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Green issues: Top 10 in 2010

WHAT were the environmental highlights and low points of 2010? Do we stand a chance in conserving Malaysia’s amazing biodiversity and rich natural resources?

With the help of several “greenie” friends, I made a list of 10 major environmental happenings in Malaysia in 2010. These events give us an indication not only of how the environment continues to be under threat in Malaysia, but also how efforts are being made to combat that threat.

What stood out for you environmentally in 2010? What appalled, encouraged or enlightened you? List them down so that we may have a better picture about how we Malaysians are caring for our environment.


(Pic by merlin1075 /

1. Nuclear power plants

The federal government decided to go nuclear, announcing in May 2010 that Malaysia would build a nuclear power plant by 2021. Serious concerns were raised regarding safety and feasibility, considering the disastrous effects of accidents and shoddy radioactive waste management. Activists also questioned whether the government had exhausted renewable energy options, especially solar and biomass.

Despite this, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin announced in December 2010 that Malaysia intended to build two plants, the second expected to be ready a year after the first.

To date, the government has not made public its nuclear waste management plan or emergency plan detailing what steps it would take in the event of a radioactive leak or natural disaster.

2. Sabah coal plant

Meanwhile, the federal government is planning to build a 300-megawatt coal plant on Sabah’s pristine east coast. Environmental coalition Green Surf and other activists have been campaigning tirelessly against the plant, reminding the government to consider cleaner alternatives like biomass and geothermal.

The plant’s detailed environmental impact assessment was rejected by the Environment Department. However, Chin said last December the proposed coal plant would go ahead, claiming it was the best option to ensure uninterrupted power supply.

3. Bakun Dam

The flooding of the Bakun Dam began in October 2010. The flooding of the 69,000ha area, roughly the size of Singapore, to the top of the Bakun Dam wall, about half the height of the Petronas Twin Towers, is expected to take over seven months.

Disputes over compensation for the approximately 10,000 indigenous peoples displaced from their land remain unresolved. The construction of the Bakun Dam began in 1996, and its cost was reported to have ballooned from RM4.5bil to RM7.5bil due to cost overrun and compensation for delays.

Despite that, Bakun is just the beginning. The 944-megawatt Murum dam is currently being constructed, and it was announced in February last year that five more dams with a combined capacity of 3,000-megawatts are in the pipeline.

4. Renewable energy bill

(Pic by ronaldo/

The long-awaited Renewable Energy Act was finally tabled in Parliament in December 2010. Once passed, the Act will enable the public to sell electricity generated from renewable energy, most likely solar, to the power grid through the feed-in tariff scheme. Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will buy user-generated electricity at above-market rates. Concerns, however, are that TNB might pass on the cost to consumers by raising general electricity tariffs.

Other than the feed-in-tariff, it is unclear how the government intends to fulfill its target of generating 11% electricity from renewable energy by 2020.


5. Rejang river logjam

This bizarre incident last October involved Malaysia’s longest river, the Rejang. Logs and debris choked the mighty river for 50km, making many places inaccessible by boat.

The Sarawak government tried to pass off the incident as a “natural” disaster due to floods. A BBC report, however, quoted the blog Hornbill Unleashed, which blamed poor infrastructure and excessive logging for the logjam.


6. Capture and trial of wildlife trafficker Anson Wong

In August 2010, Wong was caught with 95 boa constrictors in his bag at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I, personally, was delighted when the High Court substituted a Sessions Court sentence of six months’ jail and a RM190,000 fine with a five-year jail term. The heavier sentence will be more likely to serve as an effective deterrent.

In addition, Parliament passed a tougher Wildlife Conservation Act, which came into force in December 2010. Punishments include fines of up to RM500,000. and up to five years’ jail for smugglers of protected species like tigers and rhinos.

7. GM mosquitoes

(Illustration by Nick Choo)

Dengue, carried by the Aedes mosquito, has been endemic in Malaysia for years. Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes have been proposed as a solution to curb its spread. The mutant male mosquitoes do not produce any offspring and help lower the mosquito population.

Great fears, however, have been expressed over this experiment as experts say removing the mosquito from the ecosystem could wreak havoc on other species, and ultimately, the environment.

Despite these concerns, the Health Ministry intended to release GM mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca. Protests from local and international groups resulted in a cancellation of the programme.


8. Selangor State Park

The federal government intends to build the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR) through the Selangor State Park to ease traffic congestion. This is in spite of the park being categorised as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (Rank 1) under the National Physical Plan-2. It serves as an important water catchment area, and as such, no development, except for eco-tourism, research and education purposes, should occur there.

The highway was originally designed to cut through the park and a potential Unesco World Heritage site,  the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge. The Selangor government convinced the developer to dig a tunnel to avoid damaging the quartz ridge last November. But it remains to be seen whether they can persuade the developer to re-route KLORR away from the state park, too.

Public outcry, not just from environmental groups but also concerned residents, continue. It remains to be seen whether the federal government will scrap its plans.

9.  Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest

Wong (front) visiting the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest in December 2010

Wong (front) visiting the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest in December 2010

The Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation proposed in 2010 to convert the 7,000ha Kuala Langat forest reserve into oil palm plantations. The clearing of the forest could reportedly generate RM1bil in timber revenue.

Selangor executive councillor for the environment Elizabeth Wong has led opposition to this proposal. A biodiversity audit, done with the assistance of environmental groups, found tapirs, sun bears, white-handed gibbons and rare trees.

