The Cambodian economy faces major problems for its predominantly rural population in the event of more erratic climate shifts, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Cambodian Human Development Report.
“This is an agrarian economy that depends very much on weather. And we are among the poorest countries in the world,” said Dr Tin Ponlok, deputy director general of the Ministry of Environment’s Climate Change Department, in a press conference, as quoted by the Phnom Penh Post.
About 80 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people live in rural areas, and rely mainly on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. According to some studies, rice production – a key agricultural product – could decline significantly if the temperature rose by just one degree Celsius.
"Seasonal practices are now changing and the growing cycle for rice is changing more and more," said Richard Friend, co-author of the report.
"Many farmers lose their seedlings when the rains are delayed," he said. "The rains appear to be coming later than usual in line with climate change projections for Cambodia and the region."
Dr Ponlok added that the country’s economic structure had made it particularly susceptible to climate change.
“We have very limited adaptive capacity… so climate change poses additional threats to efforts to develop the country,” he said.
The poorest Cambodians are expected to experience the worst effects of climate change. As a result, the report suggests that it is important for the country to it alleviate poverty by “ensuring universal access to health care, improving disease monitoring and surveillance, and establishing social safety nets”.
“By strengthening these critical areas of vulnerability and poverty, the likely impacts of climate change can be reduced,” the report says.
“At the same time, the human capital of the country can be strengthened and directed to the kinds of actions needed to make positive, longer-term development changes.”
According to Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon, addressing the effects of climate change is now one of the government’s highest priorities. However he warned that future action had to be thoroughly incorporated into strategic policies across all sectors at the national and sub-national levels in order to build future resilience.
"This needs to be done particularly in the sectors that are the backbone of the national economy such as agriculture, water resources, fisheries, forestry, energy and physical infrastructure," he said.
Dr Ponlok supported his views and stressed the importance of developing any future national development strategies with climate change in mind.
“We are at the early stages of our development, so it’s quite important to design the most appropriate development pathway. We call it the green growth economy, that takes climate change into account,” he said. “It’s not very easy, because no such model is in place.”
Related: Cambodia Economy