With Phnom Penh urbanising at a rapid rate, there is a growing need for investment in the city’s public spaces, waste management and energy efficiency network capabilities. As Global Green Growth Institute’s (GGGI) country representative in Cambodia Fiona Lord tells Post Property, the groundwork is already being laid for Phnom Penh’s shift towards becoming a more liveable city that is both cleaner and greener.
Phnom Penh’s development is advancing at a rapid rate. What are your current views and assessments of the city’s urbanisation?
Although Cambodia remains one of the least urban countries in Southeast Asia, it has one of the highest rates of urbanisation in the region, falling just behind Lao PDR, according to recent studies by the World Bank. This fast pace of urban growth is concentrated in Phnom Penh, and has put increasing pressure on the city’s infrastructure, communities and natural assets. It has been challenging for the city’s infrastructure planning and investments to keep up with the pace of urban population growth.
This is a common challenge among many rapidly developing countries, particularly in Asia. The growth in Phnom Penh is driven by the construction boom, expansion of manufacturing and growth of the city’s service sector, including in tourism. This growth brings benefits in terms of creating jobs and increasing incomes.
In the next decade, there is a considerable risk that the benefits of urbanisation will be outweighed by the costs. The rising pressure on the city’s infrastructure is already beginning to have impacts on the economy. The high cost of energy and occasional power shortages have the potential to further hamper growth in some of the city’s economic activities. However, there is considerable potential to expand its industrial growth and construction, while improving energy efficiency, through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy options.
Phnom Penh is experiencing numerous issues associated with accelerated growth, such as traffic congestion. What can be done to tackle the problem?
Phnom Penh Capital Hall is already investing in some improvements to tackle the various problems. It has developed a Municipal Masterplan for Land-Use for 2035, a Transport Master Plan and a Drainage and Sewerage Master Plan. Investments in drainage infrastructure are underway, with the support of The Japan International Cooperation Agency. The city is now developing a solid waste management strategy, and has developed a new land-fill site. The national government is also working to strengthen the policy and legal framework for sustainable cities, such as through the new Environment and Natural Resource Code being developed by the Ministry of Environment and the National Council for Sustainable Development, and an Energy Efficiency Policy, Strategy and Action Plan, which is being finalised by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Priority measures in the transport sector include ensuring the city has a comprehensive and integrated traffic management system, which is adequately staffed and resourced, improving the pedestrian environment through introducing parking regulations and pilot testing the introduction of designated pedestrian areas, introducing vehicle emissions standards, encouraging the use of low-emission vehicles, and introducing fiscal incentives to support the use of public transportation.
For urban planning, under the Master Plan for Land-Use, Phnom Penh Capital Hall is now developing more detailed land-use plans for particular urban growth poles. GGGI has recommend that as part of this detailed land-use planning, the city should define protection areas where no infrastructure or building activities should take place (i.e. protected natural resources, public-spaces, cultural heritage sites etc). This detailed land-use planning should direct urban expansion away from areas that are subject to natural and climatic risks, and should include the development of new industrial zones and clusters. The land-use planning for the city should focus on compact, low-carbon urban forms that provide for high agglomeration density and for an optimal use of urban infrastructure.
To tackle increasing flood risks, the city should invest in restoring the city’s natural lakes, streams and wetlands to protect the city against floods and support wastewater treatment. A priority to tackle urban vulnerability in Phnom Penh is for households in the peri-urban areas to have improved access to household sanitation systems and decentralised wastewater treatment. Household flood-proofing guidelines would also be beneficial, in addition to promoting low-cost sustainable housing solutions.
Investment in the cities’ public spaces and cultural heritage protection will improve the cities’ attractiveness both for its residents and tourists. Phnom Penh historically has had plenty of lakes and parks, and the regeneration of some of these natural assets would help to address the urban heat island effect. Developing a strategic plan to promote the city’s cultural heritage and investing in more multi-functional recreational areas to support exercise, would also improve the liability of the city.
What is the definition of a sustainable city and what does Phnom Penh need to do to become more sustainable and liveable?
‘Sustainable city’ and ‘green city’ are similar concepts, which are underpinned by an approach to urban expansion and that aims to simultaneously achieve urban economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and social inclusion. This concept promotes the creation of green jobs (i.e. in renewable energy, energy efficiency etc.), increased access to green infrastructure (which uses resources efficiently and is resilient to climate change), and promotes low-carbon forms of city development that provide opportunities for social development and environmental improvement.
