The USAID Mission in Cambodia (USAID/Cambodia) plays a major role in addressing environmental problems, such as climate change, through its financial support to local and international non-governmental organizations. Since 2012, USAID/Cambodia has supported the implementation of the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (KSWS REDD+) Project. This project is the largest carbon emissions reduction program in the country and aims to reduce not only carbon emissions in support of the Paris Climate Agreement, but also to improve the conservation and sustainable management of forests and wildlife while increasing benefits to community livelihoods and resilience.
Deforestation is one of the major factors contributing to climate change worldwide. Cambodia has experienced some of the world’s highest deforestation rates since the 1970s with rapid increases over the past decade. From 2001 to 2018, Cambodia lost 557,000 hectares of forests including in protected areas, representing a 11.7 percent reduction in tree cover. This loss has adversely impacted biodiversity conservation, and has had detrimental social and economic effects on indigenous peoples who depend on these forests. The KSWS REDD+ Project, implemented by USAID/Cambodia’s partner, Wildlife Conservation Society, works in eastern Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Province to reverse these troubling trends by financing the preservation of over half of the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary through carbon credit sales.
As a result of this project, 14.6 million tons of CO2 equivalent has been reduced over the last 10 years, providing a variety of benefits to 12,000 Indigenous Peoples from 20 villages around the wildlife sanctuary. The project successfully sold carbon credits to major U.S. companies, such as Disney and Delta Airlines. Revenues from these carbon credit sales are supporting patrols of the wildlife sanctuary to increase the protection of threatened wildlife species, such as the Asian elephant, gaur, banteng, black-shanked douc, and green peafowl.
This project has also provided a platform for everyone involved in the protection of the sanctuary to consider ways to balance the conservation of the protected area with the development needs of the local communities. Through this collaborative approach, the Keo Seima REDD+ Project has worked with local community members to provide clean water, as well as construct toilets and community-owned buildings, for improving livelihoods in local communities. With the revenues provided to these communities from the sale of carbon credits, and the assistance given to community leaders by the project to improve their financial management skills, many communities are now managing their own community improvement funds.
The project also supports a variety of community-led businesses based on the sustainable use of natural resources. For example, one enterprise is using sustainably harvested bamboo to produce household products, such as cups and dishes. Another functions as an ecotourism business, the Jahoo Gibbon Camp, which provides incomes and jobs that benefit the Bunong Indigenous community, while also protecting the globally-endangered yellow-cheeked crested gibbon. In coming years, revenues from carbon credit sales will help communities do even more to improve their livelihoods, create jobs, and increase business management skills while also sustainably using their natural resources.