Prime Minister Hun Sen describes climate change as the single worst threat humanity faces today, predicting that – contrary to popular belief – the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict will end eventually through compromises.

Hun Sen made the remarks while addressing a March 30 graduation ceremony for over 6,000 students from the National Institute of Business (NIB) in Phnom Penh.

“The Russia-Ukraine war is not the worst threat we are facing. It will surely end through negotiations at a certain point, if neither side has the strength to claim a military victory. The most prolonged danger we are facing remains climate change,” he said.

As a case in point, he cited a recent visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who proposed a peace plan to end the war.

“Based on this, we can see that the Russia-Ukraine war will end eventually. But the one thing we cannot foresee is an end to the ongoing effects of climate change. Each day, the far-reaching consequences of climate change become more apparent,” said Hun Sen.

He cited a storm that damaged houses and claimed at least one life in Siem Reap province on March 29 as an example of these consequences.

Climate change was also adjudged responsible for unprecedented flooding in the Kingdom in February, ordinarily the dry season, he said, adding that the impact of climate change is also being felt in neighbouring Thailand, across India, and in many states of the US. All of them have suffered unseasonal storms and a great loss of lives.

Ministry of environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra agreed that climate change is a global challenge that causes many issues including flooding and droughts, which in turn affect the livelihoods of millions.

“Achieving carbon neutrality may be the best way of addressing climate change,” he said.

“Cambodia is a small nation, but we are very active in our contributions to the fight against climate change. We are recognised globally for our commitment to implement policies and action plans that will prevent and reduce the effect of climate change,” he added.

Pheaktra explained that the Kingdom has laid out a long-term development plan to achieve net-zero carbon neutrality by 2050.

“This will allow us to fulfil our commitment to the Paris Agreement to ensure that global warming remains under 1.5 degrees Celsius,” he said.

He said Cambodia has set out many action plans, including reducing the use of fertilisers and bringing an end to deforestation.

“In the meantime, the Cambodian government has invested a lot on climate change adaptation to reduce its impact on GDP [gross domestic product],” Pheaktra added.

On the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Hun Sen said Cambodia supports Xi’s plan to end the war, as it centres on resolving the crisis through negotiation and not battle.

“I don’t believe at all that Russia is capable of destroying Ukraine completely or that Ukraine can defeat Russia, it is not possible. Even if the war was to escalate to the level of NATO, the [intergovernmental military alliance] cannot conquer Russia, and Russia cannot vanquish NATO. This is clear,” he said.

“With this in mind, the possibility to end the war has already begun through the facilitation of the UN secretary-general, as well as through Turkiye’s attempts to ship cereal from Ukraine for supply to other countries,” he added.

Hun Sen said that Xi’s proposed plan covered a wide area of peaceful solutions to the war, rather than just evacuation corridors and humanitarian assistance.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published Xi’s proposed 12-point peace plan for ending the Ukraine war on February 24. They include respecting national sovereignty, abandoning a cold war mentality, ceasing hostilities, resuming peace talks, resolving the humanitarian crisis, and offering protection to civilians and prisoners of war.

The five other points are keeping nuclear power plants safe, reducing strategic risks, facilitating grain exports, stopping unilateral sanctions, maintaining the stability of industrial and supply chains, and promoting post-conflict reconstruction.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, echoed Hun Sen’s sentiment, saying that only peace negations could bring about an end to the war in Ukraine.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no signs of a shortage of munitions, so it is unlikely that he will concede defeat. A cessation of hostilities seems unlikely, so there can be no peace without negotiation,” he said.