Pre­serve what we have

New strate­gies to stem our nat­u­ral her­itage losses.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By TAN CHENG LI star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

A new doc­u­ment out­lines the way to safe­guard our nat­u­ral trea­sure trove.

OUR na­ture re­port card does not look good. In re­cent years, we’ve lost wild species – the Su­ma­tran rhi­noc­eros and the leatherback tur­tle are lo­cally ex­tinct as num­bers are too small to be vi­able for breed­ing.

We’re also los­ing wild spa­ces – a cave in Ke­lan­tan which har­bours rare plants and a gecko found nowhere else in the world, will be quar­ried for ce­ment pro­duc­tion while sea­grass mead­ows off Jo­hor which host dugongs and sea­horses, are buried un­der newly re­claimed is­lands.

Malaysia lauds it­self as one of the world’s 17 mega- di­verse na­tions. Yet, alarm­ingly, it is ranked fifth among coun­tries with the most num­ber of threat­ened species in the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture’s Red List. ( Aus­tralia tops the list with 821 species, while we have 534.)

Amidst such gloomy news, the Na­tional Pol­icy on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity 2016- 2025, was launched last week. The 89- page doc­u­ment has an am­bi­tious scope, con­sist­ing of five goals, 17 tar­gets and 57 ac­tions, to chart the way to pro­tect our bio­di­ver­sity – the rich and di­verse species found in na­ture. It out­lines the means to re­duce pres­sure on bio­di­ver­sity, safe­guard key ecosys­tems and species, in­volve more peo­ple in con­ser­va­tion and share the ben­e­fits of us­ing the nat­u­ral wealth.

Botanist Dr Saw Leng Guan, who was a re­source per­son for the draft­ing of the pol­icy, says the new doc­u­ment has more fo­cus and tar­gets. “The pre­vi­ous bio­di­ver­sity pol­icy was just as­pi­ra­tions and state­ments. There were no re­views or fol­low- ups to see what has been done. The new pol­icy must have a sys­tem to mon­i­tor and re­port, oth­er­wise it is point­less.”

The pol­icy is also more struc­tured and rec­om­mended the cre­ation of var­i­ous com­mit­tees and a main coun­cil to over­see its im­ple­men­ta­tion, adds Saw, who re­cently re­tired as di­rec­tor of the for­est bio­di­ver­sity divi­sion at the For­est Re­search In­sti­tute of Malaysia.

Wider scope

Ac­cord­ing to Dr G. Bala­mu­ru­gan of ERE Con­sult­ing Group which helped the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry to for­mu­late the pol­icy, the new doc­u­ment has sev­eral ma­jor im­prove­ments from the pre­vi­ous one.

“The old pol­icy, de­vel­oped in 1998, was vague and had gen­eral state­ments. This pol­icy has specifics. There are quan­tifi­able and time­bound tar­gets which al­low for bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing. And for each ac­tion, there are in­di­ca­tors to show what has been achieved. Th­ese are im­por­tant dif­fer­ences.”

Aside from giv­ing more fo­cus on vul­ner­a­ble ecosys­tems and habi­tats, par­tic­u­larly lime­stone hills, wetlands, co­ral reefs and sea­grass beds, the pol­icy also ad­dresses ne­glected con­cerns such as ac­cess to bio­di­ver­sity shar­ing of its ben­e­fits, biosafety and in­va­sive alien species.

Many in­dige­nous peo­ple, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, civil so­ci­ety groups and pri­vate com­pa­nies have been ac­tive in bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion and their ef­forts should be recog­nised and sup­ported. Based on the tagline, “Our shared her­itage, our shared re­spon­si­bil­ity”, the pol­icy fo­cuses on wider pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion of such groups to achieve the green goals. “It moves away from be­ing a fed­eral- govern­ment- cen­tric pol­icy to one that seeks to em­power state gov­ern­ments, NGOs, the pri­vate sec­tor and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, to join hands in con­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity,” ex­plains Bala­mu­ru­gan.

