Vote to Be Champions for the Environment | WWF Malaysia

Vote to Be Champions for the Environment

Posted on 06 May 2018
A closer look at the important Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA).
© WWF-Malaysia / Brian Richard
Come 9th May 2018, Malaysians all over the country will gear up to exercise their right promised to them by democracy. As citizens of this country, we will head out to do our civic duty and choose who we consider to be our rightful leader who will be tasked to champion our cause. At the time of writing, campaigning have started in various districts, with politicians putting forth their visions and laying out their plans in order to get there. It is up to us to decide whether their visions align with ours, whether their beliefs are our shared belief and whether their plans for the future are what we would envision for tomorrow’s Malaysia.

Manifestos from either side of the political divide are meant to champion the causes that are near and dear to the peoples’ hearts. They are meant to better the lives of the rakyat, to drive our economy to greater heights and as such, to build a better, stronger and more prosperous Malaysia. However, while the manifestos have made great promises that will potentially benefit many Malaysians, a large part of what would help build a better Malaysia – the preservation of the environment – have not been given adequate attention. What will our newly elected government do to ensure that our trees are not lost and our wildlife don’t go extinct? How will the government protect our biodiversity – a term so vital to understand yet so rarely given the limelight?

Early this year, a total of twenty non-governmental bodies including WWF-Malaysia signed an open letter to all political parties, calling on them to recognise the environmental aspirations of Malaysian citizens by including a commitment to the environment into their respective party’s manifestos. The letter asserted that Malaysians must aim to achieve development in a sustainable way, which is the only way to ensure a higher standard of living for the current and future generations. 

A recent survey initiated by the same group of non-governmental bodies showed that 95% of respondents were concerned about the natural environment in general and 84% were interested to know more about political parties’ environmental plans for the nation. The survey, which was carried out between February and March, received 1,603 respondents, whose top environmental concerns included pollution of rivers and seas as well as deforestation and illegal logging.

Have these calls and concerns fallen on deaf ears? As citizens, did we not push hard enough or speak loud enough for our leaders to grasp an understanding on just how important preserving our ecosystem is in order for any of the mentioned manifestos to be successful? Economic development, and by extension, social and political development, of any kind depend on natural resources. If these natural resources are not sustainably managed, our development is then short-lived. Economics aside, the environment is our source of life – the very bare necessities that we require to survive. For where else do we get clean air if not from our forests, and once that disappears, how are we to live if we are to suffocate from polluted air?

While we cannot force our environmental aspirations unto the agendas of the political parties, we can certainly keep the governments that we ultimately elect in check by being aware of what they plan to do for the environment in the years to come. One such document that we can use as a baseline is the Sabah Structure Plan 2033 (SSP 2033). The SSP 2033 was launched in 2016 to determine the direction and pattern of physical development in Sabah over the next 20 years. Among the many policies put in place and proposed in the SSP 2033, a significant portion highlighted the need for environmental protection and conservation. The list of policies were many and represent a big step forward for conservation should they materialise.

These include the need to expand and strengthen protected areas as well as to maintain and improve forest cover. A crucial part of the plan – which is perhaps largely unknown to the public – has also identified Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA). The ESA ranges from forested areas that are important to biodiversity and ecosystem services, to coastal shorelines where development should be prohibited, as well designated water protection areas. ESA also includes existing protected areas, major rivers and World Heritage Sites.

According to the SSP, ESA will be integrated into land use planning, which will enable land to be managed according to their categories of sensitivity. Under this system, areas falling under the ESA will be categorised into three ranks. Rank 1, which is highly environmentally sensitive, prohibits development of any sort aside from eco-tourism, research and education. Rank 2 permits development with a strict set of criteria including ensuring that there will be no net loss of forest biodiversity in areas of conversion. Rank 3, allows restricted development.

Together, these steps contribute toward better management of our forests – our source of biodiversity. They ensure that natural resources are sustainably managed, and allow for a more balanced economic development. They ensure that our conservation efforts are not stagnant but are continually developing and expanding. Most importantly, they gradually recognise the importance of protection over short-term development gains. It is WWF-Malaysia’s fervent hope that the implementation of these conservation and environmental policies as embedded in the SSP 2033 will be set in motion as concrete action plans with provision of adequate funds.

In this election, we urge all Malaysians to think long and hard about the choices they make at the ballot box. While determining where your support should go, be sure to add the environment into your consideration. Choose the candidate that will most likely uphold the country’s commitment to safeguarding the environment. Choose not only on the basis of political affiliations but on the consideration of where your chosen candidate stands in terms of sustainable development. Choose a leader who will protect the forests and all it stands for – biodiversity, intact ecosystem, a promise of a future for your children and their children.

Beyond that, our role as citizens go further than the ballot box. Once we have elected our government, be vigilant and keep them on their toes. Be aware of what they plan to do. Question their agenda and their plans. Ensure that they fulfil their end of the bargain to protect our forests. If they don’t, find out why. Be bold. Because the fate of our forests is in no one else’s hands but our own.

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For more information, please contact:
Elaine Clara Mah
Tel: +6088 262 420 Ext. 121
A closer look at the important Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA).
© WWF-Malaysia / Brian Richard Enlarge
An aerial view of Danum Valley, one of Sabah's remaining intact forest.
© WWF-Malaysia / Raymond Alfred Enlarge
The Sabah Structural Plan 2033 details its comprehensive plans for the environment.
© WWF-Malaysia / Brian Richard Enlarge