Cambodia’s biodiversity is one of the richest within Southeast Asia, and is deeply connected to the livelihood and human well-being of Cambodians, providing fundamental goods and services, particularly to the most vulnerable part of the population. Cambodia can be divided into four ecological regions: the Annamite Range moist forests, the Cardamom Mountains moist forests, the Central Indochina dry forests and the Mekong freshwater ecoregion [1].  

The Annamite Range moist forests is home to 134 species of both endemic and near-endemic mammals, 525 bird species and several species of reptiles. Despite its rich biodiversity, more than 50% of these dense forests have been cleared for timber and firewood.

The Cardamom Mountains moist forests are considered as one of the most species-rich ecoregions of Cambodia, and home to over 100 mammals with elephants being the most important mammals in the area, 450 species of birds and several reptiles. The ecoregion is generally protected and intact, but cases of illegal logging are reported.

The Central Indochina dry forests in the arid plains of Cambodia consists of sparse woodland communities dominated by deciduous trees. It has 167 species of mammals with the majority being threatened megaherbivores and over 500 species of birds. The ecoregion is threatened essentially by land clearing for settlement.

The Mekong freshwater ecoregion is characterized by a high diversity of habitats including deciduous forests, grasslands, wetlands, and riparian environments. It hosts an exceptionally high species diversity with at least 212 mammal species, 240 reptile species, 536 bird species, 850 freshwater fish species, 435 marine fish species and more than 2,000 plant species, many of which have not yet been taxonomized. Hydroelectric dams constructed along the river, sand mining and over-fishing impact the ecoregion negatively.

Cambodia has the largest contiguous block of natural forest remaining on the Asian continent’s mainland, which is an important constituent of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. In addition, five of nine high priority biodiversity conservation corridors in the Greater Mekong Sub-region are in Cambodia.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries classifies wildlife species into three categories: near extinct, rare and common. The near extinct includes 10 mammal species and six bird species. The rare category includes 27 mammal species, 45 bird species, 5 reptile species, and many endangered plant species. 23 species of wildlife in Cambodia are classified in the IUCN Red List as globally endangered species [1].


Cambodia's terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems face many direct threats and indirect pressures [1]. Drivers of biodiversity loss include rapid land use change resulting in forest conversion for road construction, dam installation and for producing agricultural commodities; natural resource overexploitation including overfishing, overharvesting, and unsustainable exploitation of forest products; soil, water and air pollution from urbanization, industry and other economic activities; invasive alien species; and climate change, among others [1], [2].


Key policies and governance approach

Biodiversity protection is highlighted in the Rectangular Strategy Phase III, and the National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018. Both documents address biodiversity in the context of balancing development and conservation [2].

The national policy framework for conservation of biodiversity is expressed through laws and regulations to protect the environment and converse biodiversity, including the Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management (1996), The Land Law (2001), The Law on Fisheries, Forest Law (2002), Law on Mineral Exploitation and Mining Resources (2001), Law on Water Resource Management, Law on Biosafety (2008) and Law on Protected Areas (2008) [1], [3]. Cambodia is also finalizing “the Environment and Natural Resources Code of Cambodia”, which is the legal framework for the management of the environment and natural resources [1].

In 2016, Cambodia updated its 2002 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). Cambodia’s vision for biodiversity is that, through this updated NBSAP and in support of the National Strategic Development Plan, by 2050, “Cambodia’s biodiversity and its ecosystem services are valued, conserved, restored where necessary, wisely used and managed so as to ensure equitable economic prosperity and improved quality of life for all in the country”. Cambodia adopted the following four overall strategic objectives: (A) Identify, inventory, monitor and enhance awareness about genetic resources, species, habitats or ecosystems and related ecosystem services that are important for sustainable development and poverty eradication in Cambodia, as a priority for conservation and sustainable use; (B) Identify and describe the direct and indirect factors and processes that are negatively impacting Cambodia's priority biodiversity components; and apply, as appropriate, preventive and corrective measures; (C) Maintain or strengthen measures that have a positive impact on biodiversity and thus enhance the benefits to all in Cambodia from biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, for an equitable economic prosperity and improved quality of life; and (D) Strengthen the enabling environment for the implementation of the strategy [4].

Related strategies and plans in Cambodia include, the National Forest Programme (NFP) (2010-2029), the National Action Plan for Zero Hunger Challenge (2016-2025) and the National Protected Area Strategic Management Plan (NPASMP) (2017-2031). The NPASMP indicates that there are 49 protected areas and several biodiversity corridors in Cambodia that collectively cover 7.4 million hectares or 41% of the country [5].



Cambodia’s 6th National Report to the CBD in 2018 reported positive outcomes in the implementation of its updated NBSAP, only two years after its adoption. Among the most significant achievements was Cambodia’s PA system and its extended network of biodiversity conservation corridors, reaching 41% of its territory, far above the 17% of the global biodiversity target. The Sixth National Report also confirmed Cambodia is on track to achieving many other targets, including, for instance, having in place the necessary legislations, policies and guidelines for the conservation of specific ecosystems like coral reefs or forests; for the sustainable production and consumption, which is key for sustainable development in such sectors as agriculture, energy, textile or waste treatment [1].

Although Cambodia has taken several measures to reduce biodiversity loss, challenges remain. Limited financial resources and capacities in general (including management capacity at institutional level and technical capacity at operational level), combined with poor awareness of the value and vulnerability of ecosystems, limited knowledge and data, and lack of positive incentives, have not allowed for an effective control of the drivers of biodiversity loss. This, of course, has detrimental consequences for the country’s sustainable development [1].

For protected areas, remaining challenges identified in the NPASMP include: (i) lack of boundary demarcation (land registration), management and zoning plans to clearly identify and protect core and conservation zones inside protected areas; (ii) difficulties of ensuring the sustained reduction or eradication of illegal activities; (iii) limited contributions of existing protected areas to local rural livelihoods; (iv) complexities of resolving land use conflicts in and around protected areas; (v) limited collaboration between Ministries; (vi) insufficient technical training of rangers and protected area staff; and (vii) inadequate government funding to maintain effective management of protected areas [5].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) launched the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) Project in Cambodia in June 2019 with technical support from UNDP. The global financial gap for biodiversity conservation ranges from USD $100 to 400 billion annually. BIOFIN was initiated in response to the urgent global need to attract additional funding from possible sources, as a means of achieving global and national biodiversity objectives. If the forested ecosystems in Cambodia continue to diminish, Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could experience a 6.6% reduction by 2050 due to climate change, according to the NCSD. Cambodia is now exploring biodiversity financial solutions for sustainable development and to support the country in effectively achieving its national biodiversity and development objectives by 2050. Innovative financing mechanisms that are being tested in Cambodia include REDD+, Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES), and Conservation Trust Fund [6].


Goals and Ambitions

Leaders of the G7 nations have backed a coalition of about 60 countries that have already promised to conserve at least 30% of their land and oceans by 2030. Cambodia was the first Southeast Asian nation to have signed up to the goal [7].


The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and external partners should focus on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem protection through [8]:

  • Mobilizing financial and technical resources from government and development partners.
  • Developing protected area management plans and enforcing the laws.
  • Strengthening community participation in managing and conserving biodiversity and protected areas in a sustainable way.
  • While REDD+, Payments for Ecosystem Service and BIOFIN need to be implemented effectively, the RGC should also consider the additional opportunities for carbon trading under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.