The government has laid out policies and legal measures as solutions to increase the effectiveness of the protection and conservation of the Kingdom’s remaining natural resources, according to Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

Pheaktra made the remark after 27 youth groups and civil society organisations (CSOs) issued a joint statement claiming that deforestation and forest clearing persisted.

The June 2 statement expressed “grave concerns” over what they perceived as a lack of full implementation of environmental protection policies and failure to address their requests.

“We observe that although the government has made efforts to increase the number of natural protected areas, it has not responded to the increase in deforestation and clearing of hectares of forest land in the Prey Lang, Boeung Per and Prey Preah Roka wildlife sanctuaries and other areas every day,” they said.

The statement added that the activities have caused the forest cover of Cambodia in the last two decades to continue their decline – to just 14.29 per cent by 2018. At the same time, the trend of illegal encroachment on land continued to pose a serious threat to forests, natural protected areas, the Tonle Sap Lake and community forests.

They suggested that the environment ministry as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries heed their roles and duties under the Protected Areas Law, the Law on National forest programme and the policies in place for the effective conservation and protection of natural resources. The environment ministry, they said, should inspect the quality of the work of environmental rangers.

They also recommended that the improper disposal of plastic and rubbish be fined and measures taken to reduce the use of plastics. Littering into canals, rivers and lakes should be enforced with fines, and industrial waste management policies should be implemented in public.

Heng Kimhong, a research and advocacy programme manager at the Cambodian Youth Network, said the youth groups and CSOs had high expectations that the government would act on their recommendations as these problems are ones that need to be addressed together.

“Addressing all of these issues is a reflection of the responsibility of public functions and the attention of authorities. If no attention is paid, next year when Cambodia has a parliamentary election, it may be time for the people to consider the government’s spirit of responsibility for promises and solve these problems,” he said.

Pheaktra said the group had every right to express their concerns.

He noted that some of the measures taken by the government to protect natural resources – in addition to law enforcement – include reducing people’s complete reliance on natural resources by implementing the “Keep trees standing to earn money” principle through the sale of carbon credits and eco-tourism.

He said these have helped generate incomes for the communities and thereby boosting the local economy.

“Cambodia also encourages the use of renewable energy and is pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050. This is a practical task and the government has been carrying out the management and conservation of natural resources and the environment of Cambodia with a clear vision, not just say nice things,” he told The Post on June 2.