PR Manifesto: Sustainable?

by Gan Pei Ling / 18 March 2013 © The Nut Graph

THE Pakatan Rakyat (PR) released its manifesto amid much fanfare at its national convention on 25 February 2013. The coalition promises to raise Malaysian household incomes to at least RM4,000 a month, increase the minimum wage to RM1,100 and create one million jobs should it come into power.

On the environmental front, the federal opposition pledges to halt the Lynas rare earth refinery’s operations in Gebeng, Pahang, review a multibillion petrochemical project in Pengerang, Johor, and the mega dams in Sarawak. It targets to reduce traffic congestion in the Klang Valley and other major cities by 50% during its first term via investments in public transport. Furthermore, it says it will reform existing logging laws and activities.

Granted, the manifesto is an improvement from Buku Jingga, the common policy platform the PR unveiled in 2010, which neglected the environment and indigenous rights entirely. But it remains lacking in many areas. What else does the PR need to consider to demonstrate they are able to plan for the future and provide sustainable development if voted into power?

Food security

The PR laid out several measures to reform our economy but completely ignored the agriculture sector in its manifesto. This is problematic as Malaysia has become a net importer of food. The country spent some RM221.8 billion on food imports in the past decade.

We have chosen to specialise in cash crops such as oil palm and rubber at the expense of food crops, according to Professor Dr Fatimah Mohd Arshad from Universiti Putra Malaysia. Nearly 84% of our agricultural land is used for export crops, with oil palm taking the lion’s share of 63.4% in 2005, she pointed out in an article, Global Food Prices: Implication for Food Security in Malaysia, co-written with Anna Awad Abdel Hameed.

Prof Dr Fatimah (Source: crrc.org.my)

Meanwhile, federal allocation for agriculture plunged from 17% of the annual budget in 1990 to 5.8% in 2005, Fatimah and Anna Awad highlighted in their piece published in the Journal of Consumer Research and Resource Centre in 2009. And while the federal government dished out generous cash subsidies to paddy farmers, it left other food sectors out in the cold to develop with minimal support.

With supermarkets easily available around town, living in the city creates an illusion that food supply remains abundant. But the rate of global population growth has long surpassed the rate of agricultural production, Fatimah and Anna Awad noted.  Global food prices will continue to rise as an unpredictable climate further reduces crop yields. Low-income households, who spend the bulk of their income on food, are the most vulnerable to food price hikes.

What will the PR do to reform our agricultural sector and feed Malaysia’s growing population, which is approaching 30 million people, with nutritious, affordable food? What steps will it take to encourage organic farming and sustainable fishing practices? How much will it invest in agricultural research and development? These are just some of the questions the PR needs to deal with.

Renewable energy

Another important sector neglected by the PR in its manifesto is the power industry. Aside from a pledge to scrap independent power producers’ gas subsidies and divert it to lower electricity tariffs, the coalition makes no further mention of the energy sector.

Despite it being a necessity in modern life, some Malaysians, particularly indigenous people and communities living in remote areas, still do not have access to electricity. What will the PR to do ensure every citizen enjoys reliable, affordable power supply?

Datuk Seri Peter Chin (Source: peterchin.my)

Malaysia is expected to become a net oil importer in two years, according to current Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin. Our country relies largely on gas and coal for power. An overdependence on fossil fuel has resulted in renewable energy sources taking a back seat, the minister conceded in 2012.

In the face of depleting local gas resources, what will the PR do to ensure Malaysia’s energy supply? Will it import more coal? Will it consider nuclear as an option? How much will it invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, biomass or other options?

In addition, the level of Malaysia’s energy consumption versus productivity remains low compared to countries like Singapore and Japan. What innovative measures will the PR implement to cut wastage?

Meaningful public participation

The PR also needs to assure the public that it will hold genuine public consultations before approving major projects. Decades of local governments approving “development” projects without taking into account the existing capacity of roads, drains and other infrastructure has resulted in traffic congestion and flash floods becoming the norm. Coupled with the lack of green spaces, the quality of life in most cities is deteriorating.

