World Environment Day 2020 - It's Time for Nature

June 5, 2020

Photo of Mount Kinabalu, Sabah by EJ Yeo/ Unsplash

It's time for nature, the theme for World Environment Day 2020 is a constant and repeated message reminding us in times of crisis and disasters that people survive and thrive in a healthy and intact natural environment.  The recent COVID-19 pandemic has sent shocks into our lives, disrupting economic activities and social norms which have greatly impacted our progress towards Sustainable Development Goals in 2030 from the perspective of sustainable human development. We are at the critical moment to reflect on our relationship with nature, that to care for ourselves we must care #ForNature.  

Malaysia, despite being only 0.2% of the world's landmass, the country is blessed with a variety of flora and fauna species, and ecosystems; making it one of the mega-biodiverse countries in the world. There are about 12,500 species of flowering plants, approximately 480 mammals, over 1,289 species of birds and reptiles including a large number of endemic species that can only be found in Malaysia.

To safeguard this significant natural asset, UNDP Malaysia in partnership with the Government of Malaysia, Global Environment Facility, and other donors and partners has been implementing a portfolio of biodiversity and sustainable development projects since 1997. This portfolio focuses, in particular, (a) policy, legislative and fiscal reforms for effective biodiversity conservation and environmental management; (b) institutional capacity development in protected area and sustainable landscape management; (c) co-management of biodiversity and ecosystems with local and indigenous communities; and (d) nature-based solutions that help Malaysia in its transition towards green and circular economy. 

Photo: Eutah Mizushima/ Unsplash

The Improving Effectiveness and Financial Sustainability of Protected Areas in Malaysia project aims to establish a sustainable financing structure to support effective -protected area system management in Malaysia. With the project interventions, three federal and state protected area authorities namely Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Perak State Park Corporation and Johor National Park Corporation can demonstrate increased trends in the government budget allocations from  2012 to 2019.  

Sabah - a state that relies heavily on its forest resources to finance its socio-economic development,  under the Biodiversity Conservation in the Multiple-Use Forest Landscapes (MFL) project, Sabah Forestry Department with the support of UNDP plays an integral role to help demonstrate and optimize the planning and management of multiple-use forest landscape using cutting edge biodiversity assessment tools and innovative sustainable financing solution. 

Within the proposed 261,264 ha project landscape that connects three renowned protected areas in Sabah; the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (58,840 ha), Danum Valley Conservation Areas (43,800 ha), and the Imbak Canyon Conservation Areas (16,750 ha) the MFL project has established and expanded the  Class VI Virgin Jungle Reserve in the project landscape from 18,517 ha (at project design) to 115,430 ha (at inception) to 149,277 ha (June 2019), compared to project target of 145,000 ha. This achievement and success allow this project to serve as a model for future scale-up. This expansion of protected area coverage in Sabah has helped Malaysia in its achievement of Global Biodiversity Aichi targets. 

Seeing how the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 affected billions of lives linked to natural resources management, there is an urgent need to increase the resilience of these communities who are custodians of biodiversity conservation. The innovative Development and Implementing National Access and Benefit-Sharing of Biological Resources project in Sarawak might just be one of the nature-based or symbiotic solution that works for both, the people and the planet. The project works to enable the potential of Malaysia's rich biodiversity and biological resources to generate economic and social benefits to the nation and key stakeholders, including indigenous and local communities.

The project also provides local indigenous communities with the opportunity to share and have their traditional knowledge documented. Through this project's effort, Malaysia has enacted the Access to Biological Resources and Benefit Sharing Act 2017 (also known as the ABS law). The law paved way for Malaysia to ratify the Nagoya Protocol in November 2018, asserting Malaysia's commitment to biodiversity conservation while promoting the sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits. 

Photo of indigenous community in Pa'Ukat, Sarawak.

Besides biodiversity conservation, there is also a need to address the climate crisis as it also poses risks to vulnerable communities. Back in 2016, Malaysia submitted the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, the country pledged to reduce 45% greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 level. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic might delay some of the strategic biodiversity initiatives planned this year, but it is also an opportunity to integrate nature concerns and climate action into COVID-19 stimulus package and response plans. Through the Climate Promise project, UNDP will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Environment and Water to support and address the climate crisis and pandemic. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. 

In this World Environment Day, relationship with Nature and the building forward better is more significant than ever.  The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from Nature.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the current pandemic serves as a wake-up call and that "We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption." More than ever, UNDP is committed to supporting Malaysia in finding environmentally sustainable, climate-sensitive and nature-based solutions to build back a better and greener Malaysia.