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Cambodian students climb up to their school from a boat at a flooded village in Kandal province in October 2009.
Cambodian students climb up to their school from a boat at a flooded village in Kandal province in October 2009. AFP

Responding to climate change

As COP21 comes to a close, it would be best to remember that tackling climate change won’t happen overnight. It will be a long road ahead and the Paris conference should serve as a roadmap for longer term climate action.

It will not be an easy road. Dealing with the consequences of climate change and contributing towards a global solution poses a challenge to a developing country like Cambodia.

Poised to cross the threshold to middle income country (MIC) status and aiming to become an upper MIC by 2030, Cambodia is still among the most vulnerable countries in the world to the consequences of climate change.

Because of extreme weather events (floods and droughts), rising average temperatures, rainfall variability and seawater intrusion, climate change remains one of the most significant threats to poverty eradication and economic growth in Cambodia. That current pledges to cut carbon emissions will not keep temperatures rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius does not help.

Building resilience will be critical. While overall poverty stands at 13.5 per cent, most Cambodians have incomes just above the poverty line.

Given the dominance of low value-added sectors and informal enterprises, vulnerable employment is still prevalent. Despite the gains in garments, construction, and tourism, Cambodia is still an agricultural economy.

With only a small share of farms operating on a commercial basis, most farmers engage in subsistence farming, and augment incomes through migration. Research has shown that subsistence farmers are most vulnerable and least able to cope with droughts, floods and environmental degradation.

The impact is particularly acute for women, who make up a large number of the poor communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihood.

These sources of vulnerability could potentially reverse the gains, or at least make it more difficult to sustain its vision of becoming an upper MIC. Without public action, projections show that climate change could reduce annual economic growth by as much as 1.5 per cent by 2030, and 3.5 per cent by 2050.

To these ends, the government has identified a range of interventions that include strengthening the adaptive capacity of communities, restoring the natural ecosystems, strengthening early warning systems, etc.

The independent Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) has shown that despite Cambodia’s vulnerability, the country’s level of readiness to adapt has steadily improved since 1995.

Through its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), Cambodia has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as 27 per cent by 2030, by investing in climate-smart solutions in the energy sector, manufacturing industries, transport and other sectors.

Moreover, the government has committed itself to stemming deforestation through the National Forest Programme and the REDD+ under the Forestry Administration.

The initiative of the Ministry of Environment (MoE) establishing an overarching set of legal principles that encourage sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems across government is also a step in the right direction.

One challenge is that the investments in adaptation and mitigation will require money. In place is a pledge of $100 billion a year from developed countries.

However, according to the 2014 Adaptation Gap Report of the UN Environmental Programme, annual adaptation costs alone could climb as high as $150 billion by 2025/2030 and $250-500 billion by 2050, at the global level. Cambodia alone will require some $1.27 billion until 2018, and spending on adaption could go up as high as 3.3 per cent of GDP between now and 2050.

Notwithstanding the importance of external climate financing for Cambodia, most climate investments will have to come from government sources and from non-climate external assistance. Climate change response will necessarily have to be mainstreamed into the public budget and existing loan programs, and augmented with private sector-based innovative finance.

This has led to UNDP support the government’s Climate Change Financing Framework, which includes a climate public expenditure review, the costing of the climate change response, and financing scenarios.

As to the mainstreaming of climate change financing into the national budget, the National Council for Sustainable Development has been working with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and different ministries on how public investment and loan programs could be made more climate responsive.

But more than money, over the long term, building resilience requires the transformation of the Cambodian society and economy itself. Reducing vulnerability requires more than social protection and public services: it calls for the expansion of decent employment and better paying jobs, by taking advantage of regional higher value-added manufacturing and agricultural value chains.

Taking advantage of the climate change funding, it also means putting Cambodia on a more sustainable pathway and avoiding the costly “lock-in” effects of dependence on carbon-based energy systems.

Because of its current stage of development, Cambodia can leapfrog to more resource and energy-efficient infrastructure, by setting building codes and standards for energy-efficient buildings and consumer appliances, pursuing mass public transport solutions, and promoting decentralised energy systems built on renewables.

Dealing with the consequences of climate change and contributing towards a global solution may pose a daunting challenge to a developing country like Cambodia.

Speaking to world leaders at the opening of COP21, His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni had this to say: “But we have the evidence, we have the solutions, and we know it is possible to simultaneously address climate change and put our societies on a sustainable path.

So we cannot and we should not pass the buck further. The decisions are here today, for us to make.”

Napoleon Navarro is senior policy adviser to the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia. In this capacity, Mr Navarro heads the Policy Team of UNDP Cambodia.



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