Proper public consultation and provision of information will help towards gauging the potential environmental and social impact of a proposed project. It is thus surprising that the PR’s manifesto is silent on the abolition of the Official Secrets Act and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Some PR politicians said the manifesto should be read together with the Buku Jingga, which does mention freedom of information. But wasn’t the manifesto built on the Buku Jingga? How is it that the FOIA was excluded?

Comprehensive government

There are many other environmental issues a PR federal government will have to face. For instance, whether controversial projects already in operations, such as the gold mine in Raub and aluminium smelter in Sarawak, will be reviewed; and what to do about the increasing occurrence of flash floods and how to work with our regional neighbours to avoid the yearly haze.

The aluminium smelting plant in Mukah, Sarawak (Source: unireka.com)

The young coalition has been commended by economists for advocating for a clean government. And some may feel that if the PR can implement what’s in their manifesto, it will already be an improvement from the existing Barisan Nasional government. But responsible governance is not just about outdoing your predecessor. It is about governing comprehensively, and thinking long-term. This encompasses what we will eat and how we power our homes.

Should it come into power in the upcoming elections, the PR needs to address these elephants in the room if it is serious about delivering the best to Malaysians.


There are about 100 Green Parties worldwide. Gan Pei Ling recommends that the PR look into their manifestos for bold ideas and inspirations to improve their own.

Going nuclear: An option?

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 February 2012 © Selangor Times

Regardless of public fears and concerns, when rather than if Malaysia goes nuclear seems to be already the case.

In May 2010, Malaysia had announced plans to build two 1GW nuclear power plants. Five potential sites were identified in Johor, Pahang and Terengganu.

But due to public opposition, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was careful to stress in June 2011 that nothing was set in stone and nuclear energy remains an “option” for the country.

Public fear has centred on the dire consequences of a potential nuclear meltdown in Malaysia such as the scale of Fukushima (2011), Chernobyl (1986) and Three Mile Island (1979).

The ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which started last March, had displaced thousands of people and is expected to cost the Japanese government up to US$257 billion (RM670billion) in clean-up and compensation costs.

Countries like Germany and Switzerland had since renounced nuclear energy and would gradually phase out their nuclear plants but major powers like China and India have merely deferred their plans to build new reactors.

Closer to home, Asean countries have been flirting with the idea to go nuclear since the 1960s. The Philippines was the first to build one in 1976 but the project turned into a white elephant after the plant was found to be constructed near major earthquake fault lines.

Tenaga Nasional Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh, during a forum at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday, argued that nuclear energy was an attractive option.

Why nuclear?

Che Khalib said Peninsular Malaysia was currently highly reliant on fossil fuel sources, particularly local natural gas (45 percent) and imported coal (44 percent), to generate power.

He noted that the country consumed 15,475MW of power at its peak last year and the peak demand is projected to increase 60 percent to 24,770MW by 2030.

But our local gas fields are depleting, he said. TNB has not built any new gas plants since 2003.

Instead, it is expanding and commissioning more coal plants as we become increasingly reliant on coal imported from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa to produce power.

“Nuclear energy can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and (mitigate) global warming,” said Che Khalib, adding that the cost of importing coal would increase in future.

He appealed to the 200-odd audience to set aside their prejudices against nuclear power and re-evaluate the energy option objectively.

However, Indian anti-nuclear activist Praful Bidwai said it was a myth that nuclear power can help to resolve the climate crisis as scientists have warned that global carbon emission must start falling between 2015 and 2020.

“(Nuclear power) is too slow to deploy and too expensive. In comparison, renewable energy sources like solar and wind are safer, cheaper and can be deployed quickly,” said the author of The Politics of Climate Change and Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future.

But Che Khalib argued that the combination of solar, biomass, hydro and other renewable energy sources was insufficient to cater to Malaysia’s rising power demand as a developing country.

He said nuclear power should be part of the country’s energy mix: “Renewable energy sources have their limitations: solar farms require huge amount of land and the installation cost is high, the wind in our country isn’t as strong compared to European countries.

