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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Achieving the SDGs in Cambodia: Challenges and Opportunities


Projections on the SDGs and 70th UN Anniversary in New York. ©UN Photo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-min, Flickr.

The 2023 SDG Summit, held in New York on September 18-19, marks the halfway point to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also aims to be a chance to respond to the impact of multiple crises facing the world and to reignite a sense of hope and optimism for the SDGs. The SDGs are a set of 17 goals, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. The goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. They are integrated, indivisible, and global, and aim to leave no one behind.


The 17 goals are:

  • No poverty

  • Zero hunger

  • Good health and well-being

  • Quality education

  • Gender equality

  • Clean water and sanitation

  • Affordable and clean energy

  • Decent work and economic growth

  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure

  • Reduced inequalities

  • Sustainable cities and communities

  • Responsible consumption and production

  • Climate action

  • Life below water

  • Life on land

  • Peace, justice and strong institutions

  • Partnerships for the goals


The framework also sets out several targets for each of the priority SDGs. For example, the target for education is to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education, primary and secondary education and that a substantial percentage of youth and adults have relevant skills by 2030. Cambodia has committed to achieving the SDGs and has developed a national SDG framework to guide its efforts. The framework identifies six priority SDGs, namely education, decent work and growth, reduced inequalities, climate action, peace and institutions, and SDG partnerships. Currently, Cambodia is ranked 103 out of 166 countries in achieving the SDG progress process.


Connectivity and access to services has been widened in Cambodia, primarily in cities like Phnom Penh. ©Paul Szewczyk, Unsplash.

Important changes have already taken place, for example in Cambodians' access to clean water and sanitation, education, internet connectivity, and electricity. Regarding SDG 3, various achievements can be rewarded, for example in reducing child mortality, where Cambodia has made significant strides in reducing infant mortality rates. Access to healthcare services and vaccination programs have contributed to a decline in child deaths. Similarly, remarkable progress has been witnessed in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The country has implemented effective prevention, treatment, and awareness programs, leading to a reduction in the prevalence of HIV.


Moreover, Cambodia has experienced significant poverty reduction over the past two decades. The country has seen progress in improving income levels, access to basic services, and livelihood opportunities for its citizens. Given these developments, Cambodia’s chances of achieving the SDGs have risen, however there are still many challenges to overcome. For instance, poverty remains still a living reality for many Cambodians. Furthermore, income inequality is high in Cambodia, and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing.


Most importantly, Cambodia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as floods and droughts. The problem here, however, is not that climate change has not been recognized as a problem or that no targets have been set for it. Cambodia has set a goal of becoming a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, potentially 10 years earlier than China's net zero target and 20 years earlier than India's goal. Nonetheless, many climate-damaging developments continue, endangering Cambodia's forests, its farming economy, and by extension, ordinary Cambodians. While the expansion of protected areas on land is positively increasing and at least shows positive tendencies in water areas, the protection of endangered species is unfortunately on a downward trend. Especially in the fishing industry, there is an increase in methods that negatively affect the seabed, while at the same time, a lot of catch is thrown away. Marine biodiversity is stagnating, while water quality continues to deteriorate and fishing from areas affected by overfishing continues to increase.


Dangerous fishing practices and other factors are contributing to shrinking marine biodiversity, as in the waters surrounding Koh Rong ©Claire Pins Travel, Unsplash.

Another focus point is the sustainable management of forests, to combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss. Here, the continued deforestation in Cambodia, often encouraged by illegal logging practices, is countering the targets set by the SDGs. As a result, land is becoming increasingly decertified and degraded, and deforestation, and in some cases slash-and-burn agriculture, is depriving it of the necessary diversity of the ecosystem. However, Cambodia is not alone here; the world as a whole is not on a course that makes it likely to achieve the SDGs. Therefore, all people worldwide are called upon to do more to achieve the goals, preferably at the local level.


For us, this means letting Cambodians experience the environment to show how important it is for Cambodia and its society. A continued destruction of forests and wildlife would be a problem, not least for us as young people, since it is our livelihoods that are at stake here. In 50 years’ time we still want to be able to eat healthily, go hiking in our forests, admire our animals, swim in non polluted water, and fish in our oceans. In this respect, overexploitation of nature is always overexploitation of our future, and we must be clear about this.


Keeping our forests, such as those in Kirirom National Park, alive and diverse is a major challenge for our generation. ©Kim Eang Eng, Unsplash.

However, we can counteract dangerous impacts of climate change and environmental destruction. With more attention for the SDGs, more sustainable consumption, for example, the renunciation of forest and marine products, but also the awareness of these problems on a global level. Because many of the problems in Cambodia can be traced back to international industries and structures. In this respect, the summit in New York also has something to do with us here in Cambodia. Hopefully, the final outcome will allow us to continue using our resources sustainably and to be sure that future generations will be able to do the same.

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