Nick Beresford, Country Director, opening remarks at Workshop for Judges and Lawyers on the Draft Environment and Natural Resources Code

Jun 8, 2017

©MomokoHiga/UNDPCambodia

His Excellency Dr. Say Samal, Minister of Environment, and Chair of the National Council for Sustainable Development,

His Excellency Soun Visal, President of the Bar Association of Cambodia

His Excellency You Bunleng, President of the Appeal Court of Cambodia

Representatives from Vishnu Law Group

Excellences, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good Morning. I am honoured to welcome all of you to this important Workshop for Judges and Lawyers on the Draft Environment and Natural Resources Code. I would like to thank the Ministry of Environment (MoE), the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), and the Cambodian Bar Association for hosting this important event.  

I would like to thank USAID, the Embassy of Japan and the European Union for supporting the Environmental Governance Reform Project being implemented by MOE, NCSD and UNDP which the Code is an integral part of.

I would also like to thank the Vishnu Law Group for organizing this workshop and experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, providing technical support for the workshop.

The Rectangular Strategy Phase III of Cambodia reaffirms the goal of the Royal Government to achieve sustainable development and poverty reduction. The National Strategic Development Plan (2014-2018), which charts the implementation of the Rectangular Strategy, further emphasizes that environmental sustainability is one of key government priorities, given that a majority of the population lives in rural areas and are directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods.

As we all know, Cambodia has been undergoing rapid economic growth with an annual Gross Domestic Product growth of more than 7 percent. Last year, the country officially transited to a lower middle-income country.

In light of this rapid pace of economic development, Cambodia has come to face new sets of environmental challenges. These include increasing levels of air and water pollution, wastes, growing threats of climate change, and natural resources degradation.   

Since 2013, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has embarked upon a series of environmental governance reforms. The main objectives of the reform are two folds: to effectively address these new challenges and to strike the right balance between economic development and environment conservation.

As part of this, in 2015, the Minister of the MoE made an official announcement of its goal to develop an Environment Code with endorsement from the Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen.

The Environment and Natural Resource Code is a ground-breaking legal instrument, which will enable the government to further achieve a wide range of Sustainable Development Goals.

The Code includes a set of overarching principles and legal framework to strengthen the rights of citizens, both women and men, in environmental governance. This is exemplified by its key principles to ensure “citizen’s access to information and to effective remedies” and “effective and full participation of all relevant stakeholders” in environmental decisions which may concern them.

The Code also covers highly comprehensive sets of environmental issues in Cambodia, some of which were poorly addressed previously such as climate change and waste and pollution management.

Last but not least, the significance of the Code pertains to the inclusion of a robust legal framework to avoid, mitigate and eliminate any negative social and environmental impacts from projects, programme and policies through mandating Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Up to now, the Code development processes were facilitated in a highly transparent and manner. Government officials, development partners, NGOs, civil society, the private sector all worked together developing draft provisions and comments throughout the process. I would like to commend the Ministry of Environment and NCSD for their great leadership facilitating the processes. I would also like to acknowledge the significant role which Vishnu Law Group has played in supporting the government in developing the draft Code.

Moving forward with the Code work with the ultimate goal of its enactment, today’s workshop has two main objectives. The first is to inform the legal community of key contents of the Code and its legal implications and the second is to receive inputs from the legal community to ensure its effective implementation.

As I mentioned before, the draft Code includes new grievance mechanisms and dispute resolution procedures.  Full operationalisation of these measures, however, requires proper reflections of existing mechanisms. For this reason, insights from the legal community are critically important with regard to how best to build and expand on existing legal procedures to ensure citizen’s access to effective remedies.  

Another related point requiring the legal community’s comments is the extent to which the present Code aligns with existing legal measures and practices. While the present Code reflects international best practices, it is equally important the Code fully considers national circumstances including existing national policies, legal frameworks and abilities to enforce a range of laws.  Therefore, the legal community’s feedback on these points are crucial to ensure that the Code will fully build upon existing legal frameworks and practices. This is key to its effective implementation.

The United Nations of Development Programme has been a committed partner with the Ministry of Environment and the National Council for Sustainable Development, in supporting their national effort for implementing key environmental governance reforms including the Environment Code. Once fully achieved, the Environment Code will constitute an important milestone in building the legal framework, policies and programs supportive of sustainable development throughout the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Today, I would like to reaffirm our strong commitment to continue supporting the efforts to support Cambodia’s sustainable development for the next generation and I look very much forward to continuing to work with all partners in this endeavour.  

Thank you.