Cambodia is a rural nation with more than 60% of its 16 million people living in the countryside. Historically, air pollution comes from the burning of wood and charcoal, agricultural fires and the incineration of waste. But as it develops, Cambodia faces a wave of urban pollution. Recent UNEP research shows that the main sources of pollution in Cambodia today are transport, power generation, industry and residential development.

Cambodia is not the only country fighting against air pollution. Around 99% of the world’s population breathes unclean air and air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths per year, more than 10% of all deaths.

Launched in January 2022, Cambodia’s Clean Air Plan, based on UNEP’s Actions on Air Quality report, outlines a set of measures to address major sources of current and future emissions in the country. This is the first time that a national report has been produced in Cambodia to measure air pollutants harmful to health and it collects data on the sectors of transport, agriculture, construction, energy and the water.

Fully implemented, the plan could reduce two major pollutants, PM 2.5 and black carbon, by 60%. It could also help reduce methane and carbon dioxide emissions, the main drivers of climate change, by 24% and 18% respectively by 2030. These improvements would help Cambodia avoid nearly 900 premature deaths per year.

Photo: Reuters/Hans Lucas

The Clean Air Plan found that transportation is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution. According to the Cambodian Ministry of Public Works and Transport, between 2015 and 2019, the number of vehicles registered in the country increased by around 65%. UNEP’s report on the world trade in used vehicles revealed that Cambodia is one of the countries in the region with substantial imports of used vehicles; these are usually over 10 years old and contribute significantly to air pollution and climate emissions.

One of the goals of the Clean Air Plan is to raise vehicle emissions standards. It also aims to limit the age of imported cars, shifting the country’s car fleet to newer, less polluting vehicles that meet strict European Union standards.