Climate Change – what is it and why is it important?
Throughout history, the Earth’s climate has constantly changed. But the extent to which our planet has warmed since the second half of 20th Century is beyond the natural cycle of climatic variation.
This dramatic change is largely due to the increased amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) generated by human activities – in particular land use change, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels in the shift towards industrialisation. The increase in global temperature leads to changes in climatic patterns and melting of ice caps at the Poles. These in turn lead to phenomena such as sea level rises, changes in rainfall patterns, heat and cold waves and increasing droughts and floods. These changes are already having a negative impact on the environment and on the lives and livelihoods of communities across the world.
The economic implications of climate change are extremely high due to the cost of damage and the need to prepare for further impacts, as well as investment needs for inevitable mitigation measures. It is all the more the case for developing countries like Cambodia.
What does climate change mean to Cambodia?It’s not just about floods and droughts, but about the country’s capacity to cope with the challenges– and its ability to identify and build on opportunities.
Climate change is real and happening in Cambodia, and its impacts are unavoidable. The country is considered highly vulnerable due to its high levels of poverty and lack of infrastructure to cope with natural disasters and other longer-term effects of climate change, but by increasing society’s capacity to respond and adapt well, the impacts can be minimised.
However, climate change is not only about impacts and threats – how Cambodia responds to climate change also presents opportunities that lead to healthy economic and social development. Acting on climate change, reducing poverty and pursuing sustainable development can – and must – go hand in hand.
The first ever study on Cambodia’s vulnerability to climate change, conducted in 2001, projected that the country’s temperature would increase 1.35-2.5 degrees celsius by 2100. It also predicted annual rainfall would increase between three and 35 percent above current levels, also bringing more erratic, intense rain patterns, and unpredictable seasonal changes. For centuries, Cambodians have skillfully adapted their livelihoods to align with seasonal changes – such as rain-fed agriculture and fishery cycles synchronized with seasonal floods. But unpredictable seasonal changes, including potential changes in the Mekong flood pulse patterns, mean these centuries-old methods are under threat. Combined with short-term natural disasters, the long-term and gradual changes in climate can lead not only to economic losses but also to various human development challenges - such as food insecurity, health impacts, unemployment, migration and reduced access to education due to economic pressures on households.
According to recent studies, Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts in the region. Contributing factors include a heavy reliance on rain-fed farming in low land areas, an undiversified agricultural base, a lack of appropriate infrastructure and technology to respond to effects, and low human development levels. If the country’s key sector, agriculture, were to be affected by a natural disaster, leading to the failure of major crops, issues such as food insecurity, unemployment and social instability would follow. Affected families may migrate to new places in search of better livelihood opportunities. Increased occurrence of water- and air-borne diseases will have significant health and economic implications in the country, which already suffers from a large number of malaria and dengue cases every year. On the coast, sea level rises will affect coastal communities and prime development locations. It is predicted that if there were to be a rise of one metre, 56 percent of Koh Kong city would be submerged.
While there are significant threats, climate change is also about opportunities. An increasing amount of development assistance and various financing schemes are being made available for Cambodia, both to prepare for imminent impacts and to help prevent further global warming. With this assistance, Cambodia can harness opportunities, such as introducing low carbon measures that lead to positive development. Developing countries such as Cambodia can choose to avoid unsustainable, and often polluting, conventional ways of development. This is an option that most of today’s developed countries didn’t have when they started their economic growth. The schemes that are available for Cambodia to take advantage of include: carbon financing schemes; transferring to new clean technologies; and increasing energy efficiency.
Involvement of private sector is central to the success of this approach, and there is a need to create good public-private partnerships to encourage businesses to contribute to low-carbon “green growth”. Through such partnerships, Cambodia can reduce the effects of climate change while ensuring sustainable development and economic growth.
What does UNDP do in Cambodia?
Failure to respond to climate change in the right way and in time may not only hinder a country’s healthy development, but may also undo existing efforts to improve socio-economic development. Ensuring Cambodia’s responses are timely and effective poses a major development challenge for the government and its development partners.
To address this challenge, UNDP’s climate change work in Cambodia focuses on strengthening the capacity of government to respond to climate change, creating opportunities for knowledge sharing and building partnerships, as well as supporting research into the impacts of climate change on the country’s economic and human development.