“We’ve also almost fully utilised the hydro potential in Peninsular Malaysia…(We need) nuclear plants to provide us base load power (continuous, non-fluctuating, energy supply),” he said.

Nuclear: Cheap or expensive?

The construction of the two nuclear plants, expected to cost RM21.3 billion, has been identified as one of the Entry Point Projects in Putrajaya’s Economic Transformation Programme.

Set up in January 2011, the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC) has completed its preliminary feasibility study on nuclear power last July.

“(But) there is no final decision by the cabinet yet. The government will decide in 2013 or early 2014,” said MNPC chief executive officer Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar.

He said the government wanted to ensure public acceptance of the project.

In addition, Malaysia would have to ratify relevant international treaties, put in place national regulations as well as obtain approvals for the plant sites, including from the local communities.

If everything goes according to plan, the first of the twin units should be up and running in 2021.

Despite the costly capital expenditure, both Zamzam and Che Khalib claimed that nuclear energy was cheap in the long run compared to fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.

While we would have to import uranium, Zamzam said its price was low and has remained stable for the past decade.

However, Australian environmental expert Dr Mark Diesendorf dismissed the claim that nuclear power was cheap compared to renewable sources of energy

The University of New South Wales Institute of Environmental Studies deputy director pointed out the nuclear industry often played down its costs by assuming a low-interest rate loan, ignoring huge government subsidies and insurance costs.

“Without government subsidies, no country would have nuclear energy. It’s not financially viable in a free market,” he said.

Indian activist Bidwai also highlighted that the nuclear industry was notorious for cost overruns and construction delays.

A new generation reactor in Finland, which was supposed to be completed in 2009, has been delayed due to safety issues. Its original price tag of Euro 2.5 billion (RM100billion) is escalating by the year.

“When you factor in the decommissioning and waste storage costs, nuclear power’s capital costs become astronomical. The industry has only survived (over the past few decades) because of state support,” said Bidwai.

What about nuclear meltdown and radioactive waste?

Bidwai added that while the probability of nuclear accidents occurring was low, they are “inevitable” and its consequences catastrophic.

Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear disaster before Fukushima, resulted in the death of 30 workers and fire fighters, and exposed thousands to radiation and cancer-related deaths.

Despite that, Che Khalib argued that Malaysia’s nuclear reactors will be safe and operated in adherence to stringent international standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Describing the Fukushima nuclear disaster as an “act of God”, Che Khalib highlighted that nuclear reactors usually have several safety features to prevent catastrophic accidents.

“I’m not a nuclear expert…But I was told (by the experts) that in an aircraft, they’ve 3.5 times (of safety features), if one fails, another would kick in. For nuclear reactors, it’s up to seven times,” he said.

“If you don’t trust local engineers, then stop flying. Our aircrafts are maintained by Malaysian engineers,” he said in response to doubts raised by the audience on the country’s poor maintenance record.

Besides safety concerns of reactors is the contentious issue of disposal of radioactive waste generated from nuclear plants.

Even the TNB chief admitted that “there’s no solution yet to dispose of the waste (permanently)”.

Radioactive waste Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years. In other words, hundreds of thousands of years would have to pass before the element becomes non-radioactive.

Scientists have yet to find a way to safely dispose of this waste that is likely to outlive human civilisations.

Most of the world’s nuclear waste, some 300,000 tonnes, are temporarily sealed and stored next to their reactors.

“Yes, we know there’s no solution yet, but we could contain the problem for the time being…in 100 years’ time, there could be a solution…at least we could defer the problem (now). That’s what we’re good at, anyway,” quipped Che Khalib.

His remark drew a cheeky response from Bidwai.

“Building a nuclear plant without (a permanent waste management plan) is like building a house without a toilet, hoping you’ll never need it,” said the founder-member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in India.

Should Malaysia continue to press forward? Is it ethical for us to harness nuclear energy to fulfil our current needs and leave future generations to find a way to deal with our waste?

Like other countries mulling to go nuclear, these are the questions that need to be answered.

Related post: Renewable energy alternative

Renewable energy alternative

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 February 2012 © Selangor Times

Malaysia has been slow to adopt renewable energy options  compared to regional counterparts Thailand and the Philippines.