The pol­icy calls for a leg­is­la­tion on ac­cess and ben­e­fit shar­ing to be in place by 2017, to pro­mote and pro­tect tra­di­tional knowl­edge so that in­dige­nous peo­ple and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties will ben­e­fit from the use of their knowl­edge on bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources.

In­te­grat­ing the pol­icy

World­wide Fund for Na­ture ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Datuk Dr Diony­sius Sharma is gen­er­ally sat­is­fied with the doc­u­ment. “The old pol­icy was in fact very well- drafted and com­pre­hen­sive. Un­for­tu­nately, it did not set time­lines for its im­ple­men­ta­tion, nor did it iden­tify spe­cific stake­hold­ers who would be re­spon­si­ble for the im­ple­men­ta­tion. This has been ad­dressed in the new pol­icy.”

A strong point of the pol­icy is its em­pha­sis on main­stream­ing bio­di­ver­sity in de­vel­op­ment and de­ci­sion- mak­ing pro­cesses. This is to en­sure that all eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties – be it agri­cul­ture, forestry, fish­eries, tourism, min­ing or in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment – do not put pres­sure on our bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources.

One in­di­ca­tor of main­stream­ing is to es­tab­lish a nat­u­ral re­source ac­count­ing pro­gramme that puts a value on nat­u­ral ar­eas and the ecosys­tem ser­vices the pro­vide, says Sharma. “For ex­am­ple, it should be un­der­stood that the quan­tity and qual­ity of wa­ter de­pends on the in­tegrity of our forests, which also serve as wa­ter catch­ments and nat­u­ral fil­ters. A nat­u­ral re­source ac­count­ing sys­tem will make this vis­i­ble to de­ci­sion- mak­ers so that we grow our economies with­out de­stroy­ing the very fun­da­men­tal ba­sis which they are based upon.”

For this to hap­pen, a reg­u­la­tory frame­work to en­sure that bio­di­ver­sity is ad­e­quately val­ued and in­te­grated into all de­ci­sions will be in place by 2018. The bio­di­ver­sity com­po­nent of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment process will be strength­ened.

Saw gladly notes that the pol­icy sup­ports con­ser­va­tion of lime­stone hills. “They are a key habi­tat to pro­tect, be­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ately rich in species. They oc­cupy only 0.4% of the coun­try’s land yet have 14% of Penin­su­lar Malaysia’s 8,500 plant species. There should be a mora­to­rium on quar­ry­ing by state gov­ern­ments.”

How­ever, he points out that many rare and threat­ened plants are not pro­tected as present leg­is­la­tions safe­guard only an­i­mals. Only the plants found in gazetted parks re­ceive some form of pro­tec­tion. Saw says there should be a sin­gle law on threat­ened species.

Keep­ing seas and forests well- stocked

The pol­icy also wants “high con­ser­va­tion value” ar­eas ( HCV) and “en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas” ( ESA) to be mapped and in­cor­po­rated into state and district lo­cal plans, so that they will not be mined or turned into plan­ta­tions, town­ships or in­dus­trial sites. The pol­icy bars for­est plan­ta­tions, in­clud­ing tim­ber la­tex clone plan­ta­tions, in HCV and ESA sites and in ar­eas cru­cial for wildlife move­ment. In fu­ture, there will be guide­lines and de­vel­op­ment con­trols for ar­eas ad­ja­cent to th­ese sites. The pol­icy also en­cour­ages compact cities and ur­ban growth bound­aries to min­imise

ur­ban sprawl.

To lessen the pres­sure of eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties on species- rich ar­eas, the pol­icy calls for bet­ter plan­ning of agri­cul­ture, sus­tain­able man­age­ment of all forests, more fish­ing- pro­hib­ited zones and a stop on over- fish­ing.

An over- looked area is the marine ecosys­tem. “The sta­tus and threats to ter­res­trial bio­di­ver­sity have been well- stud­ied and doc­u­mented but not so for marine bio­di­ver­sity,” says Bala­mu­ru­gan. “Yet the threats here are a lot more se­ri­ous. Na­tional fish stock sur­veys have not been done in re­cent years so we have no clue on the sta­tus of our fish stocks but var­i­ous stud­ies show se­vere de­ple­tion.”

