Overview of policy and legal framework

Environmental law is an emerging area of law and there are not yet many experts in environmental law education and practice. From 2014 to the present day, the Ministry of Environment of Cambodia has taken a lead in preparing the first-ever Environmental and Natural Resources Code aiming at building an overall environmental law framework for the country. The draft Code has not yet been approved by parliament.

Documents related to the management of forest resources in Cambodia of the Royal Government. Photo taken by Open Development Cambodia, 29 September 2020. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since 2018, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)’s guiding strategy has been the Rectangular Strategy Phase IIII. Under this document, environmental protection and conservation are given high priority.1 This approach aims to step up the effectiveness of the protection and conservation of the environment, natural resources, ecosystem, biodiversity, forest and wildlife sanctuaries as well as adaptation to climate change.

Environment and natural resources management has been improved through implementation or strengthening of:

  • Mineral resources management
  • Forestry and fisheries sector reform including fisheries conservation
  • Land reform
  • Management of water resources including the eco systems of the Tonle Sap lake and Mekong river.

There are still challenges that require more effort and initiative to ensure sustainable development. Climate change has also been causing adverse effects on the ecosystem as well as impacting the socio-economic development of Cambodia.

Royal Decree on the Protection of Natural Areas (1993)

Under this royal decree, the Secretariat of Environment is responsible for managing and supervising the development and protection of natural areas, including the protection of the environment, land, forestry, wetland and coastal areas. The Secretariat of Environment has the right to create and chair appropriate committees to co-ordinate inter-ministerial activities both at the political and technical level. The management and supervision of protected natural areas are the responsibilities of the Secretariat of Environment in co-operation with other relevant institutions. 

Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management (1996)

The purpose of this law is to:

  • protect and promote environmental quality
  • assess the environmental impact of all proposed projects before the Government formally makes a decision on them
  • promote sustainable use of natural resources in Cambodia
  • encourage and enable the public to participate in environmental protection and natural resource management
  • suppress any acts that cause harm to the environment.

Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Process (1999)

This sub-decree requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) be done on every project and activity, private or public. The assessments must be reviewed by the Ministry of Environment before being submitted to the Royal Government for a decision. This sub-decree applies to every type of proposed project listed in an Annex of the sub-decree, except projects deemed necessary in a declared state of emergency and approved by the Royal Government. 

Sub-Decree on Water Pollution Control (1999)

This law aimed to regulate water controls in order to prevent and reduce water pollution in public waterways. This sub-decree applies to all sources of pollution and all activities that cause pollution of public waterways. 

Sub-Decree Forest Concessions Management (2000)

This sub-decree covers the management of and harvesting activities of forest concession agreements approved by the Royal Government of Cambodia.

The Control of Air Pollution and Noise Disturbance (2000)

This sub-decree aims to protect the environment and protect public health from air pollutants and noise disturbances through monitoring, curbing and mitigating activities. This sub-decree applies to all movable sources and immovable sources of air pollution and noise disturbance. 

Law on Mineral Resource Management and Exploitation (2001)

This law covers the management and exploitation of mineral resources, mines and all activities relating to mining operations in Cambodia (save for petroleum and gas exploration and production which fall under a separate law).

Land Law (2001)

This law sets out a regime of ownership for immovable properties in Cambodia for the purpose of guaranteeing the rights of ownership. The Khmer version is the official version of this document. 

The Forestry Law (2002)

This law defines the framework for management, harvesting, use, development and reservation of forests in Cambodia. The law aims to ensure the sustainable management of forests for their social, economic and environmental benefits, including conservation of biological diversity and cultural heritage. 

Sub-Decree on Community Forestry Management (2003)

This sub-decree sets out rules for the establishment, management and use of community forests in Cambodia. 

Sub-Decree on Procedure Establishment Classification and Registration of Permanent Forest Estate (2005)

This sub-decree defines the procedure for establishing the classification and registration of the permanent forest estate. The aim is to organize and manage sustainable forest land and forest resources in line with policy and the national forest management plan. 

Sub-Decree on Economic Land Concession (2005)

This sub-decree determines the criteria, procedures, mechanisms and institutional arrangements for:

  • initiating and granting new economic land concessions
  • monitoring the performance of all economic land concession contracts
  • reviewing economic land concessions entered into before the effective date of this sub decree for compliance with the Land Law of 2001. 

Royal Decree on the Establishment of Community Fishery (2005)

This royal decree gives all Khmer citizens the joint right to establish community fisheries. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has general jurisdiction over management of community fisheries.

