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Borneo rainforest must be prioritised

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan

SANDAKAN: Malaysia is blessed with its lands and seas harbour, an innumerable diversity of ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, said, indeed Malaysia is also one of the 12 recognised megadiverse countries in the world based on estimates of richness and endemism. “Our terrestrial natural ecosystems from lowland to montane forests, host treasure troves of living organisms.

“While, our coastal and marine areas have unique and endangered ecosystems including mangrove forests and coral reefs,” he said.Based on the 2008 IUCN Red List, Takiyuddin said Malaysia is home to 1,141 threatened species, including plants and animals. 

“The rainforests of Borneo itself is a unique ecosystem where a complex combination of factors including physical differences in environment, local and regional variations in climate as well as regional geological evolution has shaped ecosystems and the biodiversity of the island. 

“As a result, the Heart of Borneo (HoB) area harbours large and continuous tracts of virgin montane forest, much of which remains unexplored. It is home to a myriad of unique as well as endemic species. 

“Therefore, it is only right that the conservation and sustainable management of the HoB area is being considered as one of the priorities of the Government – both State and Federal,” he said.Takiyuddin said this while officiating the 11th Heart of Borneo (HoB) International Conference “Moving Forward In The New Norm” closing ceremony virtually, Wednesday via webinar session.

He is in Putrajaya with participants from Malaysia and others countries.Takiyuddin’s Deputy Minister Datuk Ali Biju delivered his (Takiyuddin) speech text AT the webinar.This two-day program also attended virtually by Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor on Tuesday from Kota Kinabalu and the Chief Conservator of Forest Sabah, Datuk Frederick Kugan, also present at Sabah Forestry Department Headquarters office in Sandakan.

The conference saw attendance of more than 1,000 participants of different backgrounds, representing various agencies, both local and international; and received 24 papers presented by distinguished speakers from Malaysia and abroad. Eight Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were also highlighted during the opening ceremony of the conference which represents strategic collaborations and a concerted effort of various stakeholders contributing towards conservation in Sabah.

Meanwhile, Takiyuddin said, he was also proud of Malaysia remarkable achievements in the past 14 years of the implementation of the HoB Initiative since the declaration was signed by partner countries; Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia. 

“One of the key achievements under the HoB Initiative in Malaysia is the expansion of the HoB area. “For instance, the State of Sabah has almost tripled the area of Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) within the HoB area from 551,879 hectares in 2007 to 1,459,181 hectares in 2020,” he said.

Meanwhile, the State Government of Sarawak in 2018 approved the increase of HoB area from 2.1 million hectares to 2.7 million hectares. Takiyuddin said it is also motivating to note that the Sabah State Government has set a goal to conserve its natural ecosystems through various means, including gazetting 26pc of the state’s land area (about 1.9 million hectares) as Totally Protected Areas (TPAs). He said this is in line with the target set under the Sabah Forest Policy 2018 to increase TPAs up to 30pc of Sabah’s land mass by 2025.

“We have also continued to foster close relationships with our brothers in Brunei and Indonesia to jointly protect our forests and increase capacity for transboundary landscape management,” he said.

Takiyuddin said a number of joint efforts have been initiated: The HoB Corridor Project, Trans-Boundary Protected Area Management, and also the Visit the HoB Campaign to promote eco-tourism in the HoB area. “Although these programs, like many other things, were badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, we must not surrender,” he said. 

“I hope we can recover together, pick ourselves up and strive to move forward in this new norm,” he said. Takiyuddin is, also aware that managing multiple-use landscapes effectively on the basis of sustainable land use planning in the HoB areas is indeed a challenging task.

 “In this regard, I would like to record my deepest appreciation to the State Government of Sabah and Sarawak for their relentless effort in ensuring the national aspiration on the HoB Initiative a success. “HoB will always remain a priority for my ministry, KeTSA,” he said.He thanked the various stakeholders such as World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, United Nation for Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Facility for Environment (GEF), for their involvement and support to the HoB Initiative. 

Takiyuddin was also made to understand that WWF-Malaysia is supporting the Sabah Forestry Department in formulating the next five-year Strategic Plan of Action (SPA) for the HoB Initiative where it will serve as a guideline for the implementation of the Sabah’s HoB Initiative through biodiversity conservation and sustainable development programme in the State.

“I was also informed about the upcoming project by the Sabah Government, to be funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and with support the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),” he said.

He said the project entitled Integrated Landscape Management of Heart of Borneo Landscapes in Sabah, will be focusing on the transformation of land use planning and management, in particular to contain the footprint of palm oil production while maintaining high-value forest for environmental and development benefits. The project landscape will involve the HoB initiative areas of Sabah, in several districts that are the ‘frontier’ landscapes where opportunity exists to pre-empt expansion and get ahead of commercial commodity-driven forest loss, he added.

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