Maladaptation and development as usual? Investigating climate change mitigation and adaptation projects in Cambodia

Courtney Work*, Vannrith Rong, Danik Song, Arnim Scheidel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Based on research into multiple types of climate change mitigation and adaptation (CCMA) projects and policies in Cambodia, this paper documents intersecting social and environmental conflicts that bear striking resemblance to well-documented issues in the history of development projects. Using data from three case studies, we highlight the ways that industrial development and CCMA initiatives are intertwined in both policy and project creation, and how this confluence is creating potentials for maladaptive outcomes. Each case study involves partnerships between international institutions and the national government, each deploys CCMA as either a primary or supporting legitimation, and each failed to adhere to institutional and/or internationally recognized standards of justice. In Cambodia, mismanaged projects are typically blamed on the kleptocratic and patrimonial governance system. We show how such blame obscures the collusion of international partners, who also sidestep their own safeguards, and ignores the potential for maladaptation at the project level and the adverse social and environmental impacts of the policies themselves. Key policy insights Initiatives to mitigate or adapt to climate change look very much like the development projects that caused climate change: Extreme caution must be exercised to ensure policies and projects do not exacerbate the conditions driving climate change. Safeguards ‘on paper’ are insufficient to avoid negative impacts and strict accountability mechanisms must be put in place. Academic researchers can be part of that accountability mechanism through case study reports, policy briefs, technical facilitation to help ensure community needs are met and safeguards are executed as written. Impacts beyond the project scale must be assessed to avoid negative consequences for social and ecological systems at the landscape level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S47-S62
JournalClimate Policy
Issue numbersup 1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research was conducted with funding by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO; grant number W07.68.416) and the United Kingdom?s Department for International Development (DfID; grant number 07.68.416) as part of the Conflict and Cooperation in the Management of Climate Change (CCMCC) initiative. The authors thank the participants of the CCMCC initiative, who commented on presentations of this paper, the research and advocacy team of the Mosaic Project in Cambodia and Myanmar, and the blind reviewers for their time and thoughtful attention.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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