The Ministry of Environment on January 25 announced the implementation of the “Clean Air Plan of Cambodia” – a national strategic document aimed at identifying activities that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Cambodia and improve air quality, with the final goal of protecting public health and the environment.

The ministry said air pollution is becoming an environmental challenge in the region and the world. The effects of air pollution are vast as it can spread over great distances, causing cross-border pollution which combines with geographic factors and the effects of climate change. It poses an essential health challenge that requires the attention of all countries.

The sources of air pollution, the ministry said, have steadily increased. Transportation, energy consumption – in production processes, services and housing – and the development of infrastructure and construction have all resulted in increased emissions.

To reduce air pollution, the ministry has initiated the plan, with technical and financial assistance from the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership of the UN Environment Programme and the Stockholm Environment Institute of Sweden.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said in a press conference on January 25 that the “Clean Air Plan of Cambodia” is available in Khmer and English. The book was produced by the ministry, in collaboration with relevant partners.

“Today, we officially announced its implementation. It will be distributed to all relevant institutions so that they can follow the plan according to their roles and duties,” he said.

This strategic document provides key information – including current and future air quality conditions and major air pollution sources – and legal standards and measures to reduce emissions in each contributing sector.

“It’s the first time that the release of damaging emissions which causes adverse health effects has been measured at the national level and measures to reduce air pollution have been implemented, and it will improve air quality and protect public health and the environment,” he said.

The Clean Air Plan of Cambodia was designed to integrate with government policies and legal standards – such as the circular on measures to prevent and reduce public air pollution and the sub-degree on Air Pollution Control and Noise Disturbance. The plan is also in line with measures laid out by UN bodies.

According to the ministry, in Phnom Penh the average particulate matter concentration increased from 13.59 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³) in 2017 to 21.12 μg/m³ in 2019. In 2021, the air condition was still good as it was below the national standard of 25 μg/m³.

Although the concentration of particles was below the national standard, the year-on-year increase was concerning and mitigation strategies were required, said the ministry.

Long-term exposure to inert particles caused disease and could be responsible for premature and underweight babies and respiratory diseases in children, along with a decrease in neurological development and brain function.

WHO said in 2016 that air pollution kills an estimated 4.2 million people worldwide every year and the West Pacific and Southeast Asia were the hardest-hit regions.

Pak Sokharavuth, deputy director-general of the environment ministry’s General Department of Environmental Protection, said air pollution was becoming a real challenge to the region and its impact could not be underestimated.

“Each measure has been assessed to determine if the action will contribute to a reduction in emissions, including short-term pollutants and greenhouse gases. Each measure focuses on one main source of air pollution, such as the transportation and industrial sectors, housing, construction and waste,” he said.