Law on Fisheries (2006)

This law aims to:

  • ensure fisheries and fishery resource management
  • enhance aquaculture development and the management of production and processing
  • promote the livelihood of people in local communities in terms of social-economic and environmental benefits, including the sustainability and conservation of biodiversity and natural culture heritage in Cambodia. 

Law on Water Resource Management (2007)

This law aims to foster the effective and sustainable management of water resources in Cambodia to support socio-economic development and the welfare of the people. 

Sub-Decree on Community Fisheries Management (2007)

This sub-decree sets out the rules and legislative procedures for managing community fisheries in Cambodia. 

Law on Seed Management and Plant Breeder’s Rights (2008)

This law manages and controls the breeding, release for use, production, processing, registration, distribution, import and export of seeds. It aims to protect new plant varieties, to secure the management and sustainable development of varieties for social, economic, and environmental benefits in Cambodia. 

Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014–2023

This document is the first strategic plan to fight climate change in Cambodia over a 10-year period. The CCCSP covers eight objectives:

  1. Promote climate resilience through improving food, water and energy security
  2. Reduce vulnerability of sectors, regions, gender and health to climate change impacts
  3. Ensure climate resilience of critical ecosystems (Tonle Sap Lake, Mekong River, coastal ecosystems, highlands etc.), biodiversity, protected areas and cultural heritage sites
  4. Promote low-carbon planning and technologies to support sustainable development of the country
  5. Improve capacities, knowledge and awareness about climate change responses
  6. Promote adaptive social protection and participatory approaches in reducing loss and damage
  7. Strengthen institutions and coordination frameworks for national climate change responses
  8. Strengthen collaboration and active participation in regional and global climate change.

Law on Disaster Management (2015)

This law deals with prevention, adaptation and mitigation of natural or human-made disasters, the emergency responses during a disaster and recovery in the post-disaster period. 

The National Environment Strategy and Action Plan 2016–2023

This plan was developed in accordance with the Constitution and the 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management. It is aligned to the Rectangular Strategy Phase III (RSIII), reaffirming the RGC’s mission and commitment to sustainable development and poverty reduction in the changing contexts of national and international developments. The NESAP 2016–2023 strategic goal is to leverage in-depth reform and modernization of the management and conservation of the environment and natural resources. It will achieve this through well-planned and executed actions for improving resource use efficiency and productivity, sustainable financing mechanisms and reducing waste and pollution and improving human health and well-being.

  • Strategic Objective 1: To strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration and relevant legal instruments and guidelines to improve coordination, regulation, and delivery functions for sustainable development outcomes.
  • Strategic Objective 2: To improve resource use efficiency for a healthy environment and social well-being, while increasing business competitiveness and promoting technological innovation.
  • Strategic Objective 3: To develop and implement financing mechanisms, benefit sharing schemes and fund mobilization plans for investing in the modernization of the management and conservation of environment and natural resources.
  • Strategic Objective 4: To raise public awareness, build individual and institutional capacities, promote technology transfer and strengthen the application of monitoring science and technology to improve the management and conservation of environment and natural resources.

The Cambodia Climate Change Action Plan 2016–2018

The key expected impacts from the implementation of CCAP 2016–2018 include:

  1. Greater public awareness of climate change issues
  2. Increased institutional capacity and mainstreaming of climate change issues into national and subnational planning
  3. Increased community resilience
  4. Greater contributions to GHG emission reduction efforts, with increased volumes of carbon credits issued from carbon offset projects in Cambodia.

MOE Draft Environmental and Natural Resources Code of Cambodia (2018)

The Draft Environment and Natural Resources Code covers a range of environmental and natural resources topics including:

  • General principles of the Environment and Natural Resources Code
  • Public participation and access to information
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Strategic environmental assessment
  • Pollution and waste management
  • Biodiversity and endangered species protection
  • Cultural heritage protection
  • Dispute resolution procedures, including mediation, civil and criminal enforcement.

The draft Code also establishes a new conservation regime for Cambodia, setting up biodiversity conservation corridors and a collaborative management process. The biodiversity conservation corridors expand Cambodia’s existing protected areas to provide linkages and protection for high-conservation areas. The draft Code also has specific provisions covering climate change, sustainable production and consumption, fisheries, water, forests, extractive industries, energy, coastal zone protection, environmental education, and sustainable cities.

Prakas No. 021 on Classification of Environmental Impact Assessment for Development Project (2020)

The goal of this Prakas is the classification of environmental impact assessments for development projects that are required to have environmental protection contracts or initial environmental impact assessments or full environmental impact assessments. This Prakas applies to all proposals for development projects including existing and on-going projects of private individuals or private companies, joint-venture companies, public companies or government ministries/agencies.

Last updated: 28 September 2020

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