KT: How do you think young Cambodians should be involved in combatting climate change?
Mr Yara: The government has a ministry which leads the environment protecting actions. There are also many NGOs dealing with the issue. All of these institutions can invite experts to give lectures to people in specific areas or host a discussion platform for young people to participate and attend. Meanwhile, education at all levels is helping our students understand more and more about climate change and protecting their environment. They (young people) need enough inputs before acting or making a decision. They should participate in policy which is parallel with what the UN has set, such as the promotion of renewable energy.
Mr Heng: The young environmental activist sshould familiarise themselves with scientific reports and evidence in their work rather than allow themselves to be convinced by their political tendency. Obviously, their ability to lobby the government is limited. However, they do not have to necessarily be environment activists. They have to change their lifestyles, starting with travelling less by motor vehicles or by putting their trash in the rubbish bin. They also have to think about how their actions can affect everything around them. Their decision to drive a motorbike or bicycle or to live in a condo apartment or a house can have impacts on their environment.
Mr Bunthoeurn: Our institution [NGO forum] works closely with the local community, and we received many messages from the people regarding the natural environment. Apart from making environmentally-friendly decisions, youths, which make up more than 60 percent of the total population of Cambodia, should work together to influence government decisions which have a negative impact on the environment. The government and other relevant organisations should also be putting more effort into creating more programmes that allow young people to use their creativities to come up with solutions to the country’s and the world’s environmental problems.