Prudent Budget 2020 Spending Crucial to Reverse Biodiversity Loss
With fewer than 200 Malayan tigers left in the wild, protection of this species must be prioritised. Saving our tigers creates a Domino effect on other species, as they are apex predators and help to maintain healthy and intact natural forests. We need key actions to address the main threats. Increased patrolling efforts to deter wildlife crime that decimates our tigers and their prey is a critical step. Thus, the RM20 million allocation to employ rangers, including appointing Orang Asli, is a good start.
Nonetheless, we hope that this will not be a one-off effort, as the lack of wildlife enforcement personnel to effectively protect our forests has long been a major gap in natural resource management. Beyond filling this gap, funding allocations for such resources need to be sustained over the long-term to avoid further loss of our natural heritage.
“Rangers play an important role in protecting our wildlife, from removing snares to apprehending poachers. Snares are not only threats to tigers, but to other species as well, such as sun bears, elephants and deer. Snares are indiscriminate. If these snares are not removed, our forests will be emptied in no time,” said WWF-Malaysia Conservation Director, Dr. Henry Chan.
In connection to wildlife, forests and rivers are vital not only as habitats, but human well-being. Rivers are the source of almost 97 percent of our water, and the headwaters of our rivers originate in the forested water catchments within the Central Forest Spine (CFS) and the Heart of Borneo (HoB). Apart from designated protected areas such as national parks, most of the forests in the CFS and HoB are designated for forest management, which includes timber harvesting. Once a major but now a declining source of revenue, Malaysia must ensure that harvesting of timber does not impinge upon future timber stocks nor negatively impact the ecosystem services that forests provide. Forests which have been fragmented into isolated patches should establish wildlife corridors as determined by the CFS and HoB. Hence, the allocation of RM48 million is welcomed, but is insufficient to undertake these critical conservation measures.
WWF-Malaysia also welcomes the RM10 million as matching grants to generate new schemes for the corporate and financial sectors to take up more active roles in conservation. To this end, we urge the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank, as well as other regulators, to adopt and regulate Environmental Social Governance in the provision of loans and investments. Such measures would drive corporate behaviour to be more responsible towards conserving the environment.
It is disappointing that allocations for Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) to state governments were not made, as was in Budget 2019. EFT incentivises state governments to conserve their natural environment based on ecological indicators, such as protected area coverage. As the Government seeks to maintain at least 50 percent of our land mass under natural forest cover, it is crucial that EFT is institutionalised with clear mechanisms and indicators to encourage long-lasting conservation impacts.
Dr. Chan added that the Government’s plan for flood mitigation projects in 2020, amounting to RM443.9 million, should utilise nature-based solutions where applicable, apply green technologies or practices that allow for more groundwater recharge and storage, and encourage responsible solid waste management practices by communities. These efforts should be coupled with the provision of waste management facilities by the relevant authorities in order to tackle the problem of drainage blockages that could lead to more flooding.
Droughts are also occurring at higher frequency and severity as our planet continues to warm. Maintaining the healthy conditions of our forest is critical in mitigating the inevitable effects of climate change, such as conditions that contribute to widespread and prolonged man-made forest fires. As much as possible, we must retain our tree canopies, which provide shade for the forest floor to retain its moisture, therefore helping to mitigate forest fires.
Looking at marine ecosystems, Dr. Chan highlighted the severe threats Malaysia’s fisheries are facing, with a loss of 96 percent of demersal fish stocks from 1970 levels. He stressed that if Malaysia aspired to develop and maintain a sustainable ocean economy, major efforts were needed in conserving, enhancing and sustainably managing our marine natural assets.
“Allocation is very much needed in enhancing conservation efforts in key seascapes within and beyond the Coral Triangle area to recover damaged marine ecosystems, prevent illegal fishing and poaching of marine wildlife. However, Budget 2020 failed to address this.”
WWF-Malaysia lauded the specific allocations towards financing Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) initiatives, as formal government action on SDGs have yet to be mainstreamed to local constituencies. The allocated RM5 million will thus boost efforts to address the SDGs at the grassroots level, incorporating economic, social, environmental, human rights and good governance aspirations.
Environmental pollution has also been in the spotlight. The haze that robbed us of clean air, the toxic waste dumping in Sungai Kim Kim affecting vulnerable school children and frequent water supply disruptions due to pollution are a few examples of what Malaysians have had to endure this past year. As such, WWF-Malaysia hopes that such incidents will be prevented in the future through the RM30 million allocated to the Department of Environment and Chemistry Department.
“We need to have more effective long-term planning and adequate resources to address environmental problems that affect us today, as well as mitigating and adapting to the inevitable emergence of natural phenomena that will impact us tomorrow,” added Dr. Chan.
Our economy relies heavily on services from the environment that are often unacknowledged, including providing us with fresh water, air, food and protection from severe weather. We are in danger of losing these services if we do not protect our natural environment. In this light, the budget allocation and incentives to the private sector to provide grants for our environment and biodiversity makes good economic sense as an investment into our natural capital, which provides so many necessary services to our society and economy, but there is more to be done.
“One of the issues we face with allocating budget to protecting natural capital and the benefits it provides the rakyat is that we are not currently taking into account the true value of this important capital. We hope Budget 2021 will account for the link between natural capital, human capital and social capital when allocating funds for developing Malaysia towards a truly inclusive and sustainable society,” ended Dr. Chan.
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WWF-Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia) was established in Malaysia in 1972. It currently runs more than 90 projects covering a diverse range of environmental conservation and protection work, from saving endangered species such as tigers and turtles, to protecting our highland forests, rivers and seas. The national conservation organisation also undertakes environmental education and advocacy work to achieve its conservation goals. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the nation’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For latest news and media resources, visit http://www.wwf.org.my/media_and_information/media_centre/
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