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RM100mil not enough to gazette more forests, marine areas, say activists

The prime minister announced on Tuesday the government has increased its incentive for states to preserve forest and marine areas from RM70 million to RM100 million. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: Putrajaya’s RM100 million incentive for states to keep more forests and marine areas intact may be too little to hold off the timber industry, say environmental activists.

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka) chief Damien Thanam Divean said with the timber industry’s exports reaching RM22 billion just two years ago, the government incentive might not have the desired effect.

He said it was doubtful if the states could resist approving reclamation projects or whether they would gazette new areas as reserves.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government had increased its incentive for states to preserve forest and marine areas from RM70 million to RM100 million.

He said the government would fund states that gazetted new protected areas from development under the ecological fiscal transfer (EFT) plan.

Ecotourism & Conservation Society Malaysia chief Andrew Sebastian said the incentive should include reclaimed forests, which were areas that states had reclaimed after previously opening them to development.

He said that ideally, green lungs and marine areas should be absorbed into the state park system, which would ensure they would be preserved for future generations.

“Buffer zones to national parks, water catchment areas and high conservation value forests should be prioritised to be preserved,” he said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia chief Meenakshi Raman said there must be assurances by states that decisions to gazette forest reserves were not reversed in the future.

She said the area slated to be gazetted should be of rich biodiversity or have the ability to regenerate flora and fauna, and regenerative areas such as coasts could be left alone to allow mangrove forests to thrive.

“While RM100 million is not enough to be shared among states, Putrajaya should access international funds for nature preservation,” she said.

“The government should also pursue green bonds, sukuk and other forms of green financing for Mother Nature.”

The EFT allows states to be reimbursed by the federal government for projects that fit a set of criteria on natural or wildlife conservation. It was first introduced in 2019, with a RM70 million allocation in the recent budget.

Two states are reported to have sought compensation for keeping their forest reserves intact – Pahang and Kedah. Kedah sought RM100 million while Pahang wanted RM17.1 billion.

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