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Research Report

A review of payments for environmental services (PES) experiences in Cambodia

Sarah Milne
Colas Chervier
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2014
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    Cambodia has just emerged from an unprecedented decade of peace, stability and economic growth. This new post-conflict era of ‘economic transformation’ (Hughes and Un 2011) has delivered benefits for many, but costs have been incurred, too: notably in terms of rising social inequality and dramatic losses of natural resources, particularly in fisheries and forests. In a recent analysis of global deforestation (Hansen et al. 2013), Cambodia is identified as having the world’s third highest national deforestation rate, having lost about 7% of its official forest cover between 2000–2012. Much deforestation has been caused by conversion of forested land for...

  2. (pp. 2-5)

    There is no legal basis for PES in Cambodia, but the idea of environmental services does feature in key policy documents. Typically, these documents are ‘owned’ by the Royal Cambodian Government (RCG), but their creation and adoption has been financed and guided by international donors and multilateral agencies, including: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (Danida), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and various United Nations agencies. The notion of environmental services has therefore diffused into Cambodian policy as a result of international influence over policy discourses and ‘sponsorship’ of ideas (Chervier et al. 2012). Below we illustrate how...

  3. (pp. 5-12)

    In this section we review experiences with PES in practice in Cambodia, examining in particular the variety of PES definitions and modalities that have been employed over time by a range of actors.

    Our interviews with government policy makers and practitioners in conservation NGOs overwhelmingly highlighted a lack of common understanding of PES in Cambodia. For example, no commonly identified criteria were used to define PES, nor were any common words in English or Khmer used to describe how PES functions. Interpretations of PES ranged from strict technical definitions (such as the case of hydro-PES schemes), to loosely defined ‘PES-like’...

  4. (pp. 12-15)

    Having reviewed the policy environment for PES in Cambodia and practical experiences to date, we now examine the wider implications of these findings for scholars and practitioners. Here we address two key issues that emerged in our review, namely that Cambodia presents: (i) a potential case of ‘state capture’ of environmental services markets, in keeping with findings from similar studies in China and Vietnam (McElwee 2011; Kolinjivadi and Sunderland 2012; To et al. 2012; Pham et al. 2013); and (ii) a context in which PES faces significant ethical and political challenges.

    As suggested, while PES schemes may not function as...

  5. (pp. 15-15)

    In this paper we have presented a broad overview of PES experiences in Cambodia, drawing from primary and secondary data. First, we explored the legal and policy environment for PES, including its promotion by international donors and NGOs, and its uneven uptake by government actors. In this process, we identified the opening and closing of a policy window for PES, which has left behind a pervasive uncertainty over whether the government is willing to support PES or not, and a lack of clarity about what PES means. Second, taking a broad definition of PES, we examined the full range of...

  6. (pp. 15-16)

    Buyer beware: evidence from Cambodia shows that the underlying assumptions required for PES and REDD+ to be workable do not hold in practice, making implementation fraught and risky. In particular, the issue of contested property rights has the potential to undermine even the best intended and most carefully implemented schemes. The role of the state is a key factor here: in many remote areas, rule of law is not in place and state public land is only loosely controlled. Furthermore, in a political economy where the law is not necessarily just or legitimate, buyers and donors cannot simply assume that...