Capacity development and fulfilling international obligations
Since 1999, UNDP has supported the Ministry of Environment to produce various technical reports on climate change in Cambodia with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The work has not only helped the country fulfill its obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but to strengthen government’s capacity to respond to climate change, mainly through the Cambodia Climate Change Office.
Working with partners
Climate change is a cross-cutting issue that affects almost all sectors of human activity. A concerted effort by all partners must be made if Cambodia is to effectively tackle climate change and make the most of opportunities. UNDP supports coordination and partnership building among a wide range of stakeholders including development partners, government, civil society, academia and the private sector, to ensure there is a unified response to climate change in the country.
Generating and sharing knowledge
Awareness and knowledge is key to addressing climate change at any level. UNDP promotes awareness and communication on climate change using various tools. The Cambodia Human Development Report (CHDR) is one of them. It is a key policy advocacy document commissioned by UNDP. The latest CHDR, which focuses on climate change in Cambodia, is expected to be published in 2010.
A knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) study on climate change is being undertaken to understand the current level of climate change awareness across the country. The result of the survey will be out by mid 2010.
Cambodia Human Development Report and Climate Change
The concept of human development is about freeing and enlarging people’s choices within a society. Climate change poses major human development challenges across the world today, and the global Human Development Report 2007/2009 called it the gravest threat currently facing humanity.
Proposed CHDR 2010: Currently a new Cambodia Human Development Report (CHDR) is being prepared to clarify the human and economic development threats, as well as opportunities, posed by climate change in Cambodia. It will promote awareness and understanding on climate change as a major development challenge and opportunity for the country today, and help develop relevant national capacity and support coordination. It is aimed for publication in 2010.
Help the poor cope with the impacts (Adaptation)
UNDP provides targeted support to develop the country’s capacity to adapt to climate change impacts – mainly through implementation of climate change adaptation projects.
Click here to see and download our latest "climate change educational posters".
Pursuing a low-carbon development pathway (Mitigation)
UNDP provides support to Cambodia to reduce GHG emissions and move along a low-carbon development pathway, by promoting public private partnerships and the introduction of carbon financing schemes by providing technical and coordination support.
REDD – Reduced Emission through Deforestation and Degradation – is a potential new scheme of carbon financing under the global climate change regime, which recognizes the role of forest as a major carbon sink. UNDP, with FAO, supports the government for the preparation of a REDD Readiness Roadmap in Cambodia.
Office greening UNDP aspires to be a low-carbon entity itself. In 2008, UNDP Cambodia has conducted an energy auditing to determine the main sources of GHG emissions in its offices and operations. The next step is to actually reduce emissions from these sources… watch this space!
Climate change and youth
Climate Change inevitably impacts every individual on the planet, and greater impacts are expected to be felt by future generations. The Earth can no longer sustain the same level of pressure from human activities it might have been able to 50 years ago. A major paradigm shift in thinking and behavior is required to safeguard our planet. The role of youth in achieving this is extremely important - because they will feel its effects more keenly than the current generation, and they will be responsible for leading the world under greater climate change pressures in the years to come. It is all the more important for a country like Cambodia, the majority of whose population is young. It is the current generation of youth and beyond that are increasingly at risk.
Cambodian youth – who are full of energy, innovative ideas and aspiration – have already started to come together on the issue. On International Youth Day (12th August) of 2008 and 2009, a number of youth organizations came together to raise awareness and commit to tackling climate change. Knowledge is the key in addressing climate change in any community and society, and youth can play a major role in promoting learning about climate change, disseminating appropriate information to their peers, families as well as communities. They can set leading examples in taking small steps to safeguard the environment and reduce global warming, and promoting alternative technologies and greener, low-carbon lifestyles. The authorities and international community should provide necessary support to enable active engagement of youth in climate change debates and actions.
Climate change and gender
Women play a key role in sustaining livelihoods in rural Cambodia. The impact of climate change on rural sectors – such as agriculture, water, forestry and fisheries – imply increased hardship for vulnerable rural women. On the other hand, women play an important role in supporting households and communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It is imperative to facilitate women’s equal participation in climate change debates to ensure that their needs, perspectives and expertise are equally taken into account.
News, Stories & Events
- Cambodia Human Development Report 2011: The future for rural livelihoods in the face of climate change
- Cambodia Climate Change Office Publications
- UNDP global Climate Change page
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Climate change and gender
- UNDP Human Development Report Office – for more information about HDRs
- UNDP Cambodia Environment & Energy page