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Taking the temperature

091023_08
A flooded village in Kandal province on Monday.

Cambodia can make an important contribution to global discussions on how to combat climate change.

WITH only 45 days to go before world leaders meet in Copenhagen, negotiations for a new global framework to tackle climate change are stepping up pace. The broad elements required are well-known, but much more political will is needed if an agreement at the right level of ambition is to be reached.

The urgency of reaching that outcome was vividly illustrated in a map published Thursday by the UK’s Hadley Centre for climate change research. It shows how an average increase in global temperature of 4C would be unevenly spread. Complex climate systems would create more extreme warming in some regions, with severe consequences.

In Southeast Asia, the Hadley Centre warns, 33 million people in coastal regions would be exposed to flooding by 2075 as a result of rising sea levels. Rice yield in the major Asian producers would fall by 30 percent, and the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, which may vanish within 25 years, would put intense stress on water resources.

The economic impact of climate change is also unevenly spread around the globe. A study published by the Asian Development Bank in April calculated that unchecked climate change would, by the end of the century, cost Southeast Asian economies 6.7 percent of GDP every year – an impact more than twice the global average.

These stark figures are a reminder of why far-reaching action to deal with climate change is so important for Cambodia’s continued development.

This week’s National Forum on Climate Change was a timely opportunity to explore how Cambodia can minimise its own impact on emissions, adapt to the rising temperatures that are already unavoidable and establish what it should be demanding from others at Copenhagen if it is to have the ability to make these changes.

As Prime Minister Hun Sen rightly said at Monday’s opening ceremony, Cambodia cannot be blamed by anyone for causing climate change. Its carbon emissions are comparatively tiny. He was right to point to the moral responsibility of developed nations to cut their emissions and assist vulnerable countries.

In the UK, we recognise that countries with the most historic responsibility for climate change must lead the way in the global changes needed in the use of energy and the behaviours of businesses and consumers. Europe is ready to set the pace of change required.

The UK, for example, has not only fixed ambitious targets for reducing our domestic carbon emissions, but made these legally binding on government. We are making substantial investment in new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage for coal-fired electricity generation.
The National Forum set out clearly some of the problems posed by climate change, but the solutions are complex. It will require national authorities and Cambodia’s development partners to do better in integrating climate change considerations into policies and programmes.

It is equally clear that Cambodia, like other vulnerable countries, can make an important contribution to the international negotiations. It has every reason to be part of the coalition pressing for an ambitious outcome at Copenhagen. The broad negotiating position that Cambodia set out this week ahead of the Copenhagen summit should be the foundation for building alliances with other vulnerable countries to increase the pressure for action.

Cambodia should also join forces with developed countries, like those in the European Union, who have committed themselves to achieving a fair deal in which all share the responsibility and have a role to play. Developing countries will also need to accept a role in reducing emissions, even if the poorest are not bound by quantified targets in the same way as developed countries.

Cambodia’s approach to Copenhagen should be shaped not just by what it has to lose from a failure to control climate change. It can also create a positive agenda around the opportunities an agreement will bring. Any deal needs to restrain global growth in emissions without holding back development in the poorest countries.

By adopting low-carbon technology across a range of fields, Cambodia can grow in an energy-efficient manner that reduces dependence on costly imported oil. By adopting the right changes in agricultural practice, it can adapt to unavoidable climate change while still increasing productivity.

Such benefits will only be fully realised with the right deal at Copenhagen. Speaking at the Major Economies Forum earlier this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown highlighted why we must do a deal now. “We cannot compromise with the Earth. We cannot compromise with the catastrophe of unchecked climate change; so we must compromise with one another,” he said. Cambodia’s National Forum provided a good launchpad for it to join that active search for a compromise.

Andrew Mace is the UK ambassador to Cambodia.

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