Time for a green agenda

THE next general election offers an opportunity to thrust environmental issues to the forefront for debate, consideration and decision making.

It is my hope to see election candidates adopt a bold environmental agenda (a green agenda) in their manifestos. It is not lost on me that what goes into the agenda has much to do with societal demands and pressures that are an electoral demand. That said, I am not assured that environmental issues are firmly rooted in the collective consciousness of the electorate.

My premise is those who wish to govern and those who succeed in this endeavour will automatically inherit the politically difficult, onerous and complex position of being both custodian and guardians of the environment, and the nation's natural resources.

So, it is incumbent on every candidate to prescribe strong environmental goals for the country and be ready to take this responsibility head on.

The election manifesto can be a catalyst to articulate an environmental agenda and invite debate and analysis. I am not referring to mere pronouncements but to specific environmental objectives and the means to achieve them.

The question arises as to whether the likes of a green agenda has been seen in election manifestos before in Malaysia.

The last general election saw one manifesto having reference to the environment. Where a green agenda was featured, the commitments were meek, weak and not reflective of the seriousness the of environmental issues confronting us.

There are a plethora of environmental issues facing the nation and it is not possible to address them all in five years.

I have a list of issues that warrant attention and action. These in itself will require considerable effort if we are to see any measure of success.

It will require a shift in policy making and execution and attitudes that can transcend barriers towards environmental policy implementation that is geo-political state of play, federal constitutional limits and the federal state divide/tensions on environmental issues.

The following wish list is not conclusive but it represents a set of issues which I feel are ripe for adoption in an election manifesto:

» Strengthen the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to give it an effective voice in the country's mainstream policy and decision-making process – this has much to do a with a clearer and focused mandate and removing murkiness in the way the ministry operates in conjunction with multiple agencies under its purview including federal and state relationships on environmental matters.

» Review and consolidate the multitude of languishing federal environmental policies into one consolidated, well-articulated, integrated and mainstreamed environmental strategy for the nation with a time bound implementation plan based on accountability.

» To implement a zero tolerance strategy towards the illegal hunting and trade of plants and animals. To this end, ensure there is adequate monitoring, patrolling and enforcement resources, and securing of porous borders that allow for encroachment into our forests.

» Address the issue of lack of adequate funding for environmental initiatives and implementation of government policy and laws on the environment by ensuring the mobilisation of adequate federal funds through a new system that is consultative, informed, fair, equitable, transparent and based on national environmental priorities.

» If indeed all protected areas are cornerstones of protection of ecosystems, species habitats and biodiversity; ensure that all protected areas (whether federal or state designated) do not exist as mere paper parks. To safeguard the continued integrity of these protected areas, management plans are mandatory. Assistance with implementation of management plans via adequate resources and capacity are paramount. Above all, federal incentives are imperative to ensure continued protection of these protected areas to avoid the risk of exploitation of these areas for commercial purposes.

As 19th century American theologian James Freeman Clarke said eloquently: "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation." To me, an election manifesto with strong environmental goals for the nation is a vital key step towards demonstrating statesmanship.
Wishing readers a productive year ahead.

Preetha, an advocate and solicitor, has spent many years in the environmental conservation arena. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com