Cambodia has performed poorly in the 2016 edition of a recent environmental report, ranking a dismal 146 out of 180 countries.
The Kingdom returned one of the lowest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) scores in the region, narrowly edging ahead of Myanmar and Laos.
The 2016 EPI pointed to widespread logging as a key cause for Cambodia’s disappointing result, citing the government’s move to convert protected zones into economic land concessions for plantations and large-scale agriculture projects.
“Cambodia has consistently witnessed some of the greatest annual losses among Mekong Basin countries from 2000-2014, losing 18 per cent of its tree cover; very little natural or primary forest remains,” the report said.
Despite the expansion of protected areas which now cover almost 20 per cent of the country, “enforcement of protected borders is weak in the face of poaching and illegal timber operations”, the report said.
The report marked a marginal improvement on Cambodia’s standing since 2010, when the Kingdom had the worst record in the Asia Pacific, ranked 148 of 163 nations.
The EPI report was conducted by Yale and Columbia Universities to rank countries based on 25 criteria, rating their performance from 0 to 100.
Cambodia scored only 51.24, while Finland, the best performer this year, scored more than 90.
Ministry of Environment spokesperson Sao Sopheap questioned the data sources used for the report and maintained the government was committed to improving Cambodia’s environmental record.
“We recently set up another taskforce . . . to crack down on illegal logging to improve the management of natural resources and conservation in the long term,” Sopheap said.
He also pointed to the government’s review of economic land concessions and the reduction of private company leases, from 90 years to 50 years.
Socheath Sou, director of Live and Learn Environmental Education Cambodia, said the issues of deforestation and climate change were intertwined, and that the Kingdom’s farmers, who are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, still had very limited financial capacity to adapt.
“People now realise the loss of the forest has been one of the main issues that keeps Cambodia from taking a strong stance on climate change,” he said. “The loss of trees is not just a problem for the climate, but also for our economy.”