Conference calls for Sarawak to collaborate on clean energy

In a two day event people from a myriad of backgrounds are meeting in Kuching to discuss creating renewable energy pathways for Sarawak and Malaysia. Save Rivers and other local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are holding the conference in order to push the agenda of renewable energy at a state and national level while ensuring community involvement in issues that directly impact everyone.This is the first time that people from rural communities from around Sarawak have been included in high-level discussions with government ministries, civil society organizations (CSOs), energy companies, and local and international experts. 

Over 160 participants are attending the event, including people from over 30 villages around Sarawak and Malaysia who travelled to the state’s capital to contribute their thoughts on renewable energy systems. Speaking about the collaborative approach towards influencing projects and policy, Peter Kallang, Chairman of Save Rivers, said: “Serious problems arise when entire communities are left out of the discussion for these types of projects. This conference is one step towards ensuring proper consultation for energy projects moving forward.”

The conference comes at a globally critical time as countries around the world prepare transitions to renewable energy sources. How each country responds will determine its place in the new global order created by the transition to renewable energy, but will affect its ability to improve the lives of its people and meet its Sustainable Development Goals. 

The conference organizers and experts speaking at the event agree that Malaysia is strategically placed to lead the renewable energy revolution in Southeast Asia. Christine Milne, former Australian Senator who was instrumental in passing their Clean Energy Package, sees great opportunities for Malaysia: “Government and non-government actors are already organizing for change, looking at how the right moves now will not only put an end to energy poverty in states like Sarawak and Sabah, but can build on the success of existing small-scale distributed energy systems that have emerged at the grassroots, spearheaded by indigenous communities.” 

Minister YB Yeo Bee Yin of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change (MESTECC) echoed this sentiment in a messages to conference participants: “Malaysia has the opportunity to become Southeast Asia’s clean energy and renewable industries leader. Therefore, the Federal Government has set a renewable energy target of 20% by 2030. I am convinced that the adoption of renewable energy will help the nation to become more competitive. Not only can we set new standards for renewable energy in the region, we can also build an industry that will be able to empower other countries down the road.”

The CEC has drawn speakers and support from many state and federal ministries, as well as from the energy industry, international organizations, universities, and Malaysian banks. In addition to community representatives, speakers include Public Works Minister YB Baru Bian, Senator YB Adrian Lasimbang, and YB Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change (MESTECC), and representatives from Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), the Sarawak Ministry of Utilities, the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA), Sabah Electricity Sendirian Berhad (SESB), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The speakers and participants do not only come from Malaysia but other countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, the US, Australia and Switzerland.

The CEC is organised by a group of Civil Society Organisations: SAVE Rivers from Sarawak, Jaringan Orang Asal Semalaysia (JOAS or Network of Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia) and PACOS, a CSO based in Sabah. It is supported by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley; the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) and the Sarawak Convention Bureau. 

Statements

Lionel Yap  

Head of Secretariat, Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association (MPIA)

“Solar in Malaysia has oftentimes been branded as “expensive” or “high-tech”. Other times it’s relegated to the “where it’s really needed” in remote sites. Solar is the most accessible of all renewable energy options currently available. So it is important that these misconceptions be addressed, if it’s to make the same impact here as it has had in other countries. This conference is an opportunity to show how doing the right thing, in this case utilizing solar photovoltaics, is financially viable and profitable.”

Thomas Jalong

Secretary-General of JOAS (Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia/Indigenous Peoples’ Network of Malaysia)

“I view this conference as a participatory and inclusive forum as it encourages the various stakeholders to come together to discuss, share, explore and identify socially-acceptable, environmentally-sustainable, and economically just models for energy development, production, and distribution. Too often, indigenous peoples rights and their views are ignored and sidelined, and consequently they are marginalised and deprived in many ways. To put it briefly, I am all for a human-rights based approach which involves inclusivity and sustainability.”

Dr. Daniel Kammen 

Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), University of California, Berkeley

“It is inspiring to see such an amazing collaboration of community groups, kampongs, government officials, and researchers working together to build a green option for Sarawak. Green energy supports community health, quality employment, and a prosperous Sarawak and Malaysia. Our research and community partnerships have shown that green renewable energy is cheaper, better for local job creation, and community health than mega-dams and the related deforestation. With the world turning to green energy, Sarawak can choose clean energy and community health, or it can stay with environmentally destructive mega-dams that cost more, employ less, and turn away green energy investors from Malaysia.”

Christine Milne

Former Australian Senator and Leader of Parliamentary Caucus

“Malaysia can be a champion for renewable energy in Southeast Asia. Where it chooses to sit on this spectrum between leader and follower in the new geopolitical relationships evolving from the transition to renewable energy is yet to be seen, but the opportunity to lead in the transformation in Southeast Asia is wide open. This conference is an opportunity to strategize about how to become a regional leader, while learning from indigenous land rights activists who have been working on these issues for decades.”

Gara Jalong

Headman of Long Lawen

“My community was resettled because of the Bakun Dam in the late 1990s. None of us liked that. We lost our villages and a huge area of farm land and forest to the dam reservoir, but we only got a few acres of land as compensation. My community decided to not move to the resettlement site at Sungai Asap, but to move to higher ground and build the village of Long Lawen. Even though we are just above the Bakun reservoir, we did not get access to electricity in our village from the dam. With the help of NGOs, we built our own micro-hydro. We have been using it for the last 17 years. Without the micro-hydro, our life would have been very difficult. Now, the Murum Dam was built close to our village. We request to receive electricity from the Murum Dam.”

Message from YB Yeo Bee Yin

The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change 

(MESTECC) is proud to participate in the Clean Energy Collaboration, Kuching. MESTECC welcomes the effort of gathering the stakeholders to discuss the renewable energy pathways for Malaysia. The Federal Government shares the vision of a renewable energy future for Malaysia with all stakeholders including communities.

there is an increasing global progress of switching to the green energy, led by countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Iceland, Uruguay, China and Australia, Malaysia has the opportunity to become Southeast Asia’s clean energy and renewable industries leader. Therefore, the Federal Government has set a renewable energy target of 20% by 2030. I am convinced that the adoption of renewable energy will help the nation to become more competitive. Not only can we set new standards for renewable energy in the region, we can also build an industry that will be able to empower other countries down the road.

MESTECC understands growing commercial and industrial energy demand. We have to provide enough electricity to progress, while addressing the negative impacts that centralized mega projects often entail. The environmental,social and financial costs of mega energy projects such as dams make sense as a very last resort.

I appreciate that this group of Sarawak & Sabah based Civil Society Organisations have organized this conference, engaging a cross-section of stakeholders including urban and rural communities. I hope that this is the start of a process of engagement which will continue harmoniously.

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SAVE Rivers is a Civil Society Organisation which advocates for and empowers rural communities to protect and restore lands, rivers and watersheds through research, training and capacity building. For queries please contact: Peter Kallang: +6013 833 1104