Serious concerns about the proposed degazettement and development of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) raised.

We, representatives of 11 civil society organisations, are writing to raise serious concerns about the proposed degazettement and development of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR).

The peatland forest, estimated to be around 8,000 years old, was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927; at that time, the gazettement was said to have covered almost 7,247ha. The degazettement will critically endanger species such as the Malayan sun bear, Selangor pygmy flying squirrel and Langat red fighting fish at a time when the climate change crisis is worsening. Even the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia (JPSM) is against the degazettement.

Releasing CO2 into the air

Furthermore, peatland forests are the most efficient natural carbon sinks on the planet. With another two massive paper recycling plants on the verge of being approved and expanded in the vicinity of the KLNFR (on top of an existing plant), both with onsite waste incinerators close to residential areas, there is dire need for the forest to store the carbon dioxide that will be generated.

Cutting down trees and developing KLNFR will release 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is not aligned with Malaysia’s Paris Agreement commitment to a reduction of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030. The degazettement also goes against the Third National Physical Plan, as well as the Selangor State Structure Plan 2035 to maintain 32% of the state as forest area; it is also not aligned with the National Action Plan for Peatlands (2011-2020) and the National Forestry Act 1984.

Selangor’s own State Plan 2035 prohibits any development in environmentally-sensitive areas under which the KLNFR is categorised, as it will lead to detrimental environmental, economic and social impacts not only on the 2,000 Temuans that have a holistic connection to the forest but also to everyone living in the district as the peatland helps to minimise flood risks.

Against indigenous peoples’ rights

Reports indicate that almost 2,000 Temuans would be displaced from their ancestral land by this degazettement.

Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which clearly outlines that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned”.

Further, in November 2018, during Malaysia’s human rights review at the UN Human Rights Council, the Malaysian government was urged to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples in law and in practice, in particular regarding their right to traditional lands, territories and resources; to strengthen policies and measures for the well-being of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia so as to uplift their economic and social status and so they can benefit from the country’s economic development; and to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples through the incorporation of the principles of the UN declaration in judicial and administrative procedures.

Lack of transparency

The people of Kuala Langat, especially the Orang Asli communities, have a right to know who exactly is behind the degazettement, what the plans for the land are, and how they will benefit.

In that regard, we are extremely disappointed with the Selangor state government for the manner in which it handled the town hall meeting that took place on Sept 29, 2020, at Pulau Carey to discuss this issue.

Town hall meetings are important to allow public participation in policymaking and they must not be merely cosmetic. The manner in which they are held is of utmost significance. The Sept 29 meeting was originally limited to invited participants and was held at a location and time that severely constrained participation – hardly an example of good governance.

A major concern made evident during the town hall was the failure of the authorities to clearly explain the critical need for the proposed development that will remove 931ha of peatland forest from the protected list. Until today the Selangor government has not provided valid and scientifically-backed justifications for why it wishes to degazette the forest, nor has it outlined the benefits that the degazettement will bring to the people of Kuala Langat.

Furthermore, the fact that Menteri Besar Inc applied for this degazettement while the Menteri Besar himself sits on the decision-making committee brings up another element of poor governance: conflict of interest.

Keep voicing objections

Concerned groups held a meeting on Oct 7, 2020, at which it was decided that the struggle to stop the degazetting of the KLNFR will continue. The public hearing on Sept 29, 2020, was not the final point of participation.

More than 45,000 objection letters have already been sent by members of public earlier this year to object to this degazettement. The door for democratic involvement to stop the degazetting is still wide open and we urge other concerned groups and individuals to join forces on this issue.

And hence, we urge the Selangor government to:

Honour the promises made to the people of Selangor during the previous elections that it will always act in the best interest of the people and the environment.

Clearly explain the need for the proposed development that will come at such a high cost and at a time when environmental and climate crises are major concerns globally.

Ensure all development projects undergo rigorous review before being approved and implemented, especially when it means the degazettement of forest reserves and displacement of communities from their homes and livelihoods.

Provide leadership to create a new “green deal” for the country, where jobs, industries, and economic development do not come at the expense of the environment and the most vulnerable communities.

Originally published at the star