Balance environmental and wildlife protection with economy, says expert

Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer and economist Rafiq Idris. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah needs to continue stepping up its efforts on environmental protection and wildlife conservation as it seeks ways to boost the economy, a senior lecturer and economist said.

As the debate hots up on whether the state should prioritise the economy or the environment, Rafiq Idris of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) said both were equally important.

“Environmental protection and wildlife conservation contribute to the economy. Certain resources can be extracted in a way which does not harm the environment,” he told FMT.

Recently, environmentalists have said Sabah should not reconsider extracting coal near the Lost World of Maliau Basin to fuel a proposed coal-fired power plant at Sandakan.

This followed the federal government’s announcement that it had cancelled the RM4.04 billion Trans Sabah Gas Pipeline project.

They said coal mines affected the environment negatively due to the destruction of forests and natural wildlife habitats since trees, plants and topsoil would have to be removed to make way for the mines.

They also cause soil erosion and flooding and stir up dust pollution that can lead to respiratory problems in nearby communities.

In terms of wildlife, Sabah mourned the death of its last male rhino four days ago, leaving just one female rhino in captivity in the country.

Rafiq hoped the Sabah government would further improve its environmental protection and wildlife conservation to support the tourism industry.

He said an increase in the number of tourists meant an increase in business and employment opportunities and even investments.

“People do not come to Sabah to shop. They come because of nature. The beautiful beaches, islands, mountains, waterfalls, jungles and wildlife are among the attractions.

“We will be able to sustain the performance of the tourism sector if we continuously protect our environment and wildlife.

“Good environment and protected wildlife have the potential to attract investors or even medical scientists to come over for research. All this eventually contributes to the state’s economy,” he said.

Judging by the current world trend that emphasises environment protection and wildlife conservation, Rafiq said it is not impossible that one day, trade agreements will include such requirements.

For example, he said the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) saw how member countries were committed to abide by the articles in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

He did not discount the possibility that countries may face boycotts in future if they did not comply with certain international standards or regulations.

“Environmental protection is important to sustain our current economic performance, especially in the tourism sector.

“Poor environmental quality affects economic growth and wellbeing by lowering the quality and quantity of resources,” he said.