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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Karolien Casaer-Diez is the new country representative of Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) for Cambodia. She started her career in Foreign Affairs in Belgium and worked for the United Nations Development Programme in Somalia and Bangladesh. She has been based in Myanmar and Laos for GGGI and was assigned to Cambodia three months ago.
PHNOM PENH , Nov 22 2018 (IPS) - Driven by garment exports, tourism and construction, Cambodia has sustained an average growth rate of 7.7 percent between 1995 to 2017, making this Southeast Asian nation the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world.
According to the World Bank, GDP per capita has quadrupled since 1994 to USD1,423 in 2017. These are impressive numbers, but large disparities still persist in standards of living. And the growth has come at a cost to the environment.
The need for an inclusive green economy has become more evident and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), an international organisation that assists countries develop inclusive and sustainable economic growth, is actively supporting initiatives to help Cambodia’s transition to a green economy.
Relatively new to the country, GGGI set up camp in Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment in 2015. This iconic white building in the capital Phnom Penh is pleasantly out of tune with the nearby glass and steel towers. Here, IPS met Karolien Casaer-Diez, the new country representative of GGGI for Cambodia. Excerpts of the interview follow.
Inter Press Service (IPS): You and your team have set up camp in Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment. Why did GGGI choose that location?
Karolien Casaer-Diez (KCD): We are housed in the ministry because the government is our most important partner. We are advisors and matchmakers. GGGI is an international organisation that assists countries to develop inclusive and sustainable economic growth. We bring governments and green investors together. We facilitate talks between them, structure projects and crunch the numbers to help Cambodia’s transition to a green economy.
IPS: How can you convince a government with a tight budget that a greener policy is worthwhile, politically and economically?
KCD: We are looking for opportunities for the Cambodian government and investors that can be developed into profitable activities. The approach is that greening offers economic opportunities. That refreshing idea is taking root with our government counterparts.
IPS: But more stringent environmental regulations could be seen as more costly?
KCD: It seems contrary to the traditional mindset. But the success of GGGI is that we always look for synergies. We want to create only profitable businesses that are also green. We believe that it’s not a limitation but an opportunity. But it’s a new concept in Cambodia.
IPS: How do you stimulate commitment to that idea?
KCD: We provide recommendations and we propose a policy framework for a country’s or city’s government to achieve a sustainable economic growth. The Governor of Phnom Penh approved a “Phnom Penh Sustainable City Plan” which we helped develop. The government is also finalising a “Sustainable City Strategic Plan” for 7 secondary cities, which we helped to define. We moved to the second step and started supporting the implementation of these plans.
IPS: Are you convinced that win-win situations can be achieved?
KCD: Sure. For example, rural Cambodia is a big market for composting. Agricultural business are dependant on foreign imports of chemical fertilisers. However, natural fertilisers are four times cheaper. But there is limited supply of compost. We are trying to identify local producers, farmers, the right pricing and ways to introduce waste segregation to better enable composting businesses.
IPS: Where did GGGI gain experience with waste water?
KCD: GGGI is active in 30 countries worldwide. We worked on decentralised waste water management in Senegal and Nepal. In Cambodia, this is relatively new. Phnom Penh is a fast-growing city with increasing waste water and everything goes down the sewer, and into the rivers. We are supporting the development of small waste water management projects that benefit poor communities.
IPS: Any challenges? Cambodia is a developing country, nevertheless.
KCD: Access to finance is a problem when promoting green businesses. Loans are very expensive at a rate of 18 percent. And they are collateralised for up to twice their value. That’s a big hurdle for a small company. Also, the market for energy efficient technology is almost non-existent. And there is limited awareness.
IPS: Cambodia is the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world. How large are opportunities for a greener industry?
KCD: Cambodia has so much potential. The contribution of the industrial sector to GDP was 29 percent in 2016. The potential impact of resource efficient technology in the food, bricks, garment and electronic sectors could create 512,000 additional jobs by 2030. The benefits could be 6.7 times larger than the investment required. There’s a lot of money that can be made by green entrepreneurs. We just need a champion investor that can motivate the market.
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