Cambodia’s public officials are wising up to increase domestic climate finance flows as part of a national campaign to combat the effects of global warming that are currently plaguing the country’s economy.
By Sara Tchaparian // 14 November 2016 // Climate Finance
Almost a year ago, the Eiffel Tower lit up with the phrase “No Plan B”, as delegates from 195 countries gathered to sign the landmark Paris Agreement, affirming their belief that climate change is the greatest threat to humankind in the 21st century. The agreement sets out a global plan of action to reduce green house gas emissions and limit the increase in the global average temperature. But as the treaty enters into force a year later, it is clear that global goodwill will not be enough to curb the risks that currently loom over the world’s poorest nations.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts that extreme weather conditions will further increase as temperatures continue to rise, concluding that least developed countries will remain highly exposed to the effects of climate change during the course of the 21st century. Nations in Southeast Asia are highlighted as some of the most vulnerable and least prepared to deal with climate change. High rates of poverty, limited financial resources, and a lack of technical know-how mean that these countries are not in a position to adapt to changes in weather patterns, or to provide measures that might reduce the severity of the effects.
High on the list of the top ten most vulnerable nations in the world is Cambodia, where climate change is becoming a year-round reality for its 15.8 million population. This year saw prolonged drought for the third year running, followed by episodes of severe flooding. The economic and social consequences were colossal — lives were lost, homes were destroyed, crops were devastated and a total of 19 provinces required government intervention.
But a new initiative designed to train government officials to be better equipped to deal with the pressures of climate change is proving that this vulnerability can be reduced through home-grown solutions. A series of workshops developed by UNITAR, the training and research wing of the United Nations, are providing Cambodia’s ministers with an understanding of the realities of climate change, and encouraging them to plan and create budgets that can help to cushion some of the most devastating effects of global warming that are being felt on the ground.
By placing the spotlight on government officials, the training programme is encouraging ministries to anticipate the effects of climate change, and is giving birth to climate-linked planning and climate-smart initiatives for Cambodia. And priorities within the ministries are already beginning to shift.
“Prior to the training,” explains a local finance expert and course trainer, “climate change only meant changing weather patterns to most of our policy-makers. But the course has really bought this to life by making them do cost-benefit analyses, giving them numbers, and pushing them to negotiate real-life budget proposals with each other. Now they realise how they can work together on this issue, and they understand its importance.”
The programme, which has received funding from Sweden’s development Agency, SIDA, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union, is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and was specifically designed by UNITAR to fit the Cambodian context. Using a wide range of adult learning techniques, including an e-learning package in Khmer, the aim is to engage the interest of government officials in the subject and guide them in their work.
“While training is an area that some might consider esoteric and classroom bound, tailored training programmes such as the UNITAR course in Cambodia are putting developing country governments in the driving seat for sustainable change.”
Manager of UNITAR’s Green Development and Climate Change programme, Angus Mackay, says the training has been a welcome initiative so far. “It seeks to deliver real change in attitude and behaviours that will lead to adjustments to national budget submissions. Given the national awareness of climate change and drought in particular, the political will to use this new knowledge is there.”
The sustainability of the programme is ensured through a training-of-trainers course with the Economics and Finance Institute (EFI), which is a national training institution situated within the Cambodian Ministry of Economy and Finance. In this way, the initiative is country-led, and can accompany public officials through several budgetary cycles in the foreseeable future.
Trainer and Coordination Officer of the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance (CCCA), Soeun Ung, underlined the importance of the training. “This is a really important initiative for Cambodia”, he says. “Prior to the training, public finance processes did not specifically include allocations for climate change. Now, the Ministry of Economy and Finance is open to climate-related proposals that plan ahead, to integrate them into the 2017 budget cycle, and the CCCA will provide ongoing support and orientation to the line ministry as part of the training follow-up.”
The programme couldn’t have come at a better time. In 2013, Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that all Ministries develop specific climate change budgets. Soon after, the government released the Cambodia Climate Change Financing Framework to guide officials in the mobilisation and management of climate finance.
But aligning climate finance with national budgets is not just about filling up the piggy bank and saving for a rainy day. It is a task that requires knowledge and skill, as Dr. Tin Ponlok of the Cambodian National Council for Sustainable Development confirms. “Although we have several years of experience in mainstreaming climate change in several commune budgets, we are still facing capacity challenges,” he explains. “It is still a new topic for local officials, and there aren’t enough qualified staff on the ground to support local governments with solid vulnerability analyses and technical design of their projects.”
