From September 13 – 18, 2010 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with the sponsorship and support of the AFSC, China implemented its first overseas training in environmental protection. The forty participants included top officials and environmental officers from the Cambodian Ministry of Environment, government officials from line Ministries, environmental consultants, and NGO representatives.

Why a Training in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)? 

In Cambodia, foreign investment has polluted and destroyed rivers, lakes and forest resources. It has ruined livelihoods, taken away access to land and resources, often without compensation to local communities. As investment activities have grown, violent conflict has erupted between indigenous people and investment project holders, generating catastrophic losses on both sides. Although China now is the primary source of foreign direct investment in Cambodia, often policy advisors, policy makers (and even project holders in China) are not aware of governance issues, local concerns or of the violence that has occurred.

China already has developed an advanced framework in EIA, which it regularly uses to stop abusive projects and to penalize companies that violate standards. The Chinese Appraisal Center for Environment and Engineering (ACEE) operates under China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and provides training, drafts laws, and provides advisory reports on environmental issues.  ACEE has played a very important role in the development and advancement of this framework.

In late 2009, the Cambodian Ministry of Environment asked AFSC for assistance in building environmental impact assessment as a means of tackling environmental problems. Following this request, the Northeast Asia Quaker International Affairs Representative, Jason Tower, approached ACEE to see whether they might have an interest in advancing an EIA framework in Cambodia. 

China Assists a Neighbor

While China is already a major source of overseas developmental assistance (ODA), it has traditionally focused on building infrastructure and roads, and less on developing local capacity. Seeing China’s role as the top investor in a country without standards or guidelines for EIA, ACEE expressed a strong interest in providing assistance in this area.  In collaboration with the NEA QIAR program and AFSC staff in Cambodia, the ACEE sent two EIA experts to Cambodia in May 2010 to conduct a needs assessment.

With a clear sense of the role that they could play in preventing future conflicts over environment and resources in Cambodia, ACEE planned a week-long training program for the Cambodian Ministry and local NGOs. A team of seven experts from ACEE then spent the next three months preparing a training manual and other course materials. 

With AFSC’s support, the September training course was held in Cambodia and was a tremendous learning experience for Cambodians. Hearing from Cambodians about their lack of capacity in impact assessment, the sheer number of destructive projects being implemented, and about China’s role as the number one investor in the country, the Chinese trainers gained a sense of ownership in the project.

Before leaving, the ranking member of ACEE, Liu Weisheng ,told senior Cambodian government officials that upon returning to China, he would advise the Chinese government to provide Cambodia with technical assistance in developing a stronger EIA framework. Mr. Liu also relayed  his suggestion to the Chinese media. The Southern Weekend, which Chinese and international observers often compare to the New York Times, ran a story on the training activity under the headline Chinese Trainers, Cambodian Students on October 7, 2010. AFSC’s translation of this article is available here.

ACEE told AFSC staff that its involvement in this activity has demonstrated to the Chinese MEP and the Chinese government an important role that it can play in developing capacity to prevent environmental damage in poor countries, and especially in countries where China is a major investor.