LETTER | When the list of the remaining cabinet ministers was leaked in mid-June, keen environmental watchers heaved a sigh of relief that the importance of environmental governance was not forgotten.
Earlier, some had even initiated a petition to “restore” the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, fearing that the issues close to their hearts would be neglected, and reminded the Pakatan Harapan regime of promise 39 in its election manifesto, on balancing economic growth and environmental protection.
Prior to the 14th general election, environmental management was decisively anchored in the MNRE following a massive consolidation and realignment of ministries’ functions by former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004.
On July 2, current Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet was expanded to include three ministries, with Yeo Bee Yin (DAP), Dr Xavier Jayakumar (PKR) and Teresa Kok (DAP) sworn in as the respective ministers.
However, confusions soon emerged on the lack of clarity on how the consolidation and restructuring will be managed as environmental issues appeared to be scattered across three ministries – the Energy, Science, Technology, Climate Change and Environment Ministry, the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry, and the Primary Industries Ministry.
The confusion surrounds three main issues.
Firstly, what does ‘natural resources’ entail? Does it cover forest and biodiversity?
Secondly, are forest-related matters returning to the Primary Industries Ministry, given that the name of the ministry has been reverted from Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry during the era of Mahathir 1.0?
Thirdly, how will the previous MNRE’s sections and divisions be further divided in the restructuring exercise?
Under MNRE, roles and functions were divided into two broad categories of the management of natural resources and the management of environment.
The latter housed two subdivisions, namely, biological diversity and forestry (BBP) and environmental management and climate change (Paspi).
Therefore, question arose as to the fate or the rightful home of BBP with the new reconfiguration, especially that Yeo’s ministry spells out climate change and environment – giving the impression that BBP will be left with Xavier’s ministry or it could be transferred ‘back’ to Kok’s ministry.
In the years during Mahathir’s retirement from active politics, the world of global environmental governance has changed considerably. Climate change has emerged as the foremost environmental challenge facing humanity with far-reaching economics and even political consequences.
It has to be noted that the role of carbon sink (absorption of greenhouse gases) played by forests is a key component in the country’s efforts to combat climate change.
Given the linkage between sustainable management of forests and protecting the biological diversity that are integral to a forest ecosystem and the role that forest would play in both mitigation and adaptation actions of the country, it will make a lot of sense to transfer both BBP and Paspi subdivisions as an unbroken package to Yeo’s ministry.
It is no surprise that in her maiden media interview, Yeo stressed the importance of tackling climate change both in terms of mitigation and adaptation actions.
She must know by now, especially after briefing by her relevant officers, that BBP is intricately linked to the country’s effort going forward in managing climate change and it is best to house as many climate-related portfolio under one roof as the anchor to sustainable development – protecting the fundamentals of the nation’s economic prosperity, maintaining a liveable environment and promoting a developed and just society, for all.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.