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EUDR could throw a welcome lifeline to a high-risk Malaysian state

11 junio 2024

EUDR could throw a welcome lifeline to a high-risk Malaysian state

Since the EU’s adoption of the EU Regulation on deforestation-free products (EUDR) in late 2022, the Malaysian Government and others have pushed back, ostensibly over the impact that the Regulation could have on smallholders. While the effect smallholders must always be a concern, Malaysian NGOs are quick to point out that, given the familiar mix of human rights violations that local and Indigenous communities are already subjected to, in fact the EUDR represents a promising – and enforceable – opportunity to defend their rights.   

Particularly in Sarawak, Indigenous and local communities are deprived of means to shield themselves from deforestation. Access to pertinent information is problematic, beginning with the secretive process of demarcating Indigenous lands – even the affected Indigenous groups being demarcated do not have access to the resulting cartography – to the lack of publicly available deforestation and land-use data.  

Sarawak requires no public participation in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), nor are the EIAs publicly accessible. NGOs have found that, for decades, free, prior and informed consent of affected communities has typically been by-passed. Should targeted communities attempt to challenge encroachment on their lands, they often find themselves intimidated, threatened financially and embroiled in strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).  

The result, RimbaWatch has found, is that more than 349,000 hectares of forest were cleared in Malaysia between 2017 and 2021. In a newer report, by analysing zoning changes and EIAs available online, they identified more than 2.3 million hectares (ha) of forest now at risk just in Sarawak, and of this, some 1.75 million ha are earmarked for timber plantations.  

Adam Farhan of environmental watchdog RimbaWatch said that they are “deeply concerned that 3.2 million ha of forest are at risk of deforestation across Malaysia, with 2.3 million ha in Sarawak alone. In lieu of any indication that state governments plan to phase-out deforestation, we hope the EUDR will place more pressure on forest-risk activities.”  

In short, EU businesses are at high risk of getting into trouble when it comes to importing palm oil and timber from Sarawak; the EU Commission’s upcoming benchmarking system under EUDR article 29(4)(d) should reflect this.  

In late May 2024, Malaysian Indigenous rights SAVE Rivers, RimbaWatch, Indigenous and forest organisation KERUAN, Bruno Manser Fonds, and Human Rights Watch met with Commission officials to discuss Sarawak’s situation in light of the EUDR’s approaching entry into force.  

Distancing themselves from the broad claims of ‘green colonialism’ that cloak commercial pushback against anti-deforestation objectives, the NGOs view the EUDR as a tool to champion the rights of local peoples and communities. Civil society is hopeful that, by linking anti-deforestation goals to enforceable trade mechanisms between producer and purchasing countries, the EUDR will succeed where unenforceable certification schemes have failed.

Managing director of SAVE Rivers Celine Lim said, “We are hopeful that the EU deforestation law will support us to advance human and environmental rights locally – especially as policies to safeguard these rights are still lacking for us.”

Importantly, they felt that the Commission heard, and even welcomed the positive grassroots feedback – an antidote to the negative drumbeat of recent months and EU pre-election drama. The exchange of information laid an extremely promising foundation for future sharing of practical considerations for implementation of EUDR obligations. More detailed EUDR commentary will soon be published on SAVE Rivers and RimbaWatch webpages.

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Image credit: Matyas Rehak/Shuttterstock

Categorías: News, Forest Watch, EU Regulation on deforestation-free products

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