Environmentalists and locals win fight against coal plant in Borneo

February, 2011
Mongabay

Read Kammen's reportMalaysian locals, environmentalists, and RAEL Director Dan Kammen have won the battle against a controversial coal plant in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo. The Malaysian State and Federal government announced today that they would "pursue other alternative sources of energy, namely gas, to meet Sabah's power supply needs." Proposed for an undeveloped beach on the north-eastern coast of Borneo, the coal plant, according to critics, would have threatened the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most biodiverse marine ecosystems, and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos and Bornean orangutans. Local fishermen feared that discharges from the plant would have imperiled their livelihood.

University of California Berkeley Distinguished Professor of Energy Daniel Kammen, who directed the energy and environmental impact study used widely in the discussions of energy options in Sabah, said, "I am truly thrilled by the efforts of Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for their leadership in directing the course of the state and the nation towards a diverse mixture of energy resources that will stabilize energy costs, bring new entrepreneurs into the energy field, create job growth, and cut local environmental impact and global greenhouse gas emissions growth." Kammen is now serving as the Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank.

The presentation of report

Kammen continued, "You know, energy and environmental victories often do not get the attention that negative events do, but here is a case where a collaborative set of environmental groups led by Green SURF worked with elected officials to educate and create dialog with the public, and to bring critically needed technical materials -- such as the energy options report we produced -- to decision makers. The result speaks for itself. It is a local development victory in Sabah, an opening to look harder at economically viable clean energy options, and a turning point that should bring deserved praise and partnerships to Malaysia at the upcoming climate conference in Durban, South Africa."

World Land Trust Chief Executive Officer and Founder, John Burton, congratulated the Government on making a rational decision that will have major benefits for all. “It is good that they listened to public opinion, and shows a genuine commitment to the environment,” Burton said.

Lauding the Government’s decision, 350.org Malaysia’s South East Asia Field Coordinator Abe Woo said the move has chartered a new course in history of environmental movement and energy management. “This signals a positive and responsive government as the whole international network of 350.org continues to support bold moves by the present government in combating climate change,” Woo said.

Jamie Henn, 350.org Communications Director described it as a “victory that’s felt all around the world.” 350.org is an international movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis.

Environmental campaigner Roz Savage shared the State Government’s statement through Twitter, adding that she was honoured and proud to have been part of the campaign calling for the project to be canned. Savage was the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean and was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2010.

Sabah born artist and creator of the “Postcards2PM” project which saw thousands signing postcards that were sent to Najib, hoped that the authorities including Tenaga Nasional Berhad and Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd will engage with environmentalists in providing sound solutions. “I hope the authorities will keep environmental protection at the forefront of all development,” Yee said.

Green SURF also received a number of reactions at its blog site, with readers giving the thumbs up to the government, happy that their voices were heard. Wednesday’s announcement by Musa that no coal plant will be constructed in Sabah came as a welcome surprise, following months of silence by the authorities after the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment study for a site in Lahad Datu was rejected in August last year.