Putrajaya only implemented the feed-in-tariff system last December in a bid to boost the renewable energy industries in Malaysia.

Pioneered in  Germany, the feed-in tariff scheme allows individuals and companies to sell energy produced from renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic, biogas, biomass and mini-hydro at a higher rate to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).

Currently, renewable energy sources contribute less than one per cent to our energy mix, with only 62.3MW capacity in 2010.

Malaysia targets to increase renewable energy sources’ contribution to 5.5 per cent in 2015, 11 per cent in 2020 and 25 per cent by 2050.

However by 2050, advanced countries like Denmark and Germany are aiming to source energy mostly, if not entirely, from renewable sources.

A recent report published in international journal Energy Policy claimed that the world can achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 if proper measures are taken.

Australian environmental expert Dr Mark Diesendorf, speaking at a public forum in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday, pointed out that Malaysia has huge potential to develop renewable energy.

“You receive more sunlight than Germany (where solar photovoltaic contributes to 3.5 per cent of its electricity production),” observed the associate professor and deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales.

He said Malaysia should hire independent energy experts to conduct a comprehensive study on the country’s renewable energy potential.

TNB chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh had told the 200-odd audience earlier that renewable energy options have limitations in Malaysia.

He cited cloud cover and high capital costs for solar energy, sparse location of palm oil mills for biomass, high installation cost for biogas, and remote locations for mini-hydro.

In addition, the energy supply from these sources fluctuates. Therefore, nuclear power is needed to produce stable and constant base-load electricity.

New way of thinking

But Indian activist and author Praful Bidwai argues that the world needs to move away from the model of a centralised electricity production system.

“We need a much more flexible, de-centralised power production system that can adapt according to changing demand,” said Bidwai.

He added that it was more efficient to install independent solar panels or micro-hydro system to supply electricity to remote areas, compared to connecting them to the national grid to receive power produced miles away at a power plant.

His remark was echoed by Diesendorf, who described the concept of base-load power plants as “redundant”.

He said a combination of renewable energy sources can be used to meet electricity demand by the hour, with higher production during the day and lower production at night.

In addition, Diesendorf highlighted that Malaysia could explore its geothermal potential if it wants a base-load power provider to support its renewable energy systems.

Meanwhile, Dr Feroz Kabir Kazi from the University of Nottingham Malaysia also highlighted our country’s biomass potential via his case study.

Our country produces around 18 million tonnes of palm oil per year and oil palm plantations cover 15 per cent of our land – 4.7 million hectares. The empty fruit bunches, tree fronds, trunks, fibres and shell can be burned to generate power.

His 10MW case study showed that biomass is profitable in the long-term with the introduction of the feed-in tariff system.

“Demo projects are essential. Renewable energy has a bright future in Malaysia and its growth provides opportunities for local employment,” said the Associate Professor from the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department.

Finally, Diesendorf also commented that Malaysia should strengthen its electricity conservation and energy efficiency programmes.

With the use of efficient electrical appliance and mindful consumption habit, Malaysians can reduce our demand for electricity.

TNB’s Che Khalib noted that Malaysians usually take their electricity for granted as it is still subsidised and cheap, for now, but the country must find a way to stabilise power demand as the cost of power production is likely to rise in future.

Related post: Going nuclear: An option?

Going solar and renewable

by Gan Pei Ling / 18 April 2011 © The Nut Graph

Have you ever wanted to install solar panels at your home, but couldn’t afford the capital cost? Once the Renewable Energy Act comes into force, this dream could become a reality.

Passed by the Dewan Rakyat on 4 April 2011, the Act will allow individuals to sell electricity produced from renewable sources like solar photovoltaic at a higher rate than traditional power producers to Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

This incentive is expected to boost renewable energy industries and its current electricity generation share in the country from under one percent to 11% by 2020. But how will this work? Where will the funds come from? And will home-owning Malaysians be willing to be part of the new system?

