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CAMBODIA’S INCREDIBLE BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: THE CBD AND NAGOYA PROTOCOL

Written by Julianna, JPC Driving through the mountainous terrain of Mondulkiri province has been quite the journey. The drive itself has taken several hours, beginning in Phnom Penh and passing through three provinces in order to reach this region of Cambodia. Next to me, my supervisor excitedly explains how easy it has become to reach Mondulkiri due to the increase in infrastructure and road construction. She explains that 20 years ago, the same journey would have taken days. The landscape is astonishing, ranging from roads flanked by agricultural fields and small villages, to dense forests and lush greenery. We even manage to pass by a river in Kratie province, where dolphin sightings are common during monsoon season. Finally, we reach Mondulkiri but before arriving to our final destination, we make one last stop at a look off point aptly named ‘The Sea of Forests’. Rolling hills of dense green forestry expand from our vantage point across the horizon, appearing as a never-ending ribbon of green. Needless to say, the name is fitting. The purpose of our long journey is to attend the United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity, hosted by the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Ministry of Environment. Government recognition of the importance of biological diversity is crucial in building frameworks and institutions necessary to protect these species. This is especially pertinent here, as the Kingdom of Cambodia contains some of the richest biodiversity within Southeast Asia, and possibly the world. While biological diversity provides fundamental resources upon which humans depend, it is particularly important to some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Numerous Khmer people, especially indigenous groups and remote communities depend intensely upon biodiversity for their basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, medicine and livelihoods. The genetic variability of plants, animals and microbes are incredibly important, Human activities such as rapid economic growth, population growth, rising levels of deforestation, infrastructure development and climate change are intensifying this loss of biodiversity and further endangering the livelihoods of these communities, several of which are already disenfranchised. In response, Cambodia ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This convention aims to conserve biological diversity and seeks ensure fair access to benefit sharing (ABS) of vital biological resources. The supplementary Nagoya Protocol specifically aims to ensure transparent legal frameworks for the effective implementation of ABS, and applies to genetic resources covered by the CBD, the benefits arising from their utilization and also covers traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. To combat these issues and ensure the equitable sharing of Cambodia’s natural resources, UNDP has partnered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment and the Global Environmental Forum to develop ABS laws, policies and frameworks. My role here at UNDP has been to support my supervisor in the coordination of this project, providing assistance where needed. While ABS law is highly technical and beyond my ability to grasp in its entirety, my supporting role here at UNDP has allowed me to attend several workshops and information sessions regarding ABS and the development of these frameworks. Including my visit to Mondulkiri, I have been fortunate enough to visit several other provinces including Siem Reap, Battambang, Pailin, Preah Sihanouk, Kratie and Ratanakiri. The incredible landscapes, flora and fauna are not only beautiful and exemplify the vast range of Cambodia’s biological diversity but are so clearly cherished by the local Khmer people. I feel privileged to have a small part in such a large project which aims to not only ensure biological diversity, but the equitable sharing of natural resources with those most dependent on Cambodia’s rich biodiversity. This isn’t to say that all is moving forward perfectly. Deforestation, the potential for land grabs and the detrimental effects of climate change are proceeding at incredible speeds. Action on the part of both UNDP and the Royal Cambodian Government must be swift, well-constructed and resilient in order to ensure these projects will have a lasting impact on not only the environment and biological diversity, but the Khmer people as well.

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