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Library Intersections of Climate Change Mitigation Policies, Land Grabbing and Conflict in a Fragile State: Insights from Cambodia

Intersections of Climate Change Mitigation Policies, Land Grabbing and Conflict in a Fragile State: Insights from Cambodia

Intersections of Climate Change Mitigation Policies, Land Grabbing and Conflict in a Fragile State: Insights from Cambodia

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Date of publication
December 2015
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Thirty years after Cambodia’s ‘democratization’ by the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC), the transition to a market-based economy is raging at full steam. Democracy remains elusive, but policy interventions from Cambodia’s “development partners” color the political, social, and environmental landscapes. This paper attends to the land grabs characteristic of market transitions and to the climate change mitigation strategies currently enhancing conflicts over land and resources in contemporary Cambodia. Climate change mitigation projects and large-scale land deals are highlighted in recent research as potential instigators in conflicts over land and resources. However, this literature tends to view climate change policies and land grabbing as separate processes occurring in discrete geographies where displacement or contested claims occur. Working at the intersections of large-scale land acquisitions and climate change mitigation strategies viewed through a landscape perspective, several researchers and activists have come together to examine more systematically the intersections between these processes. Through the MOSAIC research project, they focus on the complex interactions within and across social, ecological, and institutional arenas. Reviewing the literature on land grabs, conflict, and climate change mitigation strategies in Cambodia shows their interplay and the social and ecological spill-over effects embedded in the historical processes, institutional agendas, and environmental particularities in which they take place. The multi-layered interactions of historical conflict and resource use at the landscape level intervene into contemporary projects to increase gross domestic production while mitigating the effects of climate change. Timber barons, for example – politicians and military officers who acquired massive stores of capital during the post UNTAC years of conflict – currently hold economic land concessions (ELCs) which enable their timber trade and the development of industrial agriculture. Both the World Bank and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), referred to locally as Cambodia’s “development partners”, support these ELCs. They encourage policy makers to promote “pro-business” environments and the intensification of industrial agriculture – increasingly pointed toward flex crops that stand ready for the market to demand clean-green biofuels. These projects play out in the undeveloped, but far from empty, landscape of Cambodia’s forested hinterlands; their execution requires the forced removal of thousands of families and the violent destruction of hundreds of villages. Moreover, the trade in timber and the still-strong power structures of politico-military elites are both embedded in the country’s recent attempts to administer UN-REDD carbon-capture programs. Military land concessions and elite cultivation of logging capital conspire to both divest villagers of vital forest products and to thwart international attempts to capture the planet’s few remaining forests. By attending to these intersections and spill-over effects at the intersections of land grabs and climate change projects in Cambodia, this paper will present the ways that a landscape framework and innovative research methods can provide inroads for preventing, resolving or transforming conflicts into more cooperative scenarios.

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