Feed-in-tariff

Following the footsteps of pioneering country Germany and our neighbours Thailand and the Philippines, Malaysia will be implementing the feed-in-tariff (FIT) system.

Solar panels (© Raebo | Wiki Commons)

Electricity produced from four types of sources — solar panels, small hydro, biogas and biomass — will benefit from the FIT mechanism under the Renewable Energy Act.

Among these four, residential homes would benefit most from solar photovoltaic as a renewable energy source.

The other three sources — small hydro, biogas and biomass, would be more suitable for implementation by businesses as the capital expenditure could amount to millions. The table below demonstrates the different costs involved in setting up the different sources.

Solar PV Small Hydro Biomass Biogas
Installed capacity 6kW 10MW 10MW 4MW
Expenditure RM90,000 RM90mil RM90mil RM40mil

Source: Adopted from Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic Technology Application Project leader Ahmad Hadri Haris’s March 2011 presentation

 

Going solar at home

Breaking down the numbers: How your 4kW system will pay for itself in around 15 years.

A normal household would usually need about 4kW capacity worth of solar panels, which would cost around RM72,000 to install. That’s about the price of a brand new Toyota Vios.

Too expensive to go green? Think again. Your Toyota Vios’s commercial value will be depreciating at a rate of about 10% a year, but not the income that you would be receiving from installing solar panels on your roof.

Under the FIT system, TNB will sign a 21-year agreement with households and pay at least RM1.49 per kWh electricity generated. Assuming production of 400kWh per month, this would amount to a payout of RM596 per month.

If a household’s electricity bill is RM200 a month, there would still be a steady monthly income of RM396 for the next 21 years, which could be used to repay the loan taken to install the solar panels. The 4kW system would pay for itself and start turning a profit within 15 years.

It is also worth highlighting that one will get paid more under the FIT mechanism if locally-manufactured or assembly solar inverters or photovoltaic modules are used, and/or used as part of building materials.

Granted, the scheme doesn’t bring about huge profits all at once, but I think most middle-class families would now be able to afford to install solar panels should they wish to.

However, it should also be noted that there will be an annual degression rate of 8% for the solar photovoltaic system. In other words, the later one joins the FIT scheme, the lower the FIT rate one will receive. This is based on the assumption that the cost of solar panels would go down once more people adopt it.

The degression rate will be reviewed every three years by the soon-to-be-established Sustainable Energy Development Authority to ensure the rates remain reasonable.

Making renewable energy commercially-viable

Residential homes aside, commercial renewable energy producers are the ones who are set to benefit the most from the FIT mechanism and who seem most excited about the new scheme.

Prior to the Act, TNB paid the same rate of RM0.21per kWh for energy whether or not it was produced from environmentally-friendly resources or from fossil fuel.

Under the FIT scheme, biogas and biomass electricity producers will finally be rewarded for their pioneering efforts and get paid at least 28% more than fossil fuel producers, as shown in the table below.

Biogas Basic FIT rate (RM) Biomass Basic FIT rate (RM)
Up to 4MW 0.32 Up to 10MW 0.31
Up to 10MW 0.30 Up to 20MW 0.29
Up to 30MW 0.28 Up to 30MW 0.27

Source: Renewable Energy Bill

They will be signing a 16-year contract with TNB and enjoy the same competitive rates throughout the period.

In addition, those who use locally-manufactured or assembled gas engine or gastification technology will enjoy a bonus of one sen on top of their basic FIT rate.

Biogas electricity producers who use landfill or sewage gas as a fuel source will further enjoy a bonus of eight sen. Biomass players will enjoy an additional 10 sen for using municipal solid waste as their fuel source.

Already, a 26ha renewable energy park is being built on a remediated landfill in Pajam, Nilai, which would consist of a 2MW biogas plant and 8MW solar power facility, and is expected to generate RM12mil gross national income in 2020.

Meanwhile, small hydro producers enjoy less incentive at RM0.23 to RM0.24 per kWh but their contract with TNB will last for 21 years under the FIT mechanism.

