Cambodia paving the way for cleaner air


Cambodia, the Southeast Asian country, known for the temples of Angkor Wat and the French colonial architecture of Siem Reap, is becoming increasingly vulnerable to air pollution.

In order to understand and combat the threat, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, has partnered with the Cambodian Ministry of Environment to develop the country’s first Clean Air Plan.

“Air pollution could not only be considered as a local problem, but a regional and global phenomenon which requires contribution from all parties,” said Say Samal, Cambodia’s Minister of Environment. “This plan is a significant step towards identifying science-based policy decisions towards managing air quality in the country.”

Cambodia is a rural nation with over 60 per cent of its 16 million people living in the countryside. Historically, air pollution has come from wood and charcoal burning, agricultural fires and the incineration of waste. But as it develops, Cambodia is facing a wave of urban pollution. Recent research by UNEP shows that the largest sources of pollution in Cambodia today are transport, electricity generation, industry and residential development.    

Cambodia is not the only country contending with air pollution. Approximately 99 per cent of the global population breathes unclean air and air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths annually, or more than 10 per cent of all fatalities.

Launched in January 2022 Cambodia’s Clean Air Plan, based on the UNEP report Actions on Air Quality, outlines a package of measures to address the major sources of current and future emissions in the country. It is the first time a national report has been produced in Cambodia to measure health-damaging air pollutants and it collected data from the transport, agriculture, construction, energy and water sectors.

Fully implemented, the plan could reduce two major pollutants, PM 2.5 and black carbon, by 60 per cent. It could also help slash emissions of methane and carbon dioxide, key drivers of climate change, by 24 per cent and 18 per cent respectively by 2030. Those improvements would help Cambodia avoid almost 900 premature deaths per year. 

The Clean Air Plan found that transport is one of the main contributors to air pollution. According to the Cambodian Ministry of Public Works and Transport, between 2015 and 2019 the number of registered vehicles in the country rose by around 65 per cent. UNEP’s Global Trade in Used Vehicles Report found that Cambodia is one of the countries in the region with substantial imports of used vehicles; these are usually over 10 years old and are significant contributors to air pollution and climate emissions. 

One of the goals of the Clean Air Plan is to raise standards for vehicle emissions. It also aims to limit the age of imported cars, transitioning the country’s automotive fleet to newer, less polluting vehicles that meet stringent European Union standards.

The plan also found that construction was a major contributor to pollution and that by managing the release of dust and particle matter into the environment, pollution could be significantly reduced.

Some of the plan’s other measures include improving cookstoves and shifting from biomass to biogas for cooking. The plan builds on 25 clean air measures developed by the Asia Clean Air Partnership.

“The launch of the Clean Air Plan is an important step and underlines Cambodia’s commitment to improving air quality,” said Dechen Tsering, UNEP Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “We look forward to continue working with the Ministry of Environment to support these efforts.”



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