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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Report details Cambodia's climate change challenges

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa (second from left) and COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar (centre) attend the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on November 7. AFP
UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa (second from left) and COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar (centre) attend the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on November 7. AFP

Report details Cambodia's climate change challenges

Insufficient funding, complex structures and a lack of government capacity at the local level have “blunted” attempts to mitigate climate change in Cambodia through the Least Developed Countries Fund, according to a new report.

The study, published in the online journal Climatic Change last week, assessed how some of the almost $1 billion in funds had been spent in five countries in the Asia Pacific, Cambodia among them.

In the Kingdom, $4.4 million was allocated to train engineers in climate-resilient irrigation design and building a community-based climate information system on floods and droughts.

The project did make some notable gains: retention ponds, canals, dikes and reservoirs were repaired, while irrigation systems were upgraded to withstand future droughts and floods.

Some success was found in the rice fields, too. One respondent in the study said farmers began to plant new varieties of rice that could endure harsher temperatures. “Piloting across 15 rice farms indicates that the seeds really are more resistant to harsh climate than normal seeds, and they have higher yields as well,” they were quoted as saying in the report.

But the funding program – which sees richer countries voluntarily contribute to a fund for least-developed nations – faced several challenges, including insufficient and uncertain funding, a convoluted management structure and an inability to fully manage climate-related risks.

Additionally, in Cambodia, the average government officer still possessed “minimal knowledge about climate change and therefore may not see the necessity of adaptation efforts”, in the words of one respondent in the report.

But the National Council for Sustainable Development’s Tin Ponlok yesterday poured cold water on the “stereotype” that Cambodian climate actors “lacked capacity”.

“It doesn’t reflect the changing situation. I think it’s unfair to keep saying Cambodia doesn’t have sufficient capacity,” he said.

Ponlok added that a total of $80 million annually has been given to Cambodia for climate change projects over the past three years – a far cry from the $1.8 billion required between now and 2018 to properly tackle climate change.

Touch Van, a researcher with the department of agronomy and soil science at the University of New England in Australia, said that making the most effective use of often-minimal funds was crucial, but a constant challenge.

He said that while a lack of capacity could be a problem, so too was a climate change plan based on “perception” rather than data.

“We often find it hard to find full climate records. This is crucial, because before we can have a good climate change adaptation planning, we must have good climate projections or perceive climate change correctly,” he said via email.

Ponlok added that Environment Minister Say Samal was likely to sign Cambodia up as a member of the International Solar Alliance at the COP22 in Morocco this week, pending approval from the prime minister, and that he was deeply concerned about the “uncertain future” for the Paris Agreement after the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.

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