Renewable Energy Fund

The government or TNB will not be forking out its own money to pay the higher FIT rates. The funds will come from consumers. There will be a one percent hike in the current electricity tariff, expected in 2012, the revenue of which will be used to finance the Renewable Energy Fund needed to finance the FIT scheme.

In other words, if your electricity bill is RM200, you will be paying an additional RM2 and that amount will go into the Renewable Energy Fund.

However, the FIT mechanism is not meant to last forever.

It is expected that the cost of producing renewable energy will eventually be cheaper than electricity currently produced by fossil fuel producers. This is also given the fact that current energy prices do not reflect the true cost of production due to subsidies for natural gas and the government-controlled electricity tariff.  Once the cost of renewable energy drops below fossil fuel energy, the Renewable Energy Fund will cease to exist.

At that point, TNB would be able to directly purchase power from renewable energy producers as it would be cheaper than electricity produced from fossil fuel like gas and coal.

(© Indymedia | Wiki Commons)

In the meantime, for the FIT mechanism to be implemented successfully, the government will need to widely publicise the new scheme to home owners and commercial producers and for many to participate in it. Only then will Malaysia be able to increase its renewable energy production to meet and hopefully, surpass its target of 11% by 2020. If Malaysia can push its renewable energy industries forward and make them cost-effective, not only would we be reducing our reliance on fossil fuel and carbon emission, we could even drop the idea of going nuclear, too.


Gan Pei Ling is looking forward to installing solar panels in her own home.

Green issues: Top 10 in 2010

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 January 2011 © The Nut Graph

WHAT were the environmental highlights and low points of 2010? Do we stand a chance in conserving Malaysia’s amazing biodiversity and rich natural resources?

With the help of several “greenie” friends, I made a list of 10 major environmental happenings in Malaysia in 2010. These events give us an indication not only of how the environment continues to be under threat in Malaysia, but also how efforts are being made to combat that threat.

What stood out for you environmentally in 2010? What appalled, encouraged or enlightened you? List them down so that we may have a better picture about how we Malaysians are caring for our environment.

Power

1. Nuclear power plants

(Pic by merlin1075 / sxc.hu)

The federal government decided to go nuclear, announcing in May 2010 that Malaysia would build a nuclear power plant by 2021. Serious concerns were raised regarding safety and feasibility, considering the disastrous effects of accidents and shoddy radioactive waste management. Activists also questioned whether the government had exhausted renewable energy options, especially solar and biomass.

Despite this, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin announced in December 2010 that Malaysia intended to build two plants, the second expected to be ready a year after the first.

To date, the government has not made public its nuclear waste management plan or emergency plan detailing what steps it would take in the event of a radioactive leak or natural disaster.

2. Sabah coal plant

Meanwhile, the federal government is planning to build a 300-megawatt coal plant on Sabah’s pristine east coast. Environmental coalition Green Surf and other activists have been campaigning tirelessly against the plant, reminding the government to consider cleaner alternatives like biomass and geothermal.

The plant’s detailed environmental impact assessment was rejected by the Environment Department. However, Chin said last December the proposed coal plant would go ahead, claiming it was the best option to ensure uninterrupted power supply.

3. Bakun Dam

The flooding of the Bakun Dam began in October 2010. The flooding of the 69,000ha area, roughly the size of Singapore, to the top of the Bakun Dam wall, about half the height of the Petronas Twin Towers, is expected to take over seven months.

Disputes over compensation for the approximately 10,000 indigenous peoples displaced from their land remain unresolved. The construction of the Bakun Dam began in 1996, and its cost was reported to have ballooned from RM4.5bil to RM7.5bil due to cost overrun and compensation for delays.

Despite that, Bakun is just the beginning. The 944-megawatt Murum dam is currently being constructed, and it was announced in February last year that five more dams with a combined capacity of 3,000-megawatts are in the pipeline.

4. Renewable energy bill

(Pic by ronaldo/sxc.hu)

The long-awaited Renewable Energy Act was finally tabled in Parliament in December 2010. Once passed, the Act will enable the public to sell electricity generated from renewable energy, most likely solar, to the power grid through the feed-in tariff scheme. Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will buy user-generated electricity at above-market rates. Concerns, however, are that TNB might pass on the cost to consumers by raising general electricity tariffs.

Other than the feed-in-tariff, it is unclear how the government intends to fulfill its target of generating 11% electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Rivers

5. Rejang river logjam

This bizarre incident last October involved Malaysia’s longest river, the Rejang. Logs and debris choked the mighty river for 50km, making many places inaccessible by boat.

The Sarawak government tried to pass off the incident as a “natural” disaster due to floods. A BBC report, however, quoted the blog Hornbill Unleashed, which blamed poor infrastructure and excessive logging for the logjam.

Animals

6. Capture and trial of wildlife trafficker Anson Wong

In August 2010, Wong was caught with 95 boa constrictors in his bag at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I, personally, was delighted when the High Court substituted a Sessions Court sentence of six months’ jail and a RM190,000 fine with a five-year jail term. The heavier sentence will be more likely to serve as an effective deterrent.

In addition, Parliament passed a tougher Wildlife Conservation Act, which came into force in December 2010. Punishments include fines of up to RM500,000. and up to five years’ jail for smugglers of protected species like tigers and rhinos.

7. GM mosquitoes

(Illustration by Nick Choo)

Dengue, carried by the Aedes mosquito, has been endemic in Malaysia for years. Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes have been proposed as a solution to curb its spread. The mutant male mosquitoes do not produce any offspring and help lower the mosquito population.

Great fears, however, have been expressed over this experiment as experts say removing the mosquito from the ecosystem could wreak havoc on other species, and ultimately, the environment.

Despite these concerns, the Health Ministry intended to release GM mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca. Protests from local and international groups resulted in a cancellation of the programme.

Forests

8. Selangor State Park

The federal government intends to build the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR) through the Selangor State Park to ease traffic congestion. This is in spite of the park being categorised as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (Rank 1) under the National Physical Plan-2. It serves as an important water catchment area, and as such, no development, except for eco-tourism, research and education purposes, should occur there.

The highway was originally designed to cut through the park and a potential Unesco World Heritage site,  the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge. The Selangor government convinced the developer to dig a tunnel to avoid damaging the quartz ridge last November. But it remains to be seen whether they can persuade the developer to re-route KLORR away from the state park, too.

Public outcry, not just from environmental groups but also concerned residents, continue. It remains to be seen whether the federal government will scrap its plans.

9.  Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest

Wong (front) visiting the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest in December 2010.

The Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation proposed in 2010 to convert the 7,000ha Kuala Langat forest reserve into oil palm plantations. The clearing of the forest could reportedly generate RM1bil in timber revenue.

Selangor executive councillor for the environment Elizabeth Wong has led opposition to this proposal. A biodiversity audit, done with the assistance of environmental groups, found tapirs, sun bears, white-handed gibbons and rare trees.

The audit report has yet to be presented to the menteri besar, but I’m hopeful he will make the right decision. After all, the Pakatan Rakyat-led government promised to ban logging for 25 years when it came into power in 2008.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

10. No plastic bag day

The no plastic bags campaign, pioneered in Penang in 2009, is now nationwide. Plastic bags are no longer free on Saturdays except in Penang, where they’re not free every day.

Plastics manufacturers’ indignant reactions amuse me. Although the campaign may reduce our reliance on plastic bags, it is mainly symbolic. The campaign helps us rethink the impact of our use-and-throwaway consumption on the environment, but is unlikely to eliminate all use of plastics bags, or plastics, in our lives. Perhaps the manufacturers need to start listening and evolve in accordance with consumer demand for more sustainable products.

Although I initially found the above list a bit depressing, I realised that the story of public resistance against potential ecological destruction echoed throughout. And there are many more environmental heroes that did not make it into the list. A rural Kelantan community that successfully solved the human-elephant conflict in their village, for example. Or the Bukit Koman community that continues their attempts to protect their village from pollution from a gold mine.

And I’m sure there are many, many more such stories.


Again, Gan Pei Ling finds herself more inspired by grassroots communities and individuals than governments in 2010.