To en­dure in the long term, our pro­tected habi­tats have to be big enough, and have enough ge­netic and species di­ver­sity. So, the plan is to ex­pand to­tally pro­tected ar­eas to 20% of the land and 10% of marine ar­eas. Cur­rently, only 1.4% of our over 453,000sqkm of wa­ters are des­ig­nated as marine parks.

In the plan are more cor­ri­dors of nat­u­ral habi­tats to con­nect th­ese ar­eas, to al­low gene flow and an­i­mal move­ments. It is equally im­por­tant to main­tain bio­di­ver­sity in ur­ban ar­eas by set­ting up ad­e­quate green spa­ces

re­al­is­ing the pol­icy

With pre­vi­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies hit­ting bumps on the road to re­al­i­sa­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to be op­ti­mistic about this am­bi­tious pol­icy. How to pre­vent it from suf­fer­ing the same fate as the pre­vi­ous pol­icy, the Tiger Ac­tion Plan and the Ele­phant Ac­tion Plan?

“All poli­cies will have some de­gree of this ( non- im­ple­men­ta­tion) be­cause the el­e­ment of ac­count­abil­ity is not strong,” as­serts Bala­mu­ru­gan. “As peo­ple say, ‘ If we don’t im­ple­ment, so what?’ The sav­ing grace for the new pol­icy is that it has tar­gets which can be mea­sured, and has a bet­ter gov­er­nance struc­ture. It iden­ti­fies lead agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing the ac­tions. It has a clear mon­i­tor­ing and co- or­di­na­tion frame­work.”

He says a pro­posed na­tional bio­di­ver­sity roundtable led by the pri­vate sec­tor and NGOs will pro­vide for greater pub­lic scru­tiny on how the pol­icy is acted on.

Ul­ti­mately, state gov­ern­ments will spear­head much of the ac­tion plan, so they must buy in to the whole idea of con­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity. There is con­flict­ing agenda now – 80% to 90% of state rev­enues come from the use of land and ex­ploita­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. The pol­icy says states must be given op­tions to di­ver­sify their rev­enue sources away from th­ese re­sources. Other mea­sures are re­mov­ing per­verse in­cen­tives ( which en­cour­ages ex­ploita­tion of the land) and in­cen­tives for states to have en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion pro­grammes.

To em­bed bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion into de­vel­op­ment plans, state au­thor­i­ties – par­tic­u­larly agen­cies re­lated to land use, agri­cul­ture, forestry and fish­eries – must be trained. Bala­mu­ru­gan says the state eco­nomic plan­ning units are sup­posed to de­velop state- level bio­di­ver­sity strate­gies to carry out the pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions.

Who’s pay­ing?

For the pol­icy to get off the ground, funds are needed. The plan is to scale up the Na­tional Con­ser­va­tion Trust Fund, es­tab­lished in 2014 with RM10mil from the fed­eral govern­ment, by seek­ing funds from re­gional and in­ter­na­tional sources, and the pri­vate sec­tor. The fund is to dis­burse RM2mil an­nu­ally by 2020. Other pro­pos­als are new types of fi­nanc­ing such as pay­ment for ecosys­tem ser­vices ( for sup­ply of wa­ter and tim­ber), green or car­bon tax, and tourist de­par­ture tax.

For Sharma, there is a con­cern: Will in­creased trade pres­sure af­fect our abil­ity to ad­here to the planned green growth? “We will need stronger in­te­gra­tion of bio­di­ver­sity val­ues in eco­nomic de­ci­sion- mak­ing, com­pared to where we cur­rently are at, to han­dle this. And while the pol­icy pro­vides the av­enue for this, it may not oc­cur quickly enough. Un­less higher un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of eco- sys­tem func­tion­ing and ser­vices pre­vail, and is in­te­grated into all seg­ments of de­vel­op­ment plan­ning, short- term gains may in­flu­ence de­ci­sion- mak­ing.”

Sharma says ev­ery­one should play a part in en­sur­ing that the pol­icy is car­ried out. “The sus­tain­abil­ity of our var­ied ecosys­tems, the ser­vices they play and goods they pro­vide, is in the in­ter­est of all Malaysians. Our de­ci­sions to­day are go­ing to have a pro­found ef­fect on our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It is re­ally about man­ag­ing our nat­u­ral cap­i­tal.”

