Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Environmental Governance Reform for Sustainable Development Project Launch

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

Your Excellency Say Samal, Minister of Environment,
TakahisaTsugawa, Chargés d’Affaires ad interim, Embassy of Japan,
Setsuko Yamazaki, Country Director, UNDP Cambodia
Development partners
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you very much for opportunity to be with you to launch the Environmental Governance Reform and Sustainable Development project.

I am very pleased to share this milestone with you and to celebrate our partnership with the Ministry of Environment, the National Council for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Government of Japan.  This partnership has come about after years of hard work, dedication and determination by many of you in this room.

I would like to first commend the Royal Government of Cambodia, particularly the Ministry of Environment under the leadership of Minister Say Samal, for its increased commitment to the goal of sustainable development.    This commitment reflects a widespread desire among the Cambodian people to better protect the country’s forests, land, and waterways.

We have learned from the experiences of many countries around the world that a commitment by the government and growing environmental awareness among the people are both key ingredients in the fight to protect natural resources.

In my own country, the creation of Earth Day back in 1970 reflected a powerful and growing environmental movement around America.  Millions of Americans took to the streets on that April Day to advocate for protecting the wilderness and to call for an end to its destruction.  Government action then followed relatively quickly.

By the mid-1970s, America enacted sweeping reform measures such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which vastly expanded federal regulations aimed at protecting the environment.  These laws remain the backbone of our legal regime to protect the environment today.

It may not sound exciting, and it sure wasn’t easy, but we have learned that without comprehensive, detailed environmental legislation, it is impossible to make broad based progress in protecting the environment, especially as the economy grows and becomes more diverse.

This is why we are proud to help the Royal Government as it works to create a new Environment Code, Environmental Impact Assessment guidelines, and sub-decrees on co-management for protected areas.  These are all very important legal documents and tangible outcomes of this project.

I would also like to commend the Cambodian government for engaging its citizens in the process of drafting this set of reforms.  This of course requires additional time and effort.

But ensuring Cambodian citizens have the opportunity to actively participate in writing these laws, will lead to better, fairer, and more realistic legislation that will help the government better manage and protect the country’s forests, fisheries, soil and water.

We also know that if the public participates in environmental assessments of development projects, it leads to more sustainable economic development.   It also can change the relationship between people and their government.

The people who will be most affected by development can weigh the short term benefits as well as the long term consequences to their communities, and have a voice in the review of projects.

In addition to helping the Government develop a new Environmental Code, this project will support the institutional reform in the Ministry of Environment and build the human resources needed to implement a broad based reform agenda.

Both of these are critical steps, and we are very pleased to support them.   Developing a new Environmental Code and supporting it with institutional reforms are important first steps.  But they are only first steps.

It will then be up to the Government, the private sector, and ordinary Cambodians to institutionalize these steps, enforce them, and make Cambodia’s commitment to its natural resources a reality.  Enforcement of the code will be a critical, ongoing challenge.

Cambodia must ensure that these reforms will result in changes to business-as-usual when it comes to the exploitation of natural resources.  If you succeed in this step-by-step process, the end result will be better environmental practices across Cambodia.

Mr. Minister, I know that you are aware that as the Government moves forward with these reforms, there will be opposition. There will be challenges.  There were huge challenges in America too.

But as you meet these challenges, I hope you and your colleagues will think of the value of what you are saving and protecting and remember that it is not just for today’s Cambodians but for many future generations to come.

Once again, thank you for inviting me to join you today.  Cambodians are known for their deep affinity and respect for their land and resources.  This project gives concrete voice to that affinity and respect.  The United States is proud to partner with Cambodia, the UNDP, and Japan in this important work.

Thank you very much.