Walk the streets of Phnom Penh: crowds of people push through walls of smog, electric sparks fill the steely air and traffic noise pierces the blistering heat.
This is indeed an industrial hub emerging from economic infancy. But how can we make our capital green amid this modern revolution?
ASEAN has set an environmental programme for its member states to abide by for protection and preservation, in an effort to ensure clean water, land and air for all the city’s residents.
But Phnom Penh has failed to meet ASEAN’s policy.
According to Keo Kalyan, a climate change analyst for UNDP, Phnom Penh needs to consider a lot more than planting trees to meet ASEAN’s environmental standards. The city needs to look to solar energy, bicycle transportation and recycling – just to name a few areas of green development.
“We cannot call a city ‘green’ just because we see a lot of green trees,” Keo Kalyan said. “There are many more factors to take into consideration.”
Keo Kalyan added that Cambodia does not have green parks, which are a vital first step for environmental development. She suggested the government look to developing public parks to make the city greener and people’s lives happier.
Sokha Leap, an 18-year-old student at Royal University of Phnom Penh, said there is no green space in the city’s Boeung Salang commune, where she currently resides. Instead, she said he mostly sees buildings and electric poles.
“I want a natural view with trees, because it makes me feel refreshed and relaxed,” she said. “In other countries, people are able to enjoy this luxury – they can look at green trees and parks, while we can’t.”
Rath Spanha, a 22-year-old accountant at Angkor Certified, echoed Sokha Leap’s concern.
“I want to have beautiful views of my city, but instead all we have are views of electrical poles instead of trees,” he said.
In a response to this growing issue, the Mayor of Phnom Penh, HE Kep Chuktema, said that the municipality is constantly paying attention to making the city a greener and more environmentally-friendly place.
“We want to make Phnom Penh a green city,” the Mayor said. “A green city doesn’t just mean trees, but we’re looking at boosting the whole city’s environmental sector from a holistic approach.”
Meas Rithy, Deputy Manager at the ASEAN Cooperation Department with the Ministry of Environment, said that Phnom Penh now integrates the creation of parks and planting trees with new urban development projects.
“I think the Municipality has been making good decisions in developing green projects,” he said. “Gardens near the Royal Palace have a nice view of green grass, flowers and trees.”
“It is a bit hard to create green parks in the city because it will affect people’s housing, but it would be great to create them in the next phase of our city’s development,” Meas Rithy added.
Run Sokha, an engineer for Archetype Cambodia, however, said that Phnom Penh’s development projects are behind its ASEAN neighbours in sustainable development.
“Cambodia does not have any laws for environmental compliance when new buildings are constructed,” he said.
But Meng Bunnarid, Director of Land Management at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said that every new construction projection heeds special attention to environmental compliance.
“We have our law on urbanisation and construction, which will boost our environmental development.” Meng Bunnarid said.
Meng Bunnarid advised that “Citizens have to participate in taking care of the environment in order to make Phnom Penh a greener city.”
He added that “In the future, we will create more public parks and especially gardens with big trees, like in other countries.”