Sabah nature conservation agreement yet to be finalised, says Sabah Forestry Dept

KOTA KINABALU: A Nature Conservation Agreement (NCA) allegedly signed between the state government and a group of foreign companies without the knowledge of Sabah natives has not been finalised, says the Sabah Forestry Department.

Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Frederick Kugan said that contrary to what an online environmental portal had alleged, the agreement focused on forests classified as Totally Protected Areas (TPAs).

Environmental news portal Mongabay had published a report, titled “Bornean communities locked into two-million-hectare carbon deal they don’t know about” on Wednesday (Nov 10), alleging that state leaders had signed a deal on Oct 10 to market carbon and other natural capital from more than two million ha of the state’s forests for at least the next 100 years.

The report said this deal granted 30% of the profits to Australian and Singaporean companies.

Kugan said TPAs are areas already locked in for conservation and protection under various state laws and international treaties and as such, "were not, are not, and would never be in danger of commercial exploitation or deforestation.

“The state government has agreed to a provisional framework agreement with Hoch Standard Pte Ltd (HS), a private Singapore company,” he said in a statement Thursday (Nov 11).

He added that the NCA has aims to promote the conservation and protection of tropical rainforests through the monetisation of carbon stored in standing trees, in addition to natural capital benefits in the natural forest environment, focusing on forests categorised as TPAs.

He said the NCA, however, was not finalised as there are outstanding issues to be resolved including the size and locality of the designated area.

Kugan explained that an addendum to the framework agreement specified that an initial area of 600,000ha was to be identified as a pilot scheme first.

“Only upon the success of that pilot scheme will the State Government consider approving further areas as it deems appropriate (up to a potential total area of 2 million ha),” he said.

He said a Nature Conservation Management Plan (NCMP) that is acceptable to the state government must be approved first before any carbon trading or sale of natural assets under the NCA can take place.

He said the NCA will also be placed under the purview of the Sabah Climate Change Committee (CAC), a unit envisaged to be set up in the near future as announced by the Chief Minister recently.

This CAC is to oversee all climate change related projects, since natural capital by definition, requires cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder coordination, Kugan said.

He said Sabah has been a frontrunner in cutting edge solutions for conservation of its forests and natural resources.

This is evidenced in the state having the first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sustainably managed natural tropical forest in Deramakot Forest Reserve since 1997, where it is still a thriving and vibrant forest today, he said.

Kugan said pre-existing native customary rights and ownership previously attached to certain TPAs were also taken into account as these rights belong to native communities and not the state.

“Hence, consent from each native community will be required before these rights are 'signed away’ through the NCA,” he said.

He said the state government would try its utmost to mitigate the risks but will not let the people down by shying away from being a front runner.

“The state government invites all stakeholders to engage and evaluate the government's performance in relation to the implementation of the NCA. An appropriate mechanism for doing so will be developed,” he added.

A group of conservationists in Sabah had earlier called for an explanation on the Mongabay report.

These conservationists, comprising the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Borneo Rhino Alliance, Danau Girang Field Centre, Future Alam Borneo and LEAP – Land Empowerment Animals People, issued a joint statement on the matter on Thursday (Nov 11).

The others involved in writing the joint statement are Pacos Trust, Sabah Environmental Trust, Seratu Aatai, South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia.

They also called for transparency and due process from the government and relevant agencies when signing such agreements.

The groups added that Sabah had the in-house capacity to manage and market its own carbon to the world without the need to share profits with external brokers.

It also mentioned that signing such a deal would have implications for existing conservation, carbon and ecosystem service agreements that have been initiated by Sabah’s own institutions and longstanding partners.

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