French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royale, greets King Norodom Sihamoni as he arrives for the opening of the UN conference on climate change on Monday in Paris.
French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royale, greets King Norodom Sihamoni as he arrives for the opening of the UN conference on climate change on Monday in Paris. AFP

King Sihamoni calls for climate action at COP21

King Norodom Sihamoni delivered an impassioned plea for a legally binding international climate change treaty in an address to the delegates of 195 nations and the world’s civil society on Monday night as the UN Climate Talks in Paris (COP21) opened.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time and we have started to experience its effects over the past few years,” the King declared in the opening salvo of a six-and-a-half-minute long speech, delivered in French.

Citing concerns over food security, poverty reduction and health issues, the King warned that if not addressed, climate change will compromise human development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted earlier this year.

“In Cambodia, as we speak, farmers are struggling with changing seasonal rainfall patterns and prolonged drought periods, which affect agricultural production and food security,” Sihamoni said, discussing natural disasters made worse by climate change.

“The 2013 floods … cost my country 2 per cent of GDP, affected almost 380,000 households in 20 of our 25 provinces, and claimed 168 lives – the majority of which were children,” he gravely intoned.

A recent UN study places the Kingdom among the top 10 countries most affected by weather-related disasters.

“As the representative of a developing country,” Sihamoni called upon fairness in the negotiations, stressing the growing costs for the Kingdom “despite Cambodia’s very small share in greenhouse gas emissions”, echoing the position staked out by the Kingdom’s civil society.

Reacting to the address, the Prey Lang Community Network – which has sent two delegates to Paris, where it is set to receive the UNDP’s Equator Prize – applauded the King’s sentiment and inclusion of forest protection on the agenda, writing that addressing climate change “is the responsibility of each and every one of us”.

The King went on to emphasise Cambodia’s need for a technology transfer agreement as well as adaptation and mitigation financing in order to meet its emissions targets.

Meanwhile, on November 17, the Ministry of Environment announced that Cambodia became the 54th country to ratify the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, extending the document’s Clean Development Mechanism through 2020. While the Kingdom’s target, known as an “INDC”, of 27 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 has been criticised for a lack of feasibility, the King acknowledged this as a global problem.

“These initial contributions will not maintain global warming below the threshold of 2°C, breaking this deadlock is our responsibility as leaders,” he said, concluding with a challenge to negotiators to reach an agreement. “Let us deliver today the bold leadership that our people and future generations legitimately expect.”