A budget that could positively influence environmental decisions on the basis of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is how WWF-Malaysia perceives Malaysia’s Budget 2021. In his budget speech, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz announced a number of allocations under the budget’s fourth strategy, which is ensuring resource sustainability.
(The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint in the form of 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals to achieve peace and prosperity for all people and the planet.)
Ensuring resource sustainability: Measure 1 – the sustainable development agenda
1. The allocation of RM20mil under the Malaysia-SDG Trust Fund could create the mechanism to coordinate public and private financing for the SDGs to be achieved by 2030.
Private sector top-up to the allocation must be guided by a stringent code of governance to protect the investments and enable efficient management based on key SDG criteria.
2. Allocating RM5mil to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on SDGs is a positive endorsement of bipartisan cooperation to localise SDG programmes. Through this allocation, WWF-Malaysia is hopeful of seeing processes initiated under Budget 2020, such as mapping of issues on-the-ground, replicated in more constituencies.
Ensuring resource sustainability: Measure 2 – sustainable finance
1. On the basis of subscriptions to the social impact bond Sukuk Prihatin that has reached RM666mil, the government has decided to issue its first sustainability bond in Malaysia for environmental and social initiatives in 2021. WWF-Malaysia sees this sustainability bond as an opportunity to boost participation of investors in the green growth of Malaysia.
To bolster the sustainable bond, a blended finance approach combining public and private funds based on landscape approach, such as the Tropical Landscape Finance Facility and Land Degradation Neutrality Fund, is recommended.
2. Additionally, the allocation of RM2bil for two years up, to 2022, continuing the Green Technology Financing Scheme could support Malaysia in achieving the renewable energy target of 20% by 2025.
Ensuring resource sustainability: Measure 3 – environmental conservation
1. Budget 2021 supports the preservation of Malaysia’s natural resources through an overall allocation of RM100mil. From this, RM50mil is allocated to address waste and solid waste trapped in rivers.
WWF-Malaysia hopes that the funds will not only be used for river water treatment on an ad-hoc basis but also to set up instruments that could raise overall river water quality. River pollution from wastes and solid waste must be addressed by tackling the very source of pollution itself and through education and increasing awareness of more sustainable material choices.
3. WWF-Malaysia notes that only RM40mil is provided over a period of five years to strengthen enforcement activities related to environmental quality monitoring, which includes the establishment of 30 monitoring stations nationwide. Given the increased number of river pollution cases that cause closure of water treatment plants, we hope that the government will allocate more resources for this purpose to safeguard and improve environmental quality, which is crucial for the rakyat’s well-being.
4. The government has increased the allocation under the Economic, Infrastructure and Welfare Development-Based Grants (Tahap) to all state governments to RM400mil from RM350mil in Budget 2020.
Of this amount, RM70mil is allocated to state governments for the purpose of biodiversity conservation. It is important for such Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) measures to be institutionalised and form part of the yearly federal allocation to state governments. (EFTs redistribute government funds according to ecological indicators.)
WWF-Malaysia hopes that the allocations will be used by states to conserve important forests and marine areas as well as enhance protected area management.
5. The Save 2.0 programme provides an e-rebate of RM200 to purchase locally-produced energy efficient air-conditioners and refrigerators. A total of 140,000 households will directly benefit from this initiative.
Amounting to RM30mil, the Save 2.0 programme will help Malaysians practice a greener lifestyle by using energy-efficient appliances while supporting local products which have lower carbon footprints compared with imported products.
For similar reasons, WWF-Malaysia also appreciates the government’s support of the initiative undertaken by the Sarawak state government to use public buses that operate on hydrogen fuel cells.
6. Malaysia’s national icon, the Malayan tiger, is on the brink of extinction as a result of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The RM20mil allocated to recruit more than 500 ex-soldiers, ex-policemen and Orang Asli to patrol jungles is a crucial step to stop the poaching of Malayan tigers.
There are three tiger priority landscapes in Malaysia covering millions of hectares of forests, and including Orang Asli communities who are skilled jungle trackers and navigators in patrolling activities is a smart and positive move. However, to effectively address the threat of poaching, we need at a minimum a team of five persons to patrol 10,000ha of forests over a 12-month period, spending 14 days every month in the deep forest. The RM20mil allocation is therefore inadequate to effectively prevent poaching.
WWF-Malaysia is of the opinion that the private sector, which is largely dependent on our natural resources, should also play proactive roles in funding similar efforts.
In essence, it is encouraging to know that Budget 2021 has attempted to address the nation’s compelling need for SDGs. In light of current events, the various allocations aimed at ensuring resource sustainability are a good move for conservation and environmental protection.
At the same time, we hope that the allocations are not, at any time, used for projects that could adversely affect the environment. Additionally, environmental sustainability criteria need to be applied across all development projects to ensure that Malaysia is effectively steered towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.
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