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Climate change targets aim high

Climate change vulnerability map of Southeast Asia.
Climate change vulnerability map of Southeast Asia. EEPSEA

Climate change targets aim high

The Ministry of Environment submitted an ambitious national climate change plan to the United Nations yesterday ahead of scheduled climate talks in Paris (COP 21), though observers yesterday questioned the plan’s feasibility given a lack of both funding and political will.

According to Sao Sopheap, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment’s Climate Change Department, the plan – known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – while not legally binding, represents a “commitment” to “join the international community’s fight against climate change”.

The INDC proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 27 per cent from the projected levels for 2030 were the status quo simply maintained. Promoting a renewable energy grid, sustainable manufacturing as well as low-emission vehicles are identified as mitigation strategies.

Additionally, “Cambodia intends to undertake voluntary and conditional actions to achieve the target of increasing forest cover to 60% of national land area by 2030”.

The government’s climate proposal estimates that forests currently cover about 57 per cent of Cambodia. However, a study from Open Development Cambodia placed forest coverage in 2014 at closer to 47.7 per cent, with only 16.5 per cent being dense forest.

What’s more, a September report by Global Forest Watch found that deforestation had accelerated faster in Cambodia since 2001 than anywhere else in the world.

Reforestation relies heavily on the REDD+ program, a key element of the INDC. It is a proposed scheme for Cambodia to monetise its forests as carbon sinks, and sell “carbon credits” to polluting countries.

According to the government plan, achieving the desired 27 per cent emissions cut – as well as fully implementing REDD+ – will require an additional $1.27 billion through 2018, on top of an already planned increase of public expenditure on climate change from 1.39 per cent of GDP in 2015 to 1.5 per cent in 2018.

Sopheap admitted there is “a lot more work to do” to determine financial needs through 2030, but pointed to the Climate Change Alliance – a UN-administrated fund supported by foreign governments with a current balance of $13 million – as a model for funding adaptation efforts by both government and NGOs.

Chhorm Chhun, network coordinator for the Cambodia Climate Change Network, noted the INDC was formulated with input from numerous civil society organisations, adding that while he hoped the commitments in the INDC would be honoured, it would depend on the participation of developed countries.

Caroline McCausland, country director for ActionAid, an NGO that works on disaster relief, echoed the sentiment expressed by Sopheap that Cambodia is “suffering from emissions from more developed countries”.

However, she said in an email, while developed countries should provide support, “Cambodia can’t rely on foreign donors alone to offer the $1.27bn of climate financing it requires”.

As noted last week in a climate change policy briefing hosted by the NGO Forum, a key position for the Kingdom going into COP 21 is ensuring developed countries keep the promise made at COP 15 of $100 billion in global annual funding for climate change, with preferential access for “least developed countries” such as Cambodia.

As to whether the Kingdom would use any funding effectively, the Environment Ministry’s Sopheap maintained that “we have all the mechanisms to make sure funding is used wisely and accountably”.

But Pisey Pech, director of programs for Transparency International Cambodia, said “it is easy to say the fund will be transparent”, adding that “what is lacking is that the public does not have enough information about climate governance issues”.

However, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay – who is also vice-chair of the National Assembly’s finance and banking committee – went even further, characterising the proposal as a cash grab, saying that “in general terms, the proposal is not genuine”, and noting that past funding has not yielded results.

“There is no clear commitment. There is no clear indication of what they are going to do with the money,” Chhay said, adding “the international community should not take this proposal any further.”

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