The UNDP are currently working with Cambodia’s National Council for Sustainable Development to improve the way that national systems manage climate finance. Climate change finance specialist, Joanne Manda from UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre underlines the importance of deploying climate finance effectively. “Countries need to integrate systems, programmes and funding sources — whether these are domestic, international or private sources — in order to effectively implement their climate change strategies.”
“Domestic resources can mobilise a more immediate, nationally-driven response to climate change, and when aligned with external funding sources, can gain a much greater impact.”
For now, Cambodia is largely focused on obtaining external climate change funding from mechanisms set up by rich countries, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). But obtaining these funds implies tough eligibility criteria and lengthy application processes, and often requires that internal financing systems be updated. Domestic resources can mobilise a more immediate, nationally-driven response to climate change, and when aligned with external funding sources, can gain a much greater impact.
Enter Carlo Figà Talamanca, CEO of the Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise, a charcoal briquettes business based in Phnom Penh. A spirited entrepreneur of Italian origin, Carlo is at the training session to show ministers how they themselves can help leverage climate-safe initiatives without having to dig too deep into the national treasury.
Standing alongside his company delivery van, a hand-painted Ghost Rider-style tuk-tuk, Carlo tells the group how he obtained a 3-year renewable plan for VAT relief from the Ministry of Economy and Finance on the sales of his product. The plan falls under a framework set up by the government in 2015 which allows companies in the sustainable biomass sector to apply for VAT exemption, as part of a wider target to scale up the sustainable power generation in Cambodia.
The deal is clearly a win-win situation. In a country suffering from widespread deforestation, where 80% of the population still use charcoal and wood for cooking, Carlo’s no-smoke-no sparks biomass charcoal briquettes (made of recycled coconut shells and corn cob residues) pose as a valuable alternative. While sales of the briquettes immediately become more competitive on the local fuel market, the country’s CO2 footprint is further reduced, and waste management is improved.
Climate-smart initiatives such as this are an important step in encouraging the private sector to be a key part of the solution, helping the country to shift traditional methods of farming, for example, or altering energy use at the local level. But as Carlo highlights, this is still work in progress in Cambodia. “The government here is very collaborative and very willing, but one of the main problems is that specific policies like this are not commonplace because the ministries do not have the knowledge or the technical capacity to develop them in the first place.”
“For the first time, the climate-proofing of investments is being discussed in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, resulting in a higher allocation for climate-related activities.”
Julien Chevillard, Climate Change Alliance Trust Fund Administrator for the UNDP in Cambodia is hopeful that things are moving in the right direction. “Although the training programme is still young, we have already seen some changes this year,” he explained. “For the first time, the climate-proofing of investments is being discussed in budget negotiations between the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, resulting in a higher allocation for climate-related activities.”
Adaptation to climate change is indeed a complex and costly affair, a global cost that United Nations Environment (formally known as UNEP) estimates could rise to between $280 and $500 billion per year by 2050. Cambodia’s recent graduation to a lower-middle income classification by the World Bank would indicate a potential decrease in years to come of the amount of incoming international development aid. And this, against a backdrop of increasing mean annual temperatures that are forecasted to provoke further extreme weather and climate disaster events.
There is a critical need in Cambodia, as in other developing countries suffering the impacts of climate change, for coordinated and well-managed climate-smart investments. While training is an area that some might consider esoteric and classroom bound, tailored training programmes such as the UNITAR course in Cambodia are putting developing country governments in the driving seat for sustainable change, while at the same time providing a promising component in the effort to close the climate adaptation finance gap.
Independent Reviewer of UNDP’s regional programme in Asia and the Pacific to strengthen the governance of climate change finance, Jonathan Hampshire, notes the impact of the training programme so far: “The impressive part of this initiative is that with a very small budget, UNITAR has managed to generate a lot of discussion about climate change issues. Senior government officials clearly respect the advice that they are being given and the way that they are being given it, which builds on their own national change mitigation and adaptation plans.”
At the screening of his latest documentary, Before the Flood, actor come eco-warrior Leonardo diCaprio stated that, “Politicians who don’t believe in climate change should not hold public office.” Cambodia, in this respect, would appear to be steering towards safer ground. Secretary-General, Tin Ponlok, of the Cambodian National Council for Sustainable Development confirmed the government’s enthusiasm, “Many public officials are requesting follow-up support,” he explains, “but this is just the beginning… The training will need to be expanded and follow-up support provided until these practices become part of day-to-day business for the ministries concerned.”
UNITAR provide the Secretariat for UN CC:Learn which is a One UN initiative on climate change learning.