The Malaysian Reserve

Govt told to empower local and indigenous communities to help protect natural resources

Loss and degradation of forests and other natural ecosystems imperil our whole society, according to Mengo (Source: Mengo)

Environmental NGOs also call for establishment of coordinating council on sustainable development to mainstream the environment and SDGs

By HABHAJAN SINGH

Key institutions like Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) and government-linked corporations (GLCs) can play a part to influence lending and investment policies to manage the environment and social risk and opportunities.

Malaysia may also want to consider the establishment of a coordinating council on sustainable development to mainstream the environment and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the decision-making processes of other ministries.

These are among the suggestions from a coalition of environment-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help boost the state of the nation’s environmental health.

“While we work in silos, nature is integrated and interconnected. Since nature can’t be changed, we must make the change so nature can be respected in an integrated manner,” Malaysian Environmental NGOs (Mengo) chairman S Shanmugaraj said in a statement.

The statement, however, did not spell out specific moves that could be taken by BNM, the SC or GLCs.

As Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad prepares to announce the remaining members of the Cabinet, the 25-member coalition is urging the new federal government under Pakatan Harapan to retain a ministry for natural resources and environment.

“Strengthening the (ministry) will be crucial to address these complex environmental concerns and to fulfil our international obligations,” he said.

Shanmugaraj said the coalition would like to see the implementation of Pakatan Harapan’s election promise to balance economic development with environmental protection.

“Forests and other natural ecosystems cover more than 50% of the land area of Malaysia and underpin our overall development. Loss and degradation of these ecosystems imperil our whole society.

“We cannot ignore local resource conservation issues: Good forest management protects watersheds and ensures continuing supplies of fresh water, in addition to safeguarding wildlife and other biological resources; marine conservation speaks to both food security, including for some of Malaysia’s most remote and resource-poor communities, as well as ensuring that tourist assets are maintained,” he said.

Shanmugaraj also said Malaysia’s role in the illegal — both national and international — wildlife trade required attention.

Mengo has pointed out that Malaysia is a party to the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity, the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN SDGs.

“Through these frameworks, Malaysia has committed to minimise the loss of our biodiversity and pursue a low-carbon development pathway,” he said.

In the statement, Mengo had listed five initiatives for the long-term sustainability of economic and social development:

1) Reorganise existing institutions to enhance cooperation and synergy between the federal and state governments on natural resource management.

2) Ensure that appropriate policies and plans are in place to anticipate and deal with these issues to minimise adverse environmental effects and achieve sustainable development.

3) Closely monitor and enforce regulations and recommendations as they relate to environment impact assessments, logging, poaching, wildlife trade and others.

4) Promote, adopt and operationalise sustainable practices across all government agencies, as well as the general population.

5) Strengthen regulations and ensure the application of the rule of law.

Meanwhile on the establishment of the council, Mengo believes it would give high priority to developing a coordinated and integrated implementation framework.

“Policies alone have not provided the desired results. The government should furthermore empower local and indigenous communities to help protect and manage our natural resources.

“They have been the stewards of the forests and rivers for thousands of years, but have often been displaced by loggers and developers. With proper support, local communities can help protect and restore our degraded lands, improve the environment and create new sustainable income opportunities for themselves,” according to the statement.

Among the members of the coalition established in November 2001 are the Biji-Biji Initiative, Environmental Management and Research Association of Malaysia, Environmental Protection Society Malaysia, Green Earth Society Johor, Malaysian Nature Society, Malaysia Society of Marine Sciences, Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre, Water Watch Penang, Wetlands International Malaysia and World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia.