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Malaysia's environmental state - 2015 at a glance

2015 has been a very interesting and depressing year for the country’s state of environment. While the rest of the nation pours its energy on the political upheaval that has sprout out and cloud the judgements of its people, the state of the environment and its impact on Malaysians have taken a seat back.

Be it the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), or the bauxite mining in Pahang, to the massive deforestation incidences and mistreatment of indigenous communities, smart responses to natural disasters like flash floods and also the national response to the annual haze occurrence, to name a few, this seems to indicate that the country lacks concerted and urgency to address sustainable development.

Malaysia is keen to follow suit of international agreements as we are signatories to various international treaties or agreements (read the Montreal Protocol, Kyoto Protocol, and United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People).

However on the implementation or enforcement aspects, we severely lack the expertise, the cooperation of civil society and the financial resources to actually implement and carry out its duties as stipulated in the agreements.

We pledge and talk about inclusivity in our policies, we place emphasis on the need for public participation and integration of stakeholders however we fail miserably in actually walking the talk. Malaysia needs to be less reactive, and more proactive in addressing current and future social and environmental concerns.

At the rate of environmental degradation that we witness on an annual basis, it is no doubt a bleak future for the country.

Yet it’s understandable that the government does not bear the sole responsibility for the sorry state of environment. We, as civil societies, including other important stakeholders like NGOs, pressure groups and mind you, including the academia - all play critical roles in assisting the government to address or better yet, reverse the devastation we face today.

However, we lead a leader that has a visionary approach to addressing sustainable development for the prosperity of the country. Where is he/she?

The government needs to see that there are many stakeholders out there that are not just the government-bashing type but are ready to serve the country by working together with government agencies to address, solve, and remedy the severity of environmental degradation in this country.

After all, I believe that many of us proud Malaysians are really passionate and empowered to work towards building a country that’s safe, healthy, and sustainable for our children. We need a platform, we need a voice, and we need to be heard, and most importantly, let us come forth and help the government.

Politicians come and go, the environment stays

If Malaysia is really serious about protecting its people from the adverse effects of climate change (or pollution or safer food production and consumption, mitigation and adaption to natural disasters, to name a few), we need an integrated plan that cuts across ministries and agencies, one that mobilises people, policies that are enforced and governed fairly, and an education system that will revolutionise the future mind sets of our children.

If we continue pouring the national focus on the gross domestic product (GDP), and overlook the social and environmental aspects of the nation, we are undoubtedly going to experience a deterioration of livelihoods of marginalised communities, severe human health impacts that will affect generations to come, a greater gap in gender equality, a society that has lost its basic moral and civic consciousness, a generation of young Malaysians with severe nature-deficit disorder, and ultimately the collapse of the nation.

Mainstreaming sustainability should be the main agenda of the Malaysian government. But first, we must ensure that the government itself understands what sustainability means and what it entails.

As a lay person and with some basic tertiary education, I don’t think it is rocket science to try to suggest some simple approaches to start with.

  1. Enhance more training and education for government agencies and communities on pertinent environment issues. Keep all agencies abreast with pertinent issues and provide solutions that will ease the execution of their duties and tasks. Policies need to be communicated holistically and a measurable social or environmental impact assessment needs to be in place. Pay attention to empowering local authorities. The Local Agenda 21 has been in existence for decades and it has helped lunge cities forward in building more resilient towns and communities. The blueprint is there, but we fail to read and understand it.

  • Communication is the key to ensure that the right and critical information is driven through to allow Malaysians to be informed. Effective and strategic communication seems to be a severely lacking and as such, we only see news on the environment only when a crisis is in place. The media splashes news on the haze only when it hits us, and we as a nation, lashes out on other countries, and ministries, without a tinge of understanding that it’s their consumption behaviour that drives more land to be exploited to produce the goods that they want so badly.
  • Elect ministers that are experts or have experiences in subject matters which are relevant to the minister he or she leads. It’s about time we look at placing credible ministers with the right education and history of engagement in the right ministries. Having a minister with no background or experiences in environmental governance or issues is like placing a puppet on a string just to provide lip service to the nation.
  • Review the governance structure of the country. In order for sustainability to be mainstreamed, an integrated governance structure needs to contain and share policies that push the sustainability agenda to the forefront of the country’s priorities.
  • Malaysia needs you readers. Step out the comfort of air-conditioned malls, and look straight in the eyes of your children and ask yourself, what kind of future do you want for your family? What kind of enrichment do you think your children needs to survive a future where wearing masks is common, where earnings need to be spent on purchasing fresh air, where wars are fought because of water scarcity?

    2016 is not going to be sunshine and fresh air for us again. The haze, the red seas, the rising amount of trash, the warming of cities, the higher frequencies of natural disasters like flash floods, rising sea water levels, are all going to come back again. Maybe in full force.

    Question is, are we prepared as a nation?

    YASMIN RASYID is president of EcoKnights and chairperson of the Malaysian Environmental NGOs (Mengo).

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