Minister of Environment Eang Sophalleth has reiterated Cambodia’s stance on the management of its natural resources, including the launch of a campaign which will distribute one million saplings each year to members of the public to plant.

The initiative aims to cultivate the consciences of the people, especially students, and encourage them to love and care for the Kingdom’s forests.

The remarks came as he held bilateral talks with Juliette Biao, head of the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) on December 9. The talks took place on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) COP-28 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

In a December 10 social media post, Sophalleth explained that the meeting provided an opportunity to hear a briefing on the work of the UNFF, including the expected outcomes of the upcoming UNFF 19 session, which will be held in the US’ New York City.

The two sides also discussed opportunities to foster collaboration, especially in reforestation work, and examined ways to mobilise financing for forest protection. The minister also explained the purpose of the million tree campaign.

He said his ministry is 100 per cent committed to pursuing legal action against anyone found to have committed natural resource crimes.

“We have just introduced the circular strategy on environment 2023-28, with a priority on our plastic reduction campaign. The campaign is receiving widespread support and participation from teachers, students, workers and others, and has reached 3.4 million people,” he added.

An environment ministry post noted that Biao had shared her admiration of the minister for initiating the current campaigns.

“[They] are an intelligent way to inspire the public to join the government in protecting the environment and conserving natural resources for the long-term benefit of all Cambodians,” she was quoted as saying.

She also expressed her will to work with the ministry in managing natural resources through studying and examining the possibility of closer collaboration.

Sophalleth confirmed that the ministry welcomed all development partners, representatives of the private sector or other relevant sides who intend to join in the implementation of the circular strategy on environment.

Environmental activist San Mala of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) said on December 10 that without effective mechanisms to prevent forest crime, planting saplings alone would not be enough to prevent the loss of forest cover, as new trees take a long time to grow and the loss of forest is fast. Therefore, these two things could not be balanced.

“In order to encourage people to love the forest, the environment and all natural resources, the government must stop painting environmentalists or forest defenders as opponents or politicians. The environment is a concern for all mankind, and the government should encourage anyone who plays a brave part in the protection of the environment,” he said.

He suggested that in order to balance natural resource management, the government should launch new development projects in areas where they will not pose a threat to the forest or other natural resources. The government should develop and invest in land which is lying idle, rather than in forest areas. 

“In addition, the government should guarantee citizens’ rights to protect the environment,” he said.