Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Signing Ceremony of the Project Agreement for Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary REDD+ Project

(As Prepared for Delivery)
Phnom Penh
August 11, 2016

Good afternoon Your Excellency Say Samal, Minister of Environment, Your Excellency Dr. Sam Ang Chea, [Secretary of State at the Ministry of Environment], Mr. Ross Sinclair, members of the media, and invited guests.

Thank you all very much for joining us today to witness the signing of this important project agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Wildlife Conservation Society to implement the historic carbon transfer agreement announced last month in New York.

As Ross just described, this project will address deforestation pressures on the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary by strengthening the management of the reserve, securing land titles for communities in the area, ensuring sustainable access to crucial forest resources, and implementing community development projects. Keo Seima, of course, encompasses nearly 300,000 hectares in Mondulkiri Province and is one of Cambodia’s most important remaining forests.

Cambodia’s forests are iconic for their beauty and their bounty. They are the region’s “lungs” and are globally important for biodiversity conservation. Keo Seima alone is home to more than 60 species of animal and plants listed as threatened by extinction. Hundreds of communities in and around Keo Seima have been nourished by its nutrients and sheltered by its canopies.

But it is also under very serious threat. A few months ago, Minister Say Samal and I completed an aerial tour of the forests of Prey Lang, which faces many of the same threats as Keo Seima.

I was impressed by the vast, largely undisturbed forest stretching for many kilometers in every direction. But we also saw clear evidence of illegal logging and encroachment by agriculture around the edges of Prey Lang, with empty, dry land marked by tree stumps and the tire tracks of logging trucks. I also saw signs that logging activity is spreading deeper into the forest.

Those images are still fresh in my mind, and are one of the reasons I’m very proud to be here today. This new partnership reflects two key environmental priorities of the United States: overcoming the challenge of climate change and helping Cambodia protect its forests.

The United States has been working closely with the Government for many years to combat deforestation [in Prey Lang, Keo Seima, the Cardamom Mountains and other areas.]

In Keo Seima, USAID has provided financial and technical support for the past four years to conserve Keo Seima’s biodiversity, improve the livelihoods of local communities, and help to prepare the transfer of carbon credits into the international carbon market. These important activities will continue as part of the REDD+ project.

I would like to congratulate Minister Say Samal for his very strong leadership in the government’s efforts to eliminate illegal logging and protect Cambodia’s forests. He has made protecting these fragile ecosystems one of his Ministry’s top priorities.

Partnerships with organizations like Wildlife Conservation Society are a very important way of leveraging international support and expertise to help meet the Government’s goals. They recognize that not only does Cambodia value its natural resources, but that the international community is also committed to helping.

Getting to this point has taken a team effort and it would not have been possible without the great support by many partners including the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, the European Union, the French Development Agency, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and UN-REDD, among many others. I would like to thank all of them.

It is fair to say that there are very strong economic and social pressures on Cambodia’s forests, and protecting them is not going to be easy. It will require continued strong commitment and leadership by the government.

But we believe the agreement that will be signed today can play an important supporting role in the Government’s efforts, and lay the groundwork for additional REDD+ agreements in the future that will benefit both Cambodia’s forests and the communities that live in and around them.

Congratulations, Mr. Minister, once again on this important achievement.

Thank you very much.