Malaysia: Consider impact on environment - WWF

New Straits Times 2 Nov 14;

THE 2015 Budget, while offering several measures to help the people, is unduly silent on the management of the environment, especially natural spaces.

It is assumed, given that this will be the last budget to be implemented under the 10th Malaysia Plan, that measures provided in the last budget like the Environment Social Governance Index, Conservation Trust Fund, MyCarbon portal, Malaysian Green Foundation as well as other initiatives in the past had contributed towards environmental goals.

Be that as it may, WWF-Malaysia urges the government to bear environmental considerations in mind when implementing the measures of this budget. This is because environmental integrity is at the heart of ensuring that the people benefit from the advances of a developed nation.

The budget has made targeted subsidy allocations for the most marginalised in our society and this is to be lauded. The administration of such subsidies should ensure that environmental impacts are also evaluated to safeguard that, in the long term, these well-intended aids do not end up being perverse measures.

For example, in the case of fishermen, the subsidies should be designed to not only provide assistance but also to ensure that the resource base — the fish stock — that the fishermen depend on for their livelihood is not depleted.

If this should happen, not only will fishermen lose their means to generate income but Malaysians, in general, would lose access to a rich protein source.

Another example is to diversify fishermen’s sources of income with the allocation to accelerate aquaculture, such cage farming of fish, shrimp, mussels and oysters.

This measure should be implemented after taking environmental impacts into consideration. Hence, implementing best aquaculture practices should be one of the criteria attached to disbursing this allocation.

Unsustainable aquaculture practices would not only see the increase in demand for trash fish and fish fry, which in turn would further deplete wild fish stocks, but would also result in other environmental impacts.

Road and highway construction in Sabah and Sarawak, and the upgrading of roads to improve safety is welcome, as is improving connectivity between major cities.

However, any new roads should take into account existing and proposed totally-protected areas (TPAs). Areas like the Maludam National Park and the proposed Batang Lassa National Park (both in Sarawak) should remain undisturbed as they are home to critically-endangered species like the red-banded langur and a breeding ground for the terubok fish.

No highway or major road network should be built within or near the Danum Valley-Maliau Basin-Imbak Canyon conservation corridor and its buffer zone to preserve the corridor’s ecological integrity. Likewise, the upgrading of logging roads should be done with caution. Most logging roads are in forest reserves. Better roads will allow poachers easy access and result in human-wildlife conflict.

Infrastructure projects should not be at the expense of forests that provide vital services for the wellbeing of the people.

In terms of the promotion of new planting and replanting by oil palm among smallholders, again, these incentives should be premised upon the adoption of responsible best management practices.

Investments into electrification should be done hand in hand with greening the energy supply with sustainable and environmentally-friendly renewable sources.

Otherwise, the increase in electricity demand would have to be met by increasing supply from conventional coal power plants. This would negate any emissions’ benefit ensuing from these efforts.

The recent biannual Living Planet Report 2014 by WWF shows that, globally, we are in deficit. Malaysians are consuming more than we should be annually. This deficit, if not acknowledged and addressed, will have far greater consequences than fiscal deficits.

We, as a nation, should advance measures to manage the environment and optimise the resources it generously provides because they are becoming limited.

Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, executive director and chief executive director, WWF-Malaysia