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Cambodia is a country situated in the southwest of the Indochinese peninsula, with a total land area of 181,035 km² and a rich culture that dates back 2,000 years [1]. Cambodia is bordered by Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, with a coastal region on the Gulf of Thailand. The Mekong River is a prominent geographical feature of the country, flowing from Laos in the north to the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in the south, feeding into the Tonle Sap Lake. The Tonle Sap is a vital natural resource, covering almost 10% of the nation’s surface area during the peak of the Southwest Monsoon season and constituting the nation’s primary protein source. Cambodia’s topography includes the low-lying central plains of the Mekong, which are surrounded by mountainous and highland regions. The country’s climate is characterized by two main seasons: the monsoon, which brings rain from mid-May to October, and the dry season from November to April [2].

Important National Context

Over the past two decades, Cambodia has undergone a significant transition and achieved lower middle-income status, following a rapid market transformation that moved away from the country’s reliance on agriculture [3]. Through its Vision 2050, the country aspires to attain upper middle-income status by 2030, and high-income status by 2050. Between 1998 and 2019, Cambodia’s economy sustained an average real growth rate of 7.7%, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Economic growth was largely driven by garment exports and tourism [4].

Despite economic growth, Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in Asia. Poverty is concentrated in rural areas, where elderly women and households headed by women are particularly vulnerable. Poverty reduction between 2007 and 2012 was largely driven by high agricultural commodity prices. Lower rice and rubber prices and adverse weather conditions in 2013 and 2015 led rural households to diversify to nonfarm wage employment and small businesses [5].

Cambodia’s Human Development Index (2017) reveals notable gender disparities: women show lower gains on expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, and per capita income than men. Since women account for a larger share of the population (there are 94 men to every 100 women) and comprise 48.9% of the labour force, developing this critical human resource is key for productivity growth [5].

Cambodia’s level of urbanization, at 21% in 2018, is lower than what would be expected of a country with similar levels of GDP. Currently urban growth in the country has been uneven, with one large city (Phnom Penh), followed by relatively few secondary cities and many small towns. The urban growth has been largely unplanned, which can result in sprawl and congestion, slums, vulnerability to flooding, pollution and poor service delivery, and hamper longer term growth [6].

There is wide recognition of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) as an engine to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Cambodia has recognized the role of innovation to achieve SDGs in its Rectangular Strategy, Phase IV (RS-IV) as well as its Vision 2050. In 2021, Cambodia launched its Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Roadmap 2030 with five strategies: (i) enhance the governance structure of the STI system; (ii) develop the national STI workforce; (iii) strengthen research capacity and quality; (iv) increase collaboration and linkages between different stakeholders; and (v) foster an enabling ecosystem for innovation [7].

Hazards in Cambodia include almost every possible hydrometeorological event, from floods, storms, and tropical cyclones to droughts. Of these, riverine flooding poses the highest risk in terms of Average Annual Loss to capital stock. Fires, epidemics, lightning strikes, and landslides (in the northern mountainous regions) also contribute to disaster risk in Cambodia [8].

Environmental Governance

In aiming to achieve its Vision 2050, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) is keen to place stronger emphasis on the environmental impacts of rapid social and economic development. Greater attention will be given to better management of natural resources and responding to the impacts of climate change. This is explicitly recognized in Rectangle 4 of the Rectangular Strategy, Phase IV (RS-IV). There are two specific policy initiatives. Firstly, there is a need to improve the management of Cambodia’s abundant forests and watercourses. For this reason, the Environment and Natural Resources Code is being drafted to enable the sustainable development of Cambodia, by protecting the environment and conserving, managing, and restoring natural and cultural resources. Secondly, efforts are needed to mitigate the effects of rising temperatures. The Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014–2023 (CCCSP) has been formulated reflecting political will, and the firm commitment and readiness of the RGC to reduce climate change impacts on national development, and contribute, with the international community, to global efforts for mitigating GHG emissions under the UNFCCC [9].

Cambodia’s National Environment Strategy and Action Plan, 2016–2023 (NESAP) aims to ensure that environmental protection and sustainable natural resource management are pillars of the country’s socio-economic development [10]NESAP provides a road map for achieving many of Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goals with four overarching strategic objectives that cover (i) governance, (ii) resource efficiency, (iii) financing, and (iv) capacity strengthening and awareness raising [11].

