Addressing Human Development Challenges and Conservation

Jun 11, 2014

First National Protected Area Managers’ Conference

Keynote Speech

“Addressing Human Development Challenges and Conservation”

Ms. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough

United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative
for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam

Taman Negara, Kuala Tahan, State of Pahang

Esteemed Guests,

Representatives from government agencies, academia, civil society organizations and private sector,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Selamat pagi and a very good morning to all of you,

I very much appreciate the opportunity and am honoured to join you at Malaysia’s first and largest gathering of protected area managers, practitioners and researchers from government, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector. And even more so, because we are able to come together in this special venue and on this special occasion where Taman Negara is celebrating its 75th anniversary and its status as the oldest national park in Malaysia. With such auspicious surroundings and history and the diversity of experiences and knowledge amongst us gathered today, I know we will get the most out of this unique occasion to share experiences, explore and plant the seeds for new and innovative solutions, and celebrate
the success of all your hard work over the years.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia Country Office is proud to have contributed to this event, organised by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks through our project “Enhancing Effectiveness and Financial Sustainability of Protected Areas in Malaysia” or in short, “Protected Area Financing”, which is implemented with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). And I would like to pay tribute to Dato’ Abd (Abdul) Rasid and his team in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and the Protected Area Financing project team for their
efforts in organising this conference.

The theme of this conference is very important, both for Malaysia as a country moving towards the goal of becoming a high income nation by 2020, and for the world at large because of the huge potential of protected areas to support sustainable human development.

Status and Challenges of Human Development

Distinguished Guests,

Between the publication of the first Human Development Report by UNDP in 1990 and now, the world has made remarkable achievements in terms of human well-being, aided since 2000 by the Millennium Development Goals. And we must celebrate these achievements and build upon them to address the still many remaining gaps in human development around the world, especially for our most vulnerable population groups. Today, there are half a billion less people living in extreme poverty; and about three million
children’s lives are saved each year. Four out of five children have now received vaccination for a range of diseases. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one-quarter. Contracting HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence. And, in 2011 in developing countries around the world, a record 590 million children attended primary school.

Asia, and in particular Malaysia, has been exemplary in its achievement in reducing the number of people living in poverty and in meeting most of the Millennium Development Goals. Malaysia has:

  • Achieved most of the MDGs at aggregate level ahead of its target date of 2015;
  • Very commendably, reduced the rate of poverty from 17 per cent in 1990 to 8 per cent in 2000, and to a further 1.7 per cent in 2012;
  • Almost 92 per cent of the population use improved drinking watersource and 97 per cent use an improved sanitation facility.

No doubt this progress in human development can be attributed to the strong economic performance and wise social investments Malaysia has maintained over the last three decades.

However, challenges remain for Malaysia as income disparity between urban-rural areas and different population groups has been rising and inequality between and within ethnic groups is a growing concern.

Moreover, sustaining human development gains is becoming more and more difficult in the face of “loss of biodiversity and ecosystems that support our lives, environmental degradation that affects the quality of air we breathe and the water we drink, and climate change related natural disasters, which are increasing in frequency and intensity and cause enormous economic damage, social instability and loss of human capacities”.

While Malaysia is fortunate to not be affected by extreme weather events such as typhoon, earthquake, volcanoes, the impacts of severe floods and droughts on daily lives has been on the rise. According to the Study on the Economics of Climate Change in Malaysia by the Economic Planning Unit and UNDP, the damages caused by severe floods in the State of Johor alone in 2006 – 2007 amounted to Malaysian Ringgit 1.5 billion and in the State of Kedah in 2010, to Malaysian Ringgit 503 million. Total estimated flood
damage in Malaysia from 2006 to 2010 is Malaysian Ringgit 5.3 billion.

The 2013 haze episode in South-East Asia has caused thousands of people, especially children and elderly people, to suffer from respiratory diseases. In Malaysia, hospitals and clinics in areas badly affected by haze recorded an increase of more than 100% in asthma cases according to Ministry of Health data. Today, in developing countries around the world, environment-related health problems, including acute respiratory problems and diarrhoea, are top killers of children according to WHO.

These are just some examples of how human development progress can be stagnated or reversed if we do not connect with, and have more concerns and respect for our environment and use our resources sustainably. We must find ways for our economies to grow, with the benefits shared by all our citizens, and do so within the planetary boundary. This is inclusive growth and sustainable human development.

Balancing Human Development and Conservation

UNDP, consistent with our mission, insists that environmental conservation and protection is the foundation of sustainable human development. Why?

Human development, which is about expanding peoples choices, builds on shared natural resources and there is a fundamental injustice of one generation living at the expense of others. We can do much to ensure that
our use of the world’s resources does not damage future opportunities – and we should. Unsustainable consumption without conservation may generate a high growth rate in the short term, but is not sustainable in the long term. Also, rapid growth that does not deliver benefits to all people will create inequalities that can be a drag or growth, can also make growth more volatile and can threaten the stability of society. People deserve an equal chance to prosper. Lastly, as responsible citizens, we have a moral obligation to protect and leave our mother Earth in a healthy state for our future generations.

