According to an assessment in 2018, forest land covers an area of about 8.5 million hectares in Cambodia, equal to 46.86% of the country’s total land area. Forest cover in 1965 was recorded at 73.04% of total land area, therefore, between 1965 and 2018, Cambodia lost 26.18% of its forest area . Forest cover continues to decline as a result of deforestation and forest degradation.
In Cambodia, loss of forest cover and associated land use change are the main factors for the country becoming a net emitter of GHGs . In addition, Cambodia’s forests are threatened by climate change. According to Cambodia’s Second National Communication on Climate Change to UNFCCC, under certain emission scenarios, up to years 2050-2080, most lowland forests (more than 4 million hectares) will be exposed to a longer dry period, particularly forest areas located in the northeast and southwest. Hence, forest productivity will decline if the soil water condition becomes drier; and if these forests are logged, it would take longer for them to grow to their original conditions .
Since the 1970s, forest cover has been reported to decline significantly due to impacts of the war, unstable political situations, unsustainable and illegal logging practices, and uncontrolled forest conversion as a result of agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and urbanization. Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) and Social Land Concessions (SLCs) inside forested areas have also majorly contributed to deforestation since the creation of the 2001 Land Law. In addition, the main energy source for cooking in Cambodia is wood – firewood and charcoal (74.8% for the whole country, and over 88.9% in rural areas). It is forecasted that wood-derived fuels will remain the main source of cooking energy in rural areas until 2030 .
In 2018, the Environmental Investigation Agency found evidence of rampant illegal logging in Cambodia .
Key policies and governance approach
The Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), is responsible for coordinating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating forest-related projects and programmes, promoting sound management practices, and undertaking research to promote technical excellence in forestry practice .
The legal framework for forest management stems from the 1993 Royal Decree on Creation and Determination of Nature Reserves, followed by the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Management Law 1996, and the Forestry Law in 2002. Other relevant laws include the Land Law 2001, Protected Areas Law 2008, and Sub-decree No.83 on Registration of Land of Indigenous Communities 2009 . Forest management is also subject to multiple national plans and strategies, of which the most important are the National Forest Programme , the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and the National Protected Areas Strategic Management Plan.
The National Forest Programme 2010-2029 includes the following strategic objectives: (i) Maximise sustainable forest contribution to poverty alleviation, enhanced livelihoods and equitable economic growth; (ii) Adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects on forest based livelihoods; (iii) Macro land-use planning that allows for holistic planning across sectors, jurisdictions and local government borders; (iv) Forest governance, law and enforcement at all levels; (v) Develop a conflict management system; (vi) Raise awareness, capacity of institutions and quality of education to enable sustainable implementation of the National Forest Programme; (vii) Ensure environmental protection and conservation of forest resources; (viii) Apply modern sustainable management models adaptive to changing context; and (ix) Develop sustainable financing systems .
Furthermore, Cambodia has a National REDD+ Strategy 2018-2028 which aims at contributing to national and global climate change mitigation by improving the management of Cambodia’s natural resources and forest lands. Its strategic objectives are to: (i) Improve management and monitoring of forest resources and forest land use; (ii) Strengthen implementation of sustainable forest management; and (iii) Mainstream approaches to reduce deforestation, build capacity, and engage stakeholders . Cambodia has been implementing REDD+ programs in some provinces to increase emission reductions, increase carbon stock, and sustainably manage forests and increase forest carbon inventory as well as develop new approaches for development and conservation, including ecotourism and financing mechanisms .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
By the end of 2013, 2.6 million hectares of land, 14% of the country, had been allocated to Economic Land Concessions for agro-industrial plantations (rubber, sugar, and pulp and paper) and other types of land concessions . However, the full significance and impact of Economic Land Concessions on deforestation have not yet been adequately acknowledged and/or addressed by the Government and development partners. This is due to poor information sharing, conflicting development policy priorities, and ineffective forest inventory and law enforcement. To ensure balanced national and sub-national land-use planning, the relevant legal, policy, and institutional frameworks need to be improved and revised, particularly if the National Forest Programme and any proposed FLEGT and REDD+ programmes are to be effective.
Initiatives and Development Plans
Valuation of Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park (VSSPNP) in Cambodia, aimed to measure the monetary and non-monetary values of ecosystem services (ESS) of Cambodia’s forests. The total annual contribution of the national park was estimated at US $129.84 million. Its primary contribution was air purification (US $56.21 million a year) followed by water storage (US $ 32.31 million a year), soil-erosion reduction (US $22.21 million a year), soil-fertility improvement (US $9.47million a year), carbon sequestration (US $7.87 million a year), provisioning services (US $1.76 million a year) and recreation (US $0.02 million a year). Traditionally the forest is used for timber and non-timber forest products, which in fact, composed only 1.36% of the total benefits. Despite being part of one of the most important eco-regions in the world, VSSPNP is undervalued and facing multiple threats such as illegal logging, poaching, population pressure and corruption. The current estimation of ESS could thus assist in the sustainable management of VSSPNP . Incorporating this kind of economic analysis into Government capital accounting remains a challenge.
Goals and Ambitions
By 2026, Cambodia aims to reduce annual deforestation by 50% compared to the rate during the Forest Reference Level (FRL) period of 2006-2014 through implementing the Cambodia REDD+ strategy.
- Revision of relevant legal, policy, and institutional frameworks.
- Improve management and monitoring of forest resources and forest land use.
- Strengthen protected areas and implementation of sustainable forest management.
- Build capacity of relevant stakeholders.
 MONGABAY (2020). [Online]. Available: https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/in-cambodia-a-sweeping-new-environment-code-languishes-in-legal-limbo/.
 Kibria, A.S., Behie, A., Costanza, R., Groves, C. and Farrell, T. (2017). The value of ecosystem services obtained from the protected forest of Cambodia: The case of Veun Sai-Siem Pang National Park. Ecosystem services, 26, pp.27-36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.05.008.