Author and Scientist Timothy Killeen explains the potential for Cambodia to become a world leader by pursuing an innovative, low carbon, green development pathway that will foster economic growth and create opportunities for its people, while conserving the natural environment.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia –Cambodia is at an inflection point in its development trajectory that allows it to choose an innovative path by embracing low-carbon development options and, in so doing, position itself as a global leader in the pursuit of a green economic model. This new path would benefit its citizens and improve its competitive position in international markets. This is the key message of Dr. Tim Killeen’s new book, entitled the Cardamom Conundrum, Reconciling Development and Conservation in the Kingdom of Cambodia, which was launched last week in Phnom Penh.
A “conundrum” is a puzzle whose solution involves resolving a paradox. Cambodia’s paradox arises from two widely held and conflicting assumptions: The pathway to a modern economy requires exploiting and monetizing a country’s natural resources, versus the contrasting vision that the long-term prosperity of a nation depends on the conservation of those same resources.
At stake in the resolution of this conundrum is the wellbeing of the Cambodian people, who will either enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of these two competing agendas. In his book, Killeen encourages policy makers, investors and publics alike to shed commonly held beliefs in the idea of either-or tradeoffs in development and conservation priorities. These notions, which have historically viewed conservation as a barrier to productivity and economic growth, or development as an automatic threat to nature, he says, miss the big picture. Instead, through an evaluation of opportunities in the still pristine forests of the Cardamom Mountains and surrounding landscapes, Killeen writes that wise management of a nation’s renewable natural resources can facilitate economic growth.
Dr. Killeen, a senior conservation scientist at Conservation International said, “Balancing the Khmer people’s legitimate aspirations for development and the equally urgent need to conserve the nation’s vital natural heritage is vital to the future state of Cambodia. The conservation of natural ecosystems is beneficial to the national economy and the wise management of these natural assets can increase Cambodia’s economic growth in the short, medium and long term.”
Resolving this “Cardamom Conundrum” requires an economic model that provides robust growth, alleviates poverty over the short term and seeks to eradicate it over the medium term. Killeen points the way by identifying innovative options linked to emerging climate finance mechanisms and low carbon development strategies that span the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
The Greater Cardamom Region spans the mountainous regions of Cambodia between the Tonle Sap and the Gulf of Thailand and was selected as a microcosm by Killeen as an ideal laboratory for envisioning a development paradigm that would lead to a low-carbon economy. Its landscapes and populations are typical of the country as a whole and a development strategy for this region can function as a template for the rest of the country. The future of the Greater Cardamom Region―and Cambodia in general―depends on how the environmental and social impacts of these investments are managed and whether this management embraces an underlying philosophy that values the ecosystem services provided by the region’s forest, freshwater and coastal ecosystems.
In his book, Dr. Killeen states:“The careful management and conservation of the region´s natural resources are absolutely essential for the long-term sustainable development of industries such as hydropower, forest products, agriculture and tourism—all of which are key components in Cambodia’s national development strategy. Such an economic vision requires an understanding that conservation and development are not only compatible—but that they are strategically linked.”
In “Cardamom Conundrum”, Dr. Killeen explains that Cambodia’s low-carbon future can be constructed on four major rural investment strategies: 1) forest conservation and management, 2) agricultural diversification and intensification, 3) fisheries and aquaculture, and 4) a diversified and green tourist sector; of equal importance is the need to pursue low emission development strategies in the energy, transportation and industrial sectors.
The Cardamom Conundrum is a global paradox that confronts all nations: Developing countries, like Cambodia, face large challenges and difficult choices, but resolving the paradox of true sustainability also confronts emerging economies and, in their own fashion, wealthy nations. If pursued in a deliberate and strategic fashion, the pursuit of a green economic model would place Cambodia at the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change and provide them with a strong competitive advantage in global markets where consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable goods and services.
“If Cambodia can resolve this, they will become a world leader and model for creating a healthy green economy that will provide current and future generations with a sustainable prosperous future” says Killeen.
This well researched and easy to read narrative provides an invaluable perspective into the potential future of Cambodia, and should be mandatory reading for policy makers, civil society organizations, industry and, most importantly, the Cambodian people.
Timothy J. Killeen, Ph.D. is a conservation scientist with expertise in biological inventory, ecology, and climate change science. His more recent research has sought to understand the causes of environmental degradation, particularly the economic and social drivers of change on the agricultural frontier, and to model alternative land use options in their economic, social and environmental dimensions.
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, Conservation International empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.
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Cardamom Conundrum, Reconciling Development and Conservation by Timothy J. Killeen
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