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Officials participate in the first meeting of the National Council for Sustainable Development in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied
Officials participate in the first meeting of the National Council for Sustainable Development in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied

Big plans, little funds

The National Council for Sustainable Development, a body formed within the Ministry of Environment in 2015, held its first official planning meeting yesterday to discuss priorities for 2016-2018.

Over the next 16 months, the NCSD will work to mobilise funds for a wide range of projects to help combat climate change, preserve biodiversity and promote the use of renewable energy in urban centres, NCSD officials said.

“We are planning to do ecosystem mapping to get a database of natural resources, and a key priority is to pay for watershed protection,” said Tin Ponlok, the body’s secretary general. “We also want to use science and technology to promote sustainable production and consumption . . . The scope is quite large.”

The United Nations Development Programme is now helping the council develop potential policy measures and economic incentives that would bring solar, biomass, wind and other types of renewable energy to cities, Ponlok said, adding that this was “quite new” in Cambodia.

But before these plans can be launched, the government needs money. Cambodia will require an estimated $1.8 billion in order to meet its goals, Ponlok said. It hopes to mobilise the financing from international funds for climate change, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund, earmarked for developing nations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So far, however, the country has only received about $100,000, Ponlok said.

Representatives of civil society organisations yesterday said obtaining the hoped-for funds will be difficult given the Kingdom’s reputation abroad.

“In the international community, people think Cambodia has a lot of corruption and the government doesn’t have enough capacity,” said Chep Tan Sothea of Forum Syd, an organisation that works on climate change.

Still, Sothea expressed optimism that yesterday’s meeting is a sign the ministry is finally getting serious about environmental protection. “They are making important internal changes and are becoming more transparent,” Sothea said.

Other environmentalists weren’t quite as optimistic. “I’ve seen the way money is dealt with in Cambodia, I don’t trust them to allocate the funds well,” said one environmental worker who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorised to speak to the press.

Nevertheless, Ponlok said he was ready for the hard work it will take to make the council a success. “We have no illusions about the challenges,” he said. “But it is very important for us to support this.”

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