The audit report has yet to be presented to the menteri besar, but I’m hopeful he will make the right decision. After all, the Pakatan Rakyat-led government promised to ban logging for 25 years when it came into power in 2008.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

10. No plastic bag day

The no plastic bags campaign, pioneered in Penang in 2009, is now nationwide. Plastic bags are no longer free on Saturdays except in Penang, where they’re not free every day.

Plastics manufacturers’ indignant reactions amuse me. Although the campaign may reduce our reliance on plastic bags, it is mainly symbolic. The campaign helps us rethink the impact of our use-and-throwaway consumption on the environment, but is unlikely to eliminate all use of plastics bags, or plastics, in our lives. Perhaps the manufacturers need to start listening and evolve in accordance with consumer demand for more sustainable products.

Although I initially found the above list a bit depressing, I realised that the story of public resistance against potential ecological destruction echoed throughout. And there are many more environmental heroes that did not make it into the list. A rural Kelantan community that successfully solved the human-elephant conflict in their village, for example. Or the Bukit Koman community that continues their attempts to protect their village from pollution from a gold mine.

And I’m sure there are many, many more such stories.

Again, Gan Pei Ling finds herself more inspired by grassroots communities and individuals than governments in 2010.

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6 Responses to “Green issues: Top 10 in 2010”

  1. Ng Ai Soo says:

    What a farce! You included the tiny little 300MW coal-fired station in Sabah but did not at all consider the announced 1000MW coal-fired power station to be built soon in Perak, a much more populated state. Where are all the environmentalists on this issue? Coal-fired power, while relatively cheap, is the dirtiest form of baseload electricity and pollutes with metals and radioactive isotopes up the chimney and in the ash. Whereas 1GWe nuclear power plant produces 30 tonnes of fuel waste annually, the same sized coal-fired station produces 400,000 tonnes of ash alone, not including CO2 or other particulates or gaseous emanations a year. We already have substantial coal-fired generation capacity on the peninsula and we seem to be looking after their pollution so well that they do not merit the attention of you or your “several ‘greenie’ friends”! These so-called friends of yours have blinded you to our reality. Please check.

  2. ken says:

    Thanks for the compilation.

    I wish I could agree with you that public resistance against nuclear power has been substantial. From my point of view, it’s really just hello echo – there is hardly any resistance.

    From the latest developments around the world on nuclear plants, Malaysians will likely see the most dramatic and gargantuan mega-project bailout in our history. Expect RM50 billion and a 10-year delay until 2030. Till then, many more coal plants will then be used as an excuse to fill in the gap left by the delay in nuclear.

  3. Brock Rhodes says:

    I just recently became aware of Anson Wong (listed #6). I just read about his exploits in Stolen World by Jennie Erin Smith. It goes into colorful detail about Wong, I recommend it. This is so far the only other place I’ve found him mentioned.

    The GM mosquitos are scary.

  4. Fern says:

    Why aren’t there more awareness campaigns organized by NGOs about the dangers of nuclear power plants? Why isn’t there anybody stubbornly speaking against it? Why can’t we harvest solar power instead?

    Sometimes, I wish I could do more as a mere school student.

  5. Ng Ai Soo says:

    @Fern: Nuclear power plants are not so dangerous… read Power To Save the World by Gwyneth Cravens to find out more. She was once anti-nuclear. Nuclear power plants, and hydro, are currently the safest, greenest and most economical base-load electricity supply available to humankind, including us [Malaysians]. Coal pollutes more in normal operations but is cheap, and so it seems we are getting more of this here in the peninsula. Nobody here seems to mind this, despite the emission of metals and radioactive isotopes from coal! There was a time when we were the world’s largest producer of tin… all our tin miners had to deal with the radioactive amang, a by-product, some waste from which is still stored in Perak. There are no reports of radioactive damage to our miners, as far as I know.

    Some people here object mainly because we see ourselves as unable to safely build and operate these plants, not because of the safety record of nuclear power plants. Our record, it seems, is too poor to allow this plus we are corrupt, they tell us. The same people happily live here despite their very low opinion of our “maintenance culture”, corruption or our abilities. Explore and judge for yourself.

    At the moment rooftop solar photovoltaic yields too little electricity (1500kWh/kWp installed, annually) for too much money (RM20,000 per kWp). But with the coming subsidy and generous feed-in tariff, I suggest you persuade your family to get some installed, unless your family cannot afford the cost even with the subsidy, or do not have a rooftop because you are renting a house or live in a condominium or flat. This is the best way for your family to benefit, but at the expense of the poorer taxpayer, of course. Sadly, despite monetary savings to you, it will not save you much carbon emissions because backup generation is required and ours is mostly fossil fuel. But hey, not to sneeze at the savings, we can always say we are going green.

    Good luck with your studies. Help us decide wisely in future!

  6. EnergyWise says:

    The Renewable Energy Act cited above will have far-reaching consequences and therefore public participation is vital for a sense of ownership and its success. It will have profound effect on the environmental sustainability, especially climate change.

    The Renewable Energy Bill 2010 is scheduled for final debate in Parliament on 28 March 2011, so please get your views heard in time. For an Engineer’s perspective of the Renewable Energy Bill 2010 tabled at Parliament covering the several forms of renewable energy please see:

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