The solution proposes to work with the Cambodian government to help reposition its protected area system as part of the means for realizing, rather than hindering, development objectives, in particular as they relate to poverty alleviation. Conservation International (CI) has completed a preliminary assessment that indicates 68 percent of Cambodia’s critical natural capital is still intact. Approximately 42 precent is covered by its protected area system. Thr country's protected lands provide water flows, and prevent sedimentation at the benefit of hydropower and irrigation, provide NTFPs, and allow for wildlife tourism, among other economic benefits. These benefits still need to be more fully assessed, quantified, and described as part of a country-wide system that integrates conservation and development benefits. Part of this solution also requires stronger protected area management for locations that serve as natural capital stocks which provide service flows. Sustainable financing is also needed, including trust funds and revenues from timber auctions. Finally, the solution requires spatial plans that recognize Cambodia's natural capital stock areas as limiting factors for development growth, as well as transparent decisions about the various costs and benefits of maximizing for one set of services over another.
The Cambodian government already has an impressive system of more than 23 protected areas that are established to appreciate, value, and manage biodiversity and ecosystems. And yet, development pressures are massive. Some 2.5 million hectares of agricultural land concessions, including some inside protected areas, were cleared in a two-year period alone. Cambodia is also planning more than 20 hydropower dams, which could divert some 20 precent of Mekong waters and sediment flows. This will threaten the Tonle Sap Lake, which is a 2 billion dollar a year downstream fishery. The need to manage natural capital access more equitably is another issue. The government banned ELCs and commercial fishing lots in 2012, to grant low income populations greater access to forest and fisheries resources. Yet concerns still remain about sufficient governance and resource access among the rural poor. Short term thinking about fast income from existing resources may reduce other more significant opportunities to utilize Cambodia’s natural capital for economic gain. Longer-term gains may provide more significant benefits a larger sector of the population, particularly the rural poor.
The key elements of the solution include:
- The assessment and valuation of natural capital stocks and flows and links to potential beneficiaries, including key source and flow areas.
- Commitments to improved management, in particular enforcement of laws such as the forestry law.
- Policy cohesion so that disincentives for enforcement are removed.
- Sustainable financing, given that existing investments are insufficient investment currently.
- Spatial planning exercises that examine hydropower and agricultural development plans, and that specifically assess natural capital source areas and provision amounts as limiting factors to ensure that growth is sustainable.
Thus far, only part of the solution has been applied. It includes the initial assessment of natural capital, improved management, sustainable financing, and some work to encourage spatial planning. From these actions, the project has learned that:
- Transparency is very difficult to achieve, and is not part of common practice as related to development plans and data.
- A lack of collaboration among key ministries makes it difficult to pursue land management, including spatial planning.
- Protected area management and enforcement still requires significant input and resources from NGOs, which needs to change.
- There is mixed appreciation for the protected area system. Currently there is an open moment politically to present the solution proposed by new leadership within the environment ministry.
Thus far, CI's managed the primary natural capital source areas. The Central Cardamoms protected forest has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the country. There are rangers in place and enforcement training, as well as community engagement to provide livelihood benefits. This area has also been identified as important for water flow and sediment retention, and is relevant for downstream hydropower planning and forest carbon or REDD investments. The larger data set CI is preparing on natural capital metrics will potentially be used by the Ministry of Environment to set policy targets for managing natural capital stock and flow areas. CI is setting up the first trust fund for the Cambodia, which will allow for sustainable financing to cover any area managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Spatial planning has also begun to include trade-off analysis in hydropower development and downstream fisheries.