Following the success of the first edition in March 2020 in Phnom Penh, the 2nd Training Workshop on Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) was conducted on August 26th and 27th in Battambang after being postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This training program is jointly hosted by Open Development Cambodia (ODC) in collaboration with the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) and the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP Cambodia) with the technical support of the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) under the “Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS)” program financially supported by the Netherlands Committee for IUCN.
The workshop gathered a total of 34 participants – including both returning and new participants – consisting of representatives from Provincial Departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, tourism, environment, land management, urban planning and construction and project officers and management teams from NGOs members of the SRJS, including the NGO Forum on Cambodia and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Attendees represented Phnom Penh (8) and four other provinces in the north-east of Cambodia, namely Kratie (9), Ratanakiri (3), Steung Treng (7) and Preah Vihear (6).
The training contents covered the following points:
- The steps needed to conduct SEA
- The potential of integrating SEA in the National Plan development and its implications for good governance
- The applicability of SEA in land use planning
- The links between SEA, development cooperation and climate change
The program design incorporated a combination of theoretical and practical approaches, with presentations, open discussions and hands-on group work. Training facilitators were SEA Alumni on the one hand – Ms. Leakhana Kol, Mr. Socheat Penh and Mr. Try Thy – members of NCSD, Mr. Sokhai Nop and Mr. Leang Sovichea and members of the Technical Secretary of the International Cooperation Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) on the other – Ms. Leyla Özay and Mr. Arend Kolhoff.
Mr. Try Thy, executive director of ODC and SEA Alumni, started the opening session by welcoming participants and thanking the support and collaboration received from the NCSD. Mr. Bunthoeurn Sim, country program manager of NTEP-EP Cambodia, highlighted the importance and objectives of the workshop. The opening remark was delivered by H.E. Sereyrotha Ken, deputy secretary-general of NCSD. He emphasized the role of SEA for the Planning Policy Program (PPP) and how this tool is used to develop all plans before making a final decision. SEA is used by the government to gather inputs from grassroots organizations and stakeholders for better policy-making, legislation and law enforcement. H.E. stressed on the need to increase the use of SEA in the Cambodian context and encourage people to participate in its process to ensure the quality of reports and sustainable development in each sector.
Seeking to ensure that all participants were familiar with the training topic and the outcomes of the previous edition of the workshop, Ms. Leakhana Kol provided a review of the topics covered during the first SEA training. Afterwards, there were four presentations through which participants were able to raise their questions and share their comments. In the first presentation, Mr. Socheat Penh reviewed the concept of SEA, stressing its importance, key objectives and linking it to real case studies to show its practical implications. Secondly, Ms. Leyla Özay explained a real case to introduce the steps of a SEA process. The third and fourth presentations, by Mr. Arend Kolhoff, consisted of real life examples of the SEA socio-economic development masterplan, An Giang Province in Vietnam and the Land Use Planning in Tana River Delta in Kenya, respectively.
The second day started with a group activity for which participants were assigned to four groups based on their province. The purpose of the activity was shared knowledge and enhanced discussions among participants as they had to decide on a plan/project at provincial level that would benefit from introducing SEA. Mr. Sokhai Nop (NCSD) then presented on the institutional arrangement and conditions for SEA and its integration in the development of the national plan, after which, together with Mr. Sovichea Leang (NCSD), explained the roles of NCSD and the opportunities of SEA for good governance.
The following presentation by Mr. Socheat Penh, focused on the Energy Power Development Plan and the link between SEA and development cooperation. Another case study was shown by Mr. Arend Kolhoff, in this occasion on the Embedded SEA Ayeyarwaddy Delta Strategy (Myanmar). In the last presentation, Ms. Leakhana Kol addressed the use of SEA to mitigate climate change.
After the presentations, participants engaged in a discussion session in which they were able to combine the insights learned throughout the workshop with their personal experience and expertise. Delays in land registrations, environmental and biodiversity degradation were among the main challenges identified in all regions. Another issue raised was the lack of coordination between relevant inter-ministries to address such problems. For that, a regional SEA secretariat was proposed, in order to coordinate technical working groups and improve the links between relevant actors.
Participants acknowledged the importance of this kind of trainings in order to expand the use of SEA in Cambodia. The organizers were pleased with the active engagement of participants and with their improved level of knowledge about SEA, assessed through pre and post-tests.
Participants suggested to the organizer team two ways to expand the training – geographically and thematically – with the objective to increase outreach of SEA and encourage the training program throughout Cambodia. After being hosted in two of the biggest cities in the country (Phnom Penh and Battambang), future editions of the training workshop should be organized in other regions in order to facilitate the attendance of participants from other provinces. In parallel, participants proposed to prioritize and pilot SEA in sectors that they considered particularly suitable and timing, namely in natural resources management (protected area, forestry, fisheries), water resources, mining and energy.
Finally, in order to address some of the challenges raised by participants, a specific training for government officials to improve their skills is needed for an effective and generalized use of SEA. Enhancing its application in more regions and sectors will generate new opportunities for relevant stakeholders – including government officials, CSOs, researchers and students – to build their capacity and share knowledge across-sectors.