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New Article on Climate Change Policy and Cambodia

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How has climate change been understood as a problem and issue to be governed? What types of processes are required to make climate change amenable for intervention and regulation? A recently published article, ‘Rendering Climate Change Governable in the Least Developed Countries: Policy Narrative and Expert Technologies in Cambodia’, analyses the mechanisms through which climate change is made governable in the context of Cambodia. The article is part of the RECLAIM research project and has been written by Mira Käkönen, Louis Lebel, Kamilla Karhunmaa, Va Dany and Thoun Try. It was published as part of a special issue on the politics of knowledge in development in Forum for Development Studies. For copies of the article, please contact Kamilla Karhunmaa directly (kamilla.karhunmaa [at] Some of the key points of the article are presented below.

Expert-led, apolitical framings of climate change have been pronounced in the global arena of climate change policy and practice, which in turn has influenced the policy approaches to climate change. In the article, we examine how policy narratives and expert technologies influence the governability of climate change. Policy narratives are tools through which abstract ideas are translated into governable and implementable concepts. Typically, policy narratives involve simplifications of the problem at hand. In the context of climate change, concepts such as ‘climate compatible development’ have been employed to temper the tensions between climate change and economic growth on the one hand, and the global North and South on the other. Such concepts focus on the production of multiple benefits in development, adaptation and mitigation, while drawing attention away from the discussion on trade-offs and tensions. The technical dimensions of climate change mitigation and adaptation have also been strongly emphasized in discussions on how to respond to climate change. The use of expert technologies tends to depoliticize issues which are not neutral, but in effect adopt specific ways of looking at vulnerability and values. The combination of policy narratives and expert technologies is potent in helping to depoliticize climate change. On the one hand, policy narratives stabilize political tensions and render climate policies as questions of technical expertise, while on the other hand technical tools provide the scaffolding upon which policy justifications are made. 

We present three key findings from an analysis of policy narratives and expert technologies in Cambodia. First, policy narratives have been an important driver of the shifting rationalities of government with respect to adaptation and mitigation. In Cambodia, the policy narratives of donors have dominated and policy measures have been largely dependent on existing international incentives and structures developed to support low-carbon development. Second, most responses to climate change have been framed in technical terms that draw on expert knowledge, tools and technology. Mitigation is viewed through the currency of carbon credits and for example the CDM, whereas adaptation is viewed through the lens of impact and vulnerability assessments. Third, the combination of donor-driven policy narratives and expert technologies depoliticizes climate change, rendering it more easily governable through normal bureaucratic planning processes. As a consequence, Cambodian climate policies seem to be in a low-conflict and strong consensus arena while some key political economy processes, such as agrarian tensions and land-based struggles, are absent from the discussion. These can, however, be some of the main challenges in building resilience and adaptability in the face of climate change. Simplistic policy narratives coupled with a reliance on expert technologies may create more problems than they solve through supporting managerial approaches to policy and ignoring trade-offs, costs and the interests of key stakeholders.