Malaysian 'eco-thug' tries to halt book exposing his crimes

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. 

Where once stood proud forests... eco-devastation in Sarawak.

Where once stood proud forests... eco-devastation in Sarawak.

After reportedly making billions of dollars for himself and confederates by pillaging and destroying vast expanses of Borneo's rainforests, former Sarawak timber chief and governor Abdul Taib is now being brought to task by a new book.

Entitled Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia, by Lukas Straumann, the book accuses Taib of massive corruption, despotic behavior, and committing one of the greatest environmental travesties in history.

The forests of Sarawak, a Malaysian state in northern Borneo, have been devastated in recent decades by intensive logging and conversion to oil palm plantations.  This has had profound impacts on biodiversity, indigenous peoples, and forest carbon stocks in the region.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has referred to the rampant pillaging of Borneo's forests as “probably the biggest environmental crime of our times”.

As reported recently in the leading environmental website Mongabay, lawyers representing Taib and the Malaysian government are attempting to block Money Logging's publication, by threatening its publishers with legal action. 

The publishers have announced they intend to press ahead with the book.

In March, ALERT highlighted some of Taib's notorious activities -- slamming him for unprecedented environmental misdeeds and corruption.  The scale of Taib's environmental crimes can be seen in this shocking video.

So far, Taib's lawyers haven't said anything to us -- but we'll certainly let you know if they do.

 

Palm oil chief grossly distorts facts about deforestation

Malaysia is one of the world's biggest producers of palm oil, but one of its top palm oil officials is again grossly distorting facts about the crop's role in deforestation.

Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia  (photo by Rhett Butler)

Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia (photo by Rhett Butler)

At a recent conference in Borneo, Yusof Basiron, the dogmatic CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, argued that 80 percent of Sarawak's forests are "still undeveloped".  He further claimed that "there's no issue of deforestation", according to the Malaysian Star.

Basiron is full of bunk.  A recent scientific analysis showed that less than 20 percent of Sarawak is covered by intact forest.  Most of Sarawak's remaining forests have been heavily logged, and nearly 500,000 hectares of forest was felled for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, according to a recent study.

Sarawak aims to convert nearly a million hectares of additional land to oil palm by 2020, according to the leading environmental website Mongabay.com.  Much of that hand is held under native customary rights, suggesting the potential for large social conflicts in the future.

Basiron is renowned for making ridiculous pronouncements.  For instance, he has argued that oil palm has not caused forest loss in Malaysia -- a laughable assertion

He has also claimed that orangutans benefit from oil palm plantations by feeding on palm fruit, but in fact orangutans are commonly killed as pests in and around plantations -- and the plantations are rapidly replacing the native forests in Borneo and Sumatra that the apes require.

Finally, Basiron has fought efforts to clean up the palm oil industry -- attacking sustainability commitments and zero-deforestation pledges by some of the world's biggest palm oil producers and buyers.  

Palm oil is expanding internationally at a dramatic rate.  It's an important and highly productive crop, but its net benefits are hugely diminished when it's allowed to drive the destruction of the world's most biodiversity- and carbon-rich forests. 

Spreading gross distortions and lies about oil palm -- as is increasingly the habit of Yusof Basiron -- does nothing to improve the credibility of palm oil advocates.

 

Conservation priorities for Malaysia--a megadiversity nation in peril

A critical time for Malaysian nature...

A critical time for Malaysian nature...

It was a great conference -- with representatives from 45 nations and lots of outstanding research being reported (ALERT director Bill Laurance gave a keynote talk, and ALERT members Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, James Watson, and Pierre-Michel Forget also spoke).

SCB-Asia has released an important Resolution about priorities for conservation in Malaysia, which you can download here.  Following are a few of the key messages:

- It's urgent for Malaysia to take immediate actions to strengthen biodiversity conservation at both federal and state levels -- especially as the nation had the world's highest rate of deforestation between 2000 and 2012

- Safeguarding the nation's natural capital will be vital for Malaysia to meet its development goals while honoring its commitment to retain 50% of its land under natural forest cover

- It's crucial to support the Central Forest Spine master plan, which is a core strategy for conserving Peninsular Malaysia's remarkably biodiverse forests and maintaining connectivity among shrinking forest blocks

- Malaysia and its states need to strongly support the country's Multilateral Environment Agreements, such as the vital Heart of Borneo initiative

- It's essential to curb illegal encroachment in Malaysia's protected areas, including poaching and illegal logging and land clearing

Our congratulations to SCB-Asia for a terrific conference and for taking a leading role in promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development in Asia.

 

Eco-crimes in Sarawak

When I first visited Sarawak in 1990, the Malaysian state was cutting 11 million cubic meters of timber each year--an astonishing figure.  As one can see in this shocking video, the Rajang River ran blood-red with silt and thick with abandoned timber.

In October 2010, the Rajang River had a 50-kilometer-long logjam (photo by Hornbill Unleashed)

In October 2010, the Rajang River had a 50-kilometer-long logjam (photo by Hornbill Unleashed)

The legacy of Sarawak's relentless forest exploitation is highlighted in a compelling piece by Rhett Butler at Mongabay.com.  Butler is one of ALERT's media advisors.

Informed observers point the finger of blame directly at embattled Chief Forestry Minister Taib Mahmud, who along with his political cronies has profited hugely at the expense of Sarawak's forests.  

The sister-in-law of Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, has called Taib "one of the worst environmental criminals on the planet."

In 2011, Mahmud asserted that 70 percent of Sarawak's forests were intact.  The Bruno Manser Fund, a conservation and indigenous-rights group that focuses on Sarawak, says the actual figure is closer to 11 percent.

It is no exaggeration to say that, in a more enlightened political context, Mahmud would almost certainly find himself facing serious charges for high crimes against the environment.

-Bill Laurance