UNDP supports countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable and equitable progress and our collaboration to enhance the management of protected areas through support for policy development and strengthening the
capacities of, institutions and individuals is one way in which we do this. In short, it is a “triple win” programme across the economic, social and environment pillars toward higher human development. This remains our
approach here in Malaysia and around the world.

Brazil, for example, has abundant natural, human and economic resources. Like Malaysia, the country during the past two decades has enjoyed rapid economic growth: per-capita GDP increased by nearly 50 percent during 1992 – 2011. The Bolsa Verde Environmental Conservation Support programme was launched in October 2011 to encourage families living in extreme poverty in or near Brazil’s protected areas to pursue environmentally sustainable livelihoods. In exchange for quarterly payments of some $160 over a two-year period and training in forestry management, programme beneficiaries commit to abstain from illegal logging and poaching. More than 73,000 smallholder families and traditional communities have received
benefits under this programme and household incomes for them have improved significantly.

The Bolsa Verde programme is also linked to the Amazon Protected Areas Programme where some 709,000 square kilometers of Amazon forest were newly established protected areas during 2002–2009, bringing the total protected area coverage up to some 2.2 million square kilometres — 26 percent of Brazil’s territory. In other words, just over one fifth of Brazil’s forest area is now included in protected areas. Recent Brazilian research indicates that 37 per cent of the decline in deforestation recorded during 2004–2006 in the Amazon can be attributed to these new protected areas. In December 2008, former President Lula called for a 73 per cent reduction in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest by 2018. The slowdown in deforestation would mean a 72% reduction in Brazil’s carbon emissions.

In addition to on-going efforts, programmes like Bolsa Verde and Amazon Protected Areas could be taken as inspiration and motivation for Malaysia to develop its very own “triple win” solutions on the ground and UNDP is ready to assist in such an effort.

Looking Ahead

Fellow participants,

For these “triple win” solutions to work successfully in Malaysia, and enhanced protected area management to be better leveraged to advance human development, a few important elements will have to be addressed.

First, we will need to improve policy coherence and implementation, by harmonising its national development and sector-based policies. Policies such as National Economic Model, National Policy on Biological Diversity,
National Land Code, National Forestry Act, and respective State Forestry Enactments must interact across the development spectrum and across the country to deliver greater benefits and foster progress. In addition, there should be a nationally agreed policy framework on protected areas, taking into account the Federal and State jurisdiction on land and natural resources.

To achieve this, we will need to strengthen the capacities of our institutions to design and implement national, sub-national and local integrated development policies and programmes and do so with human development
and conservation issues at the core. Creating such institutional capacities often requires a combination of public service and administration reforms through structural reviews, civil service reform, prioritising the expansion of partnership building capacities, as well as network development and management. For example, the institutional capacity of local authorities can be enhanced through the implementation of Local Agenda 21, a process which facilitates sustainable development at the community level. Local authorities have an important role to play in the management of protected areas as in national development more broadly. They have control over land use planning, particularly in the context of improving the connectivity of national and state protected area networks through establishment of corridors or buffers; and as we know, eventually, all development is local.

Second, there should be more effective and accountable public finance allocation and management for protected areas. For instance, Malaysia may consider implementing a performance-based financing mechanism under the recently announced National Conservation Trust Fund to encourage State Governments to expand and maintain their protected area coverage, in addition to the existing allocations under the Development Fund and annual operating budget. The Guyana Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and
Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) Investment Fund is an example where performance-based financing has functioned as designed. Three tranches of performance-based payments of about $115 million have been approved from Norway to the Government of Guyana, of which $65 million has been delivered based on forest-based greenhouse gas emissions indicator. UNDP can assist in bringing this and other experiences and knowledge to enhance the budgeting and management of protected areas in Malaysia.

Finally, a more comprehensive and multi-disciplinary capacity building programme for the park managers, practitioners or local communities that incorporate managerial, ecological, geographical and sociological techniques and skills should be developed and institutionalised to strengthen the management of protected areas.

I am delighted to announce that UNDP Malaysia is currently exploring the possibility of establishing an innovation award for protected area practitioners in Malaysia with support from the Government and relevant
partners. With this award, we hope to promote new ideas and innovations in the management of protected areas, and to encourage more people participate in this challenging profession, and that will yield benefits for
Malaysia and set examples for the rest of the world.


With our experience in working with over 177 developing countries around the world, UNDP remains a steadfast partner to Government and ready to enhance our support and collaboration in line with development targets in the 10th Malaysia Plan, and those to be set for the 11th Malaysia Plan, to assist the accelerated drive towards developed country status, built on quality, inclusive and sustainable growth.

Many thanks once again for your invitation to speak at this important conference. I appreciate this opportunity to connect policy-makers and practitioners on the ground and listen to their views on the effective management of protected areas. We will need the support, the creativity, the innovation and the cooperation of everyone here to shape a holistic environmental, social and economic legacy we can feel proud to hand over
to our future generations.

Thank you.

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