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Opinion

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

10 areas in environment to tackle

YEO Bee Yin and Dr Xavier Jayakumar, the two new ministers responsible for environment and natural resources management respectively, have their hands full in the coming months. There are many challenges ahead and unresolved issues to be tackled. Having worked in these fields for over 30 years, I would like to highlight 10 priority areas which I hope both ministers would look into.

1. Climate change: Malaysia has focused most of its efforts on mitigating climate change, particularly on reducing emission. However, issues like how climate change will affect our agricultural output, water supply, diseases and human wellbeing have not yet been properly addressed. Some preliminary work was done by the previous government and this should be continued and expanded.

2. Biological diversity: Our National Policy on Biological Diversity, formulated in 2016, is a progressive policy with ambitious targets but implementation has been slow. I hope due attention and sufficient resources will be given to the implementation of this policy, otherwise Malaysia will be in serious danger of losing a significant part of its biodiversity. Critical issues include the loss of species, fragmentation of forests, and threats to wetlands, other vulnerable ecosystems and marine protected areas.

3. Goals and targets: Our National Policy on the Environment, which was formulated in 2002, is grossly outdated. It needs to be revamped so that it will address all the current and emerging environmental issues and provide clear goals and targets to be achieved. Certain issues, such as solid waste which is currently under a different ministry, need to be brought under the umbrella of this national strategy.

4. Forest management: We have lost much of our forests and what’s left are fragmented and degraded. It is time to invest in reducing forest fragmentation, stressing on realising the goals of the Central Forest Spine and Heart of Borneo. A national framework on “no net loss of forest” and an independent assessment of the extent of forest cover in the country is needed.

5. Marine ecosystems and resources: Marine biodiversity conservation has not received much attention while fisheries management is almost entirely based on production rather than conservation. Our fishery resources have been depleted substantially. Our coral reefs, mudflats, seagrass beds and island ecosystems are being threatened. Even our legislation to protect marine ecosystems is weak. There is also an urgent need to rationalise the goals of the Department of Fisheries and the Department of Marine Parks.

6. Water resource and river basin management: Too many agencies are involved in the management of our water resources and river basins. Overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions, lack of capacity and the vagaries of the state-federal jurisdiction add to the problem. The roles of the various agencies must be streamlined and state governments accorded greater responsibility. Attention must be given to critical areas such as riparian reserves and protection of river aquatic life. Tools such as payment for ecosystem services and pollution load allocation models should be explored.

7. Greater role for NGOs and local communities: The government needs to provide local communities and NGOS engaged in environmental protection with better support. Environmental and natural resources management can be done effectively by empowering and building the capacity of local communities and NGOs. Public outreach activities are important.

8. Green spaces and urban biodiversity: Much of our urban forests and green spaces have been “sacrificed” for “development”. Most of our urban green spaces are sterile with little biodiversity. Both ministries can play a big role in pushing for more green spaces in our cities and create urban forests and parks. A National Plan for Urban Biodiversity is timely.

9. Revenue-sharing between federal and state governments: The present system where most of the revenue generated goes to the federal government forces state governments to rely on exploiting their natural resources. We need a scheme that will give state governments a better slice of the revenue while putting greater responsibility on them to care for the environment.

10. Strengthen capacity at the ministry: Capacity at the ministries must be strengthened given that climate change, biodiversity conservation, water resources management, etc, are very technical subjects. Subject matter experts should be recruited either directly or seconded from other technical departments and PTD officers must be in place for a significant period of time.

Although environment and natural resources will now sit in two separate ministries, the issues are inter-linked. Hence, it is crucial for the ministers concerned to establish joint working committees to tackle these issues. Protecting our environment and managing our natural resources is vital for our nation’s progress.

DR G. BALAMURUGAN

Subang Jaya