We have done our bit for the environment, Abg Jo reminds critics

Clean Air Asia executive director Bjarne Pedersen (right) presenting a memento to Naroden. On the left is Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Fuziah Salleh.

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By Nigel Edgar

KUCHING, Nov 16: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has lamented that some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international communities have been unfair to Sarawak even though the state government have been putting in a lot of effort to preserve the state’s environment over the years.

These bodies have relentlessly been accusing the state of committing genocide to wildlife, total destruction of its forest biodiversity and peatlands, severe environmental degradation and failure to respect and recognised the right of indigenous communities.

“These accusations are incorrect. I wish to highlight some of our efforts in the conservation of biodiversity,” he said at the `Better Air Quality (BAQ) Conference 2018’ gala dinner at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching on Thursday.

His text-of-speech was read out by Assistant Minister of eCommerce Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais.

Naroden speaking before hundreds of international delegates at the BAQ Conference 2018 Gala Dinner

Abang Johari said Sarawak was, in fact, committed to gazette about one million hectares (ha) of biodiversity hotspot areas under Totally Protected Areas (TPA) by the year 2020. To date, more than 792,510 ha have already been gazetted, excluding terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem, which covered about 1.243 million ha.

“The state government has committed to planting one million ha of industrial trees with fast-growing species, such as acacia. This is important to relieve the pressure on our natural forest resources. Currently, more than 400,000 hectares have been planted,” he added.

Abang Johari said Sarawak was also the first state in Malaysia to establish the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) in 1997 with the objective of initiating programmes for the conservation, utilisation, protection and sustainable development of biodiversity in the state.

He said the state had also gazetted 29 water catchment areas covering an area of about 4.08 million ha and another 58 catchment areas or about 4.1 million ha had been identified for future gazettement.

“To optimise the use of peatland as valuable agriculture land, the state has established a Tropical Research Peat Institute with the objective of developing scientific, technical knowledge and understanding on tropical peatland.

“The state of Sarawak is a party to the Heart of Borneo initiative that involves Brunei and Indonesia. Sarawak has gazetted 2.7 million ha for this Heart of Borneo initiative,” he pointed out.

On a related issue, Abang Johari explained that in the state government’s pursuit of socio-economic and rural transformation agenda, it was mindful of the emerging and complex environmental issues that might derail the state’s vision of achieving a developed high-income economy state by 2030.

He said modern society had acquired more knowledge and technologies in building healthier and more peaceful societies. However, unprecedented expansion of economic growth and infrastructural development had resulted in income and social inequality, a growing gap between the rich and the poor and eventually causing environmental degradation across the world.

“Emerging environmental issues such as solid waste management, water pollution, emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) and degradation of biodiversity are dealt with by the relevant agencies in the state. The state government has not neglected its environmental stewardship and obligation towards the conservation of rich biodiversity resources,” he assured.

Abang Johari also revealed that Sarawak was the first state in Malaysia to formulate its own environmental law, namely the Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Ordinance 1993 or NREO, and subsequently established the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) in 1994.

He said for the past 24 years, NREB had been responsible in ensuring all development activities in the state would not cause severe degradation to the environment and to ensure that all emerging environmental issues were properly addressed and mitigated.

Since the 1997 haze emergency in the state, the state government had allocated sufficient resources and facilities to address haze pollution, especially from local sources.

In Sarawak, there are altogether 15 Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AQMS) located at major towns and border towns to monitor ambient air quality throughout the state, including monitoring transboundary haze pollution.

These AQMS, provide hourly readings of ambient air quality standards, in particular, Air Pollution Index (API) of Particulate Matter (PM) 10 and PM2.5.

NREB had also established a Centre for Remote Environmental Monitoring or CREM, which could effectively detect incidences of illegal open burning by monitoring hotspots with assistance from satellite imageries.

Proactive ground monitoring by NREB enforcement teams has managed to reduce incidences of illegal open burning that causes haze pollution from local sources.

“After 2020, Sarawak will enforce a total ban on open burning of biomass, except for religious purposes and shifting cultivation by rural communities,” he said.

“Sarawak is a major player in Malaysia in its commitment to address global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emission. To date, 74 per cent or 3,452 megawatts (MW) of energy production in Sarawak are from renewable energy generated from three hydro dam projects, namely Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum.

“This is more than Malaysia’s target of achieving 2,080MW of renewable energy by 2020, which will result in avoiding 7.0 million tons of carbon dioxide annually,” he said.

Additionally, he said the state aimed to modernise its public transportation through the use of hydrogen fuel for buses. — DayakDaily