Malaysia is one of the world’s twelve megadiverse countries (Kean et al, 2010) and Southeast Asia has highest mean proportion of country-endemic bird and mammal species of any world region; 9% and 11% respectively. The region also has the highest proportion of threatened vascular plant, reptile, bird, and mammal species. The number of species present in Malaysia includes around 300 mammals; 750 birds; 600 reptiles; 250 amphibians; 150,000 invertebrates; 15,000 flowering plants, as well as 4000 marine fish, 450 freshwater fish, thousands of orchids and ferns and hundreds of palms, fungi and mosses (NRE, 2014 and 2015). Deforestation is of the highest rate in the tropics and has increased steadily in recent times. Projected losses to biodiversity are 13–85% by 2100 (Sodhi et al., 2009, p317). Forest ecosystems in Malaysia are extremely varied, as examined in previous topics, consisting of numerous terrestrial forest types including dipterocarp, oak, heath and bamboo forests and riparian, swamp and mangrove wetland forests.
These habitats lie within a country entirely within in the equatorial zone with a warm year-round climate, the average daily temperature varying from 21°C to 32°C. This chapter draws extensively on the Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (NRE, 2014) to describe biodiversity in Malaysia.
The importance of reserves is difficult to underestimate: “With deforestation advancing quickly, protected areas are increasingly becoming final refuges for threatened species and natural ecosystem processes.” (Laurance et al. 2012, p290). Huge variance in reserve-health exists between reserves and it is demonstrably the case that environmental activity and change immediately outside reserves critically affects the ecological fate of the area. Notwithstanding the inter-dependence of reserves and their surroundings, and the failure of many reserves, reserve biodiversity is, in general, far richer than non-reserve biodiversity. Malaysia’s Permanent Reserved Forest (PRF) and Permanent Forest Estates (PFE) are regarded as the primary means of protecting biodiversity in the country, and operate in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak via a variety of important legislative instruments. High Conversation Value Forest (HCVF) in Malaysia defines forest of outstanding and critical importance, having high environmental, socio-economic, biodiversity or landscape value.
Malaysia is one of the most florally diverse countries on the planet with characteristic dense evergreen rainforest (Sharma et al. 1996) regarded as one of fewer than twenty mega-diverse countries (Brooks et al. 2006). Land based flora that remains includes the gigantically flowered and remarkably named Rafflesia genus: "The Rafflesiaceae are leafless, stemless, and rootless nonphotosynthetic parasites that live embedded in host plants" (Davis et al, 2007). The flower, named for Sir Thomas Raffles, responsible for colonial ideology foundational to the condition of biodiversity of this country, has the smell of decaying flesh and is known as the corpse flower.
Of the plant species present in Peninsular Malaysia 10% are critically endangered and 13% endangered and 14 % vulnerable (37% threatened across these categories, FRIM, 2013). The fate of regional flora is inextricable from the fate of the land fauna discussed presently. Indeed, elephants and other large fauna of the region are forest gardeners and their ranging over large areas, a behaviour being increasingly impeded by human activity, may be essential for ecosystem function (Campos-Arceiz and Blake, 2011).
There are an estimated 185,000 species of fauna in the SouthEast Asian region, many of which are endemic to tropical forests here (Noor et al, 2010). The story of Malaysian fauna is intricately linked to that of its flora. Fauna numbers, both in terms of species and individuals, are in severe decline to the detriment of medium and long term economic and biodiversity outcomes. For example, dependent on the forest for food and nesting sites, the orangutan has brought fame and fortune to Malaysia, yet through fire, logging and the palm oil industry, the species is facing imminent eradication (Nellemann, 2007). Indeed, South East Asia has the highest proportion of threatened mammal species due primarily to having the highest rates of deforestation in the global tropics (Clements et al. 2010). The status of Malaysia as a location for thriving megafauna, along with the associated potential for global interest and tourist income, is thus likely to be short-lived, paralleling the decline of, for example, rhinos, elephants, leopards and tigers, whose numbers are rapidly approaching zero, perhaps now inexorably (Husson, 2009; Wilting et al., 2012).
The interdependence of elements of the ecosystem is such that the eradication of herbivorous animals such as the elephant and rhinoceros is likely to severely limit seed dispersal of large-seeded plants, with associated cascading impairment to biodiversity (Campos-Arceiz, 2012). Nor is this alarming trend confined to large animals. Clearing primary forest, or using logged forest for palm oil plantation, decreases species richness of forest birds and butterflies by between 73% and 77% (Koh and Wilcove, 2008) and this has been the modus operandi in nearly 60% of palm oil expansion in Malaysia between 1990 and 2005, regardless of environmental policy.
The natural environment of Malaysia has undergone enormous change in the past decades and, to some extent environmental policy has evolved around this. Hezri and Mohd (2006) outline four distinct phases of environmental policy in Malaysia which have arisen in response to environmental degradation related to resource exploitation. These four phases are associated with policy content and instruments: Stage one (1971–1976) Federal policy formulation; Stage two (1977–1988) Crises and consolidation; Stage three (1989–2000) Sustainable development, a new concept; Stage four (2001+) Implementing sustainable development. During stage one policy and structure for approaching environmental issues at the federal level in Malaysia began to be organised. Stage two saw escalating environmental impacts of short term economic gain seemingly triumphing over longer-term conservation efforts. This period was also characterised by evolving civil-society environmentalism in Malaysia and early regulation, legislation and the acceptance of a need for environmental impact assessments.