The Ministry of Environment (MoE) is the key agency responsible for environmental protection and natural resource conservation in Cambodia [12]. The General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection (GDANCP) is responsible for the management, conservation and development of protected areas [13]

National context alignement with the EU Green Deal

The EU has been a major development partner of Cambodia since the early 1990s, funding initiatives in sectors such as education, agriculture, public financial management and trade-related assistance [14].

The Rectangular Strategy – Phase IV (RS-IV) represents the Royal Government of Cambodia’s development vision for the period 2019-2023 with the themes of Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency. The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2019-2023, which integrates the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals (CSDGs), operationalises the RS-IV agenda and provides indicative costings and a monitoring framework. Both documents, as well as Cambodia’s medium-term strategies and policies to guide the country towards development and growth, will serve as a basis for future cooperation between the EU and the RGC [15].

Several priority areas have been selected for EU-Cambodia cooperation for the period 2021-2027, including green growth and jobs, for which education and skills development are key, as well as an effective governance system. The first priority “Green Growth and Decent Jobs” aims at working in partnership with Cambodia for its post-COVID recovery, with a specific focus on sustainable food systems and selected value chains of the export industry, including agribusiness. Crosscutting priorities, such as digitalisation, climate and environmental sustainability, gender equality and youth engagement will be mainstreamed across the programme [15].

In addition, Team Europe will continue to invest in development of rural Cambodia. The EIB secured a €15 million grant from the European Union for the Sustainable Assets for Agriculture Markets, Business and Trade (SAAMBAT) project in Cambodia. SAAMBAT is designed to improve rural roads, nationwide connectivity and resilience to natural hazards, and tackle seasonal food shortages. The project will improve living conditions for 200,000 rural families, and create 4,500 jobs (with a special emphasis on young people) and 500 new small and medium-sized enterprises throughout Cambodia [16].

Key Environmental-Development Challenges

Climate Change

Cambodia is vulnerable to climate change and is being increasingly exposed to its impacts which are expected to significantly damage the country’s economic development and natural resources. Intensified floods, droughts, saline intrusion and extreme weather events are among the consequences of rising temperatures. Cambodia remains highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its high dependency on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water resources, forestry, fisheries, tourism, etc., which form the critical foundation of its economic growth and support the livelihoods of a significant majority of its population [2].



Cambodia is known for its high value forest areas and contains the largest remaining forest habitat in the region with 80% of the most valuable and endangered indigenous tree species. Forest provides not only timber but a wide range of non-timber forest products including wildlife, food, medicinal and ornamental plants, and a diversity of landscapes of interest to tourism. Forest ecosystems are essential to rural communities’ livelihoods, supports biodiversity, and provides countless services such as air purification, maintaining soil fertility and biota, preventing soil erosion, water absorption and water retention services [10].

However, forest cover, since the 1970s, has declined significantly due to impacts of the war, unstable political situations, unsustainable and illegal logging practices, uncontrolled forest conversion as a result of agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and urbanization [10]. Forest cover in Cambodia declined from 13.1 million hectares in 1973 to 8.7 million hectares in 2016 [9].


[1] UNDP. [Online]. Available:

[2] Climate Risk Profile: Cambodia (2021): The World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank.

[3] OECD (2017). Social Protection System Review of Cambodia, London: Organisation for

Economic Co-operation and Development.

[4] World Bank (2019). Cambodia Overview. [Online]

Available at:

[5] Asian Development Bank (2019). Cambodia, 2019–2023 —Inclusive Pathways to a Competitive Economy.

[6] World Bank Group (2018). Cambodia: Achieving the Potential of Urbanization.

[7] United Nations ESCAP (2021). The Science, Technology and Innovation Ecosystem of Cambodia.

[8] UNDRR (2019). Disaster Risk Reduction in Cambodia: Status Report 2019. Bangkok, Thailand, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

[9] Royal Government of Cambodia (2019). Cambodia’s Voluntary National Review 2019 on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

[10] Royal Government of Cambodia (2017). NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT STRATEGY AND ACTION PLAN 2016-2023.

[11] Asian Development Bank (2018). CAMBODIA’S ROAD MAP FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT The National Environment Strategy and Action Plan.

[12] developmentaid (2021). [Online]. Available:!/donors/view/143582/ministry-of-environment-of-cambodia-moe.

[13] UCRSEA (2017). [Online]. Available:

[14] European Commission. [Online]. Available:

[15] European Commission (2021). Multiannual Indicative Programme 2021-2027 for Cambodia – annex.

[16] European Investment Bank (2021). [Online]. Available: