GE15: Environment Protection Pledges – Are They Strong Enough?

While heavy rain, landslides, were initially attributed to the devastating mud floods that damaged many homes in Baling, Kedah earlier in 2022, there was later confirmation of forest clearings to plant commercial trees in the upper hilly areas. This was said to have contributed to the flow of debris, and logs that come down the stream as mud flows into the flooded homes.

PETALING JAYA, Nov 16 – Pledges on environment protection are there in the election manifestos of parties contesting in the 15th General Election, but are they strong enough? Several leading environmentalists have cast their doubts.

“So far none of the parties/coalition of parties have pledged or have stated their commitments to declare “Climate Emergency“ except for Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) that has been trying to educate Malaysians to live a eco-friendly lifestyle,” said Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka) chief Damien Thanam Divean.

“This is despite reports that have been piling up locally and abroad of the threats to the people from climate change generated by the Global Warming Phenomenon and Malaysia is predicted to be badly affected,” he told Weekly Echo in a phone interview.

Naturalist and Chief Executive Officer of ECOMY, Andrew Sebastian, said political parties generally have not made climate change or nature conservation as a priority.

The issue of nature conservation and climate change must be a priority, says Andrew Sebastian.

“They do not identify climate change and nature conservation as an important part and the root of a lot of problems we are facing in terms of socio economics….from floods to droughts to landslides and low productivity in farms. Everything is linked.

“While Pakatan has made its pledge, its environment cause is at number 10 in its list. I hope this is not reflective of any order of priorities.

“Important developments are happening in terms of weather changes, weather patterns. The parties and politicians who are going to govern the country need to know this and make it a priority,” Andrew said.

Climate change is often seen in the context of how it is going to impact the people and what can be done to counter the impact, for instance flood billion ringgit mitigation plans, said former Secretary of Otai Reformasi Abdul Razak.

Some of these moves are also suspect and have come under scrutiny, with some wondering if these projects aimed at preventing and compensating for damages from natural disasters may be used to grab funds from the government coffers to award projects to cronies, he said.

The mood has to change to tackling the underlying issues contributing to an acceleration in climate change such as deforestation, and the rampant conversion of forest land for cash crops or unnecessary commercial development.

“While many politicians are also strongly campaigning along the lines of better economy, a stable government, better pay, racial unity, fighting corruption, very little is being fought for the environment and in fact no concrete plan has been devised by any of these parties to take better care of the country’s forests or environment,” he said.

Former Otai Reformasi Secretary Abdul Razak (left) commended Pakatan’s offer to states rejecting degazettement but added that it must also cover the issuance of minor licenses for activities in forest reserves.

While he commended Pakatan’s offer to reward states that reject degazettement RM1 billion, he said there was no mention of the “lesen kecil” (minor license) under the Forest Enactment on activities of quarrying in forest reserves. “Degazettement is one thing, but the minor license does not involve degazettement. A minor license can still be issued to carry out quarrying, and also some plantation activities without a degazettement in place,” Abdul Razak said.

Meanwhile, another activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said some of the pledges are repeat of what have been promised over the years. “Higher fines for offender and so on. But these regulations have always been there but how effective are they and how strong is the will for enforcement?,” he asked.

“Some of the plans are not within the immediate target range of achievement. This would leave space for more deforestation activities.

“For instance, stronger fines will continue to open doors for continued encroachment by bigger companies that can afford to pay off big fines and carry on with whatever they are doing. Even when there is an existing moratorium on felling trees, some companies circumvent around such regulations to carry out what they are doing,” he said.

Forests not only provide barriers against the effects of climate change or soak up carbon emissions, a major contributor to global warming, but play a much deeper role in the prevention of natural disasters like floods, landslides, and politicians must pay attention to this issue.

“This has long been a bone of contention between the people and state. We have seen it during many protests carried out by communities affected by encroachment into forest areas near their areas and ensuing floods.

“There needs to be a much stronger voice for environment in the election manifesto. At one look, the GE15 pledges for environment is flimsy. It remains to be seen the kind of policies the newly elected government will have in place eventually to tackle the conversion of forest for development, for the cultivation of agriculture produce and commercial commodities. This will be crucial if we are to look at the warnings issued by scientists and the kind of disasters that will follow with climate change,” he said.

Meanwhile, a check with the Global Forest Watch (GFW) data, shows that there have been regular deforestation activities in almost all the states in the country.

These included a total of 1361 deforestation alerts during the period Oct 30 to Nov 6 this year in Pahang, covering 16.72 hectares in primary forest and intact forest, a total of 669 alerts covering 8.2 hectares in primary forest and intact forest in Gua Musang, Kelantan, and 111 deforestation alerts in Hulu Langat, Selangor covering 1.36 hectares.

“Having a well-informed and strong minister to handle the environment and climate portfolio will be crucial post-election,” the activist added.

During the interview, the environmentalists were asked on which party or candidate has done a good job in the role of an environment minister so far?

Some of their personal views:

Andrew: “The best party for environment would be Pakatan Harapan….we saw a glimpse of it when it was in charge, even though it was for a short term. We saw a good minister, a ministry that actually had climate change in its portfolio of environment. That was the most bold, best move ever made by the government of the day. Some of its leaders are young, and have some experience in environment in the previous government and they would be the best to move forward.

“We have seen the candidates from the BN/PN/PAS coalition stepping up into the post of Ministry of Environment and even Ministry of Trade and Industry …and they have done a bad job in putting to the forefront the need for nature conservation, environment protection and climate change.

Damien: “So far the best seen but yet to deliver the most benefits to the nation was Yeo Bee Yin (PKR/DAP candidate for Puchong). A lot of improvements were seen but probably hampered by the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir to enrich his cronies whom she served under.

— WE