This led to stage three, in which international influence and the idea of sustainable development was adopted and provided a framework for international diplomacy and related ad-hoc national policy progression. The fourth and most recent stage involves the ongoing implementation of such policy and the integration of strategy and indicators into evolving processes nationally and internationally. These temporal phases are perhaps enriched by noting the divisions of Moss (1996) who approaches Malaysia’s recent legislative areas in terms of significant natural resources: soil and water conservation; minerals; forests; wildlife and national parks. Moss views Malaysia as in a uniquely developed position in South East Asia from which to lead in natural resource policy.
Key policies relating to biodiversity in Malaysia are: The National Forestry Policy 1978; The National Policy on Biological Diversity 1998; The National Policy on the Environment 2002; National Wetlands Policy 2004; National Biotechnology Policy 2005 (NRE, 2014). Malaysia ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and developed the National Policy on Biological Diversity in 1998.
In 2014, 14.5 million hectares of PRF/PFE existed in Malaysia, which ostensibly remains committed to the maintenance of a minimum of “50% of its land area under forest and tree cover in perpetuity.” (NRE, 2014, p7). Interpretation of definitions surrounding this commitment is the subject of some debate. The World Bank (2015) states: “Forest area is land under natural or planted stands of trees of at least 5 meters in situ, whether productive or not, and excludes tree stands in agricultural production systems (for example, in fruit plantations and agroforestry systems) and trees in urban parks and gardens.”
Biodiversity and livelihoods of indigenous people are inextricably linked. Heterogeneity, complexity and inter-relatedness often suffer when opposed by homogenous forms of human activity, and effective policy is a challenge: Aziz et al. (2013) note that the Orang Asli (translated as original people or first people) are not a homogenous group, are descendants of the Peninsula’s earliest inhabitants, and have been marginalised and had their livelihoods threatened and destroyed by a mixture of legislative weakness, ambiguity and commerce. This destruction is often not for lack of practical legislation or planning, Malaysian criteria and indicators for Forest Management Certification (MC&I, 2002) sets out detailed principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers to assist in assessing and addressing forest management practices yet it seems other factors move more rapidly to effect change. Indeed, scientifically derived solutions and quantifiable data are plentiful (Phua et al. 2005) yet habitat destruction favouring short-term commercial advantage remains a priority.
Generally, it has been argued that at the industrial level there have been too few checks and balances to prevent runaway industry at the expense of environmental degradation. Samuel et al (2013, p.392) assert that even in contemporary times “there is no common framework in Malaysia to assess sustainable production at the industrial level”. Whilst international best practices are often followed, participation of industries in reducing environmental impact has been poor, especially amongst small to medium enterprises (Lee et al 2015). Meanwhile, study in Malaysia has shown that “evidences of reduction of soil fertility and water quality were rampant” (Bala et al. 2014, p1). Nor are solutions to biodiversity and interrelatedness simple or easy to communicate, options requiring careful scrutiny in order to avoid ostensibly sustainable actions having an overall negative effect. For example, in calling for biofuels derived from waste biomass, or at least biomass grown utilising degraded agricultural lands, Hill et al (2008, p.1) note that “Converting rainforests, peat lands, savannahs, or grasslands to produce food-crop-based-biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a "biofuel carbon debt" by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.”
The Eleventh Malaysia Plan has ten strategic thrusts, namely:
Anchoring growth on people
Strengthening macroeconomic resilience for sustained growth
Enhancing inclusiveness towards an equitable society
Improving wellbeing for all
Accelerating human capital development for an advanced nation
Pursuing green growth for sustainability and resilience
Strengthening infrastructure to support economic expansion
Re-engineering economic growth for greater prosperity
Transforming public service for productivity
Malaysia beyond 2020
These are to be achieved through several focus areas including: empowering communities, uplifiting poor households, transforming rural areas, enhancing Bumiputera Economic Community opportunities to increase wealth ownership and accelerating regional growth (see Figure 9.9).
Malaysia is indeed a nation exploding with development. The technological context for this is one which Kurweil (2005) describes as exhibiting exponential growth. McKinsey’s identification of twelve potentially disruptive technologies and subsequent IT enabled business trends hint at a brave new world within which growth will likely occur. Concurrently, the United Nations has produced a coherent set of Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world (and see Figure 9.10).
This topic has introduced Malaysia as a megadiverse country. It has gone on to present a number of policies and reforms in operation within Malaysia. The degradation of flora and fauna at both a country level and a global level have been touched upon in order to provoke further research in the direction of most interest to the student. The Eleventh Malaysia Plan and the UN Sustainable Development Goals have been exhibited and the potentially disruptive technological landscape introduced, both in terms of likely avenues of development and the business trends that might meet them. This is the last substantive topic before a final revision based topic.