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Climate change ‘taking toll’

A young man plants a tree in a parched field in Prey Veng province in April 2012
A young man plants a tree in a parched field in Prey Veng province in April 2012. Vireak Mai

Climate change ‘taking toll’

The effects of man-made climate change are already being felt across the globe, and most countries, including Cambodia, are ill-prepared to cope with the immediate and future threats, the United Nations warns in a new report.

The findings, released yesterday by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Japan, make it clear that while impacts are universal, they are not evenly distributed, and Cambodia is not on the winning end of the spectrum.

“Poor and vulnerable countries are at greater risk of inequity and loss of livelihoods from the impacts of climate extremes as their options for coping with such events are limited,” the report says.

Observations of climate change in the region indicate the Kingdom is already experiencing an array of negative effects that are likely to intensify, including temperature hikes, increasingly severe and unpredictable flooding with increased rainfall during the wet season, prolonged agricultural droughts and sea-level rises that could subsume arable land, according to the report.

The cocktail of forces could pitch Cambodia into further poverty and exacerbate food insecurity by reducing crop and fishery yields.

“Cambodia is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change,” said Tin Ponlock, deputy director general of the Ministry of Environment’s climate change office. “We are a post-conflict country with many development needs, weak infrastructure, limited finances, and an agriculture-based economy that depends on the weather.”

The Cambodian agricultural sector is expected to be especially vulnerable to climate variance as most of the farmers rely on rainfall, and produce just one harvest a year of the country’s staple food, rice.

“There are parts of Asia where current temperatures are already approaching critical levels during the susceptible stages of the rice plant . . . including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia,” the report says. Higher temperatures, salt water intrusion and more frequent extreme weather events will also take a toll on fish productivity and biodiversity, with the report citing both the Mekong and Tonle Sap Lake as being particularly vulnerable.

Lowering the extreme risks of climate change is possible, the report says, but will require sustained investment in ambitious adaptation measures.

Though Cambodia is taking steps to become more adaptable and resilient to climate change by working to implement a 2014-2023 strategic action plan, government officials cited a lack of funding and capacity to carry out the measures. Experts warn, however, that time to respond is limited.

“Not adapting in the next 30 to 40 years to what at this point are the unavoidable effects of climate change will result in widespread suffering, destruction of livelihoods, and food insecurities,” said Bon Ward, director of policy and communications at the UK-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. “It’s going to be hard for all countries, including the richer, more developed ones to adapt.”

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