> 50% of agri­cul­tural ar­eas to be cer­ti­fied as sus­tain­ably man­aged. > 20% of fish catch to be sus­tain­ably har­vested. > Iden­tify and ra­tio­nalise per­verse sub­si­dies in agri­cul­ture, forestry and fish­eries sec­tor by 2021. > Con­serve 20% of ter­res­trial ar­eas and in­land wa­ters, and 10% of coastal and marine ar­eas. > Dou­ble the num­ber of com­mu­nity con­served ar­eas. > For­mu­late a na­tional ac­tion plan to con­serve ur­ban bio­di­ver­sity. > Map all vul­ner­a­ble ecosys­tems and habi­tats ( lime­stone hills, forests on ul­tra­ba­sic soils, wetlands, co­ral reefs and sea­grass beds) and pro­tect half of them. > Re­ha­bil­i­tate 10,000ha of de­graded peat swamp forests. > Re­store and pro­tect im­por­tant ter­res­trial and marine eco­log­i­cal cor­ri­dors. Set up 10 pri­mary cor­ri­dors un­der the Cen­tral For­est Spine ini­tia­tive to link frag­mented forests. > Re­view leg­is­la­tions re­lated to fish­eries, marine parks and marine bio­di­ver­sity by 2020. > Com­plete stock­take sur­veys of marine and fresh­wa­ter aquatic life by 2021. > Pro­duce the Na­tional Red Data List on plants and an­i­mals by 2020. > Legally pro­tect all en­dan­gered and threat­ened species. Pre­vent ex­tinc­tion of known threat­ened species and im­prove their con­ser­va­tion sta­tus. > Sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce poach­ing, il­le­gal har­vest­ing and il­le­gal trade of wildlife, fish and plants. > Dou­ble re­sources for en­force­ment by 2020. > Take le­gal ac­tion on out­lets in­volved in il­le­gal sale of wildlife by 2021. > Es­tab­lish a nat­u­ral re­source ac­count­ing pro­gramme by 2020 for the val­u­a­tion of nat­u­ral ar­eas and ecosys­tem ser­vices. > States to iden­tify bio­di­ver­sity hotspots by 2020. > Set up the Na­tional Bio­di­ver­sity Cen­tre by 2018. > Es­tab­lish a net­work of na­tional botan­i­cal gar­dens. Ten new sites of bi­o­log­i­cal im­por­tance to re­ceive in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. > Dou­ble the num­ber of col­lab­o­ra­tive projects with civil so­ci­ety and the pri­vate sec­tor. > De­velop le­gal pro­vi­sions to em­power in­dige­nous peo­ple and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to be cus­to­di­ans of bio­di­ver­sity by 2021. > Tourism is sus­tain­ably man­aged and pro­motes bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. > As­sess the re­silience and vul­ner­a­bilty of all ma­jor ecosys­tems to cli­mate change by 2018. > Iden­tify and stop the spread of in­va­sive alien species. > Min­imise and man­age any po­ten­tially ad­verse im­pacts of mod­ern biotech­nol­ogy.

— TAN cheNG LI/ The star

More green­ery: More forests are put aside for log­ging than for con­ser­va­tion. The new pol­icy on bio­di­ver­sity wants to raise pro­tected lands to 20% of the to­tal land area by 2025.

- ALI SHAM­SUL BA­HAR

1. We now have 42 marine parks but they form only 1.4% of our marine ar­eas. The pol­icy aims to raise the fig­ure to 10% by 2025. - Reefcheck 2. Chiku Cave in Ke­lan­tan is ear­marked for quar­ry­ing de­spite it hav­ing rare plants and an en­demic gecko. The new pol­icy on di­ver­sity calls for bet­ter pro­tec­tion of vul­ner­a­ble habi­tats such as lime­stone hills.

— Filepic

sea­grass beds are cru­cial not just for the sur­vival of dugongs and tur­tles, but also some 100 fish species and 20 prawn species.

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