There are currently many opportunities for Phnom Penh to invest in the green urban transport, spatial planning and resilience measures outlined in the question above. In addition, there is considerable opportunity for the manufacturing sector in Phnom Penh to be developed in a resource-efficient and sustainable way, for example through the rolling out of energy efficiency management plans. This could be supported through increasing access to finance for companies investing in energy efficiency – particularly SMEs – as well as through the establishment of energy service companies. Encouraging the deployment of solar PV for households and commercial buildings, introduction of green building standards and an energy efficiency labelling programme for appliances, will also help to ensure growth in energy demand is sustainable.
Improving the solid waste management system in Phnom Penh also presents an opportunity to convert waste to energy, given that a large share of the waste is organic. This would reduce the amount of organics waste going to land-fill. The waste management strategy should also introduce waste separation, to enable recycling by households, markets and commercial enterprises. The city is already making efforts to reduce the consumption of plastic bags and decentralise waste management services.
I understand the Global Green Growth Institute is facilitating the development of a Green City Strategic Plan (GCSP) for Phnom Penh, in partnership with Cambodia’s National Council for Sustainable Development. What is the status of the plan and what does it entail?
As with the national green growth plans of Cambodia that were adopted three years back, it seems all levels of government in the country are choosing to raise the bar by incorporating environmental and social needs into all of their planning processes. The government, citizens and residents of Phnom Penh appreciate the benefits of building resilient green economies and that is reflected in their strategic plans. Since August 2015, under GGGI’s Cambodia Green Urban Development Program, GGGI has been working in collaboration with the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) to develop a Green City Strategic Plan for Phnom Penh. GGGI contributes by bringing technical expertise in green city planning to the process, similar to our other programmes in Rwanda, Mexico and Vietnam. The Strategic Plan is scheduled to be finalised by the end of 2016, and launched soon thereafter. NCSD and GGGI have been coordinating a comprehensive consultation process to develop the Strategic Plan, which has included active engagement with the Phnom Penh Capital Hall, all the relevant national ministries, district authorities of Phnom Penh, representatives of the private sector, academia, NGOs and development partners.
The Strategic Plan identifies green city objectives and priority actions for eight sectors: urban planning, urban vulnerability, energy, transport, built environment, manufacturing, solid waste management and public spaces and cultural heritage. The strategic plan also identifies a pipeline of 48 green city development projects, which range from energy efficient street lighting, a parking support package, demonstration of decentralised waste water treatment systems, development of new industrial zones and clusters, development of guidelines for constructing energy efficient buildings, to policy and institutional support for the promotion of grid-connected renewable electricity generation.
What is the aim of the strategic plan and are you confident it will be adopted by the government?
The GCSP aims to provide a roadmap for Cambodian policy makers, local administrators and their national and international development partners to pursue the implementation of urban green growth. The overall vision of the Strategic Plan is that by 2025, Phnom Penh will become a clean, green and competitive city that offers a safe and quality lifestyle to its residents. It aims to promote public and private investment in sustainable urban development. Its four overarching objectives are: 1) de-couple economic growth from environmental impacts, 2) increase social inclusion, reduce poverty levels, and improve urban welfare, 3) provide urban resilience for all citizens to natural, climatic and other risks, and 4) ensuring urban competitiveness and attractiveness to businesses.
I am confident that the GCSP will be adopted by the government because of the benefits it will bring not only to the residents, but to the Cambodian economy in the long run. You can think of the plan as a city-scale adaptation of Cambodia’s national level strategic plans. It aligns with the government’s overall strategic priorities under its National Strategic Development Plan and Rectangular Strategy, and builds on its existing specific plans for Phnom Penh. Moreover, the GCSP will support the implementation of the Government’s National Green Growth Policy (2013) and National Green Growth Strategic Plan (2013-2030) that the national government committed to earlier in 2013. We are already seeing many of the actions identified receive support from both the public sector, private sector and NGOs.
Phnom Penh currently lacks affordable housing. How vital is public housing when trying to achieve a sustainable city for the future?
Yes, affordable housing is a critical component of sustainable green city development. The draft Green City Strategic Plan includes a green growth action plan for the built environment, recommending that affordable low-cost housing is made available for all socio-economic groups throughout the city as a priority action. In addition, the plan recommends that guidance is developed for flood-proofing of houses and that land reserves are created for low-income housing. The creation of land reserves increases the availability of building plots to households or household cooperatives. The concentration of low-income housing through the provision of land reserves will create concentrated demand for urban services, schools and health care, as well as access to jobs and future urban transit systems. The location of housing estates will thus be very important in shaping the future of the city and its functionality and liveability, as well as resilience by avoiding areas that are subject to flooding or other urban risks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity