Malaysia’s environment needs help


While Malaysia has enjoyed impressive rates of economic growth over the last forty years, there has been substantial, irreparable and avoidable loss of her natural capital. Recognised as one of twelve countries blessed with mega biodiversity, Malaysia has difficulty securing her remaining wildlife. If forest cover is about 60 %, it is thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) generous definition of a ‘forest’– land with at least 10 % of tree crown cover and which can include forestry-type plantations such as rubber wood.

Malaysia’s forests, degraded by logging, replaced by plantations – oil palm or latex timber clones, fragmented by roads, and raided frequently by poachers hired by syndicates, harbour alarmingly declining numbers of wildlife. In the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List (IUCN Red List), Malaysia has the world’s third highest number of plants and animals threatened with extinction. The list warns of the disappearance of the tiger, sambar deer, rhinoceros, elephant, tapir, sunbear, pangolin, orangutan, hawksbill and leatherback turtles, among others, if business-as-usual continues, and it does. In a trade powered by demand from China, Vietnam and Thailand, Malaysia has emerged as a major hub in the smuggling of wildlife and wildlife products. To stop the demand and the trade, Malaysia needs help.

High conservation value lowland forests have been all but lost to plantations and urban development. More forests and habitats are being lost to oil palm, latex timber clones and mega projects to supply energy or water, phenomena mostly driven by top down decision-makers working in concert and non-transparently with private sector players. In this regard, Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud’s headlong conversion of peat swamp forests to oil palm, embarking on the “necklace” of twelve hydro-electric mega projects and concessions for high-impact logging (to clear the way for plantations), all of which simultaneously dispossess native people of their customary lands, show naked abandon. The judiciary and mainstream media do not enjoy sufficient autonomy to fulfil their check-and-balance roles. To stop Abdul Taib Mahmud, Malaysia needs help.

Meanwhile, Malaysian logging and oil palm companies take their plunder-for-profit expertise to countries around the world bringing little or no benefit to local communities, and sometimes misery. It would be useful to compile a list of such companies for worldwide reference. To reform these companies, Malaysia needs help.