- Malaysia and the Pursuit of Sustainability
In the build-up to Malaysia's 14th General Elections (GE14), the then-opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition campaigned on multiple reform platforms—including that of sustainability and inclusivity. Buku Harapan (The Book of Hope), the coalition's much-lauded manifesto, was written to encapsulate the grievances of an electorate hankering for change (with a little less regard to the practicality of the promises within), and it had all the right sustainability targets. The publication won praise from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with a coalition of twenty NGOs releasing the results of a survey indicating that 69 per cent of those who intended to vote considered the environment a factor in their choice of government.1
The PH coalition promised to govern "based on principles of sustainability and sustainable development", pledging that development projects would comply with international environmental protection standards, that logging quotas would be strictly enforced and that a PH government would support the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The coalition also vowed it would focus on the development of green technology and renewable energy, and that it would set up a "National Coordination Council for Climate Adaptation and Mitigation". Promise 39 of the Buku Harapan declared that a PH government would be "an environmentally friendly government". For the indigenous peoples of [End Page 209] Malaysia, whose lives, identities and livelihoods depend entirely on the preservation of natural habitats, the manifesto's Promise 38 was an assurance that the coalition would advance "the interests of Orang Asal in Peninsular Malaysia" and "recognise, uphold and protect the dignity and rights" of the indigenous people.2
Immediately after the wholly unexpected outcome of the elections, media announcements designed to demonstrate the new regime's commitment to environmental and indigenous causes came thick and fast. A new Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) was established. The MESTECC minister Yeo Bee Yin announced in September 2018 that a 20 per cent renewable energy production target would be achieved by 2030.3 In October she launched the Roadmap towards Zero Single-Use Plastic 2018–2030, declaring that Malaysia will have done away with single-use plastics by 2030.4 In January 2019 the federal government announced it would file a civil suit against the Kelantan state government because of its failure "to protect and preserve the welfare of the Temiar Orang Asli".5 This was in response to the state's deliberate refusal to recognize their native land rights in Pos Simpor, having instead distributed logging and mining rights to private entities.
In March 2019, Minister Yeo Bee Yin declared that the federal government would no longer consider approvals for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) on Ramsar sites, in line with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed's GE14 campaign against the Forest City developments in Johor.6 Ramsar sites are wetland areas recognized as having international importance under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established by UNESCO in 1975; Malaysia has seven of these sites. In the same month, following the minister's October 2018 announcement of renewable energy targets, the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) published the Renewable Energy Transition Roadmap 2035, which aims to balance environmental targets, affordability, economic benefits and system stability. The outcome of the roadmap will be part of the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021–2025). SEDA also announced the Supply Agreement for Renewable Energy programme, which allows consumers to lease and install solar panels at no upfront cost in an effort to make renewable energy accessible to the general public.7
In the following month, the minister of the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry (KATS), Dr Xavier Jayakumar, declared that the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 would be amended to enforce a minimum penalty of RM1 million and [End Page 210] five years in jail for poaching. He declared his intention to get "2000 boots on the ground" through collaboration between the Wildlife Department, the Johor National Park Corporation, Perak State Park, the police and the army. He also indicated he wanted to implement a shoot-on-sight policy, similar to the one in India.8 The Johor sultan...