Anti-Sarawak dam protests in Malaysia, Australia

Separate rallies are taking place in Australia and Malaysia in a collective effort to pressure the Malaysian government to stop the construction of 12 mega-dams that are underway in Sarawak.

In Malaysia, anti-dam protesters demonstrated outside Kuala Lumpur Parliament building on Thursday. They held signs against the Murum Dam and Baram Dam and called on the Malaysian government to respect indigenous peoples’ demands for a fair settlement of their rights.

Anti-dam protesters carry banners in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Bruno Manser Fund)

In Murum, Sarawak, over 100 Penan leaders staged a blockade to stop the flow of traffic to the dam site on the same day. Their aim was to get the attention of the Malaysian government and the state owned-power company, Sarawak Energy,  and pressure them to stop the mega-dam projects.

The protesters hope they got the message across: Respect indigenous and human rights and provide appropriate compensation for the loss of their lands and homes.

Carrying signs, and food and bedding, they have taken over the only road to and from the dam site and are not allowing any traffic through.

Brihannala Morgan, director of the Borneo Project, said in a press statement that this dam, one of 12 mega dams planned across the region, will drown over 2,750 sq km of forest and traditionally owned land.

This is the second blockade that the Penan people of the Murum area have erected. The first blockade was in September 2012 when the Penan of Long Wat village held a blockade that delayed construction of the dam for over a month.

Sarawak Energy promised the Penan compensation and prime land for relocation, but failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, they are relocating the Penan to swampy areas that are unable to support their traditional agricultural practices and way of life.

Just before impoundment began earlier this month, the longhouse of Long Wat village was burned by Sarawak Energy workers. Details are still forthcoming, yet it appears that this case of arson was committed without the prior knowledge of the villagers.

“The world needs to stand up and take action against such rampant abuse of power,” said Morgan, adding, “The plight of the Penan is a fundamental example of corporate greed steamrolling human rights.”

According to SAVE-Rivers, the statewide network of anti-dam activists, the Penan are demanding RM 50,000 per family (about US $15,500), as well as 25 hectares of land, a 10 per cent share in the profits from the Murum Dam, as well as full compensation for their lost land and resources.

The Murum Dam is one of 12 mega dams slated to be built in Malaysian Borneo by 2020. The dam will produce 944 MW of energy, energy that currently has no purchasers or identified demand. On-the-ground efforts, such as SAVE-Rivers, work to coordinate indigenous-led resistance against dam expansion and massive resettlement.

Protest held in Hobart

A rally held at Hydro Tasmania head office in Hobart. (Photo: Sarawak Report)

The Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) hosted a separate protest at the at Hydro Tasmania head office in a show solidarity with the indigenous people of Murum, Sarawak.

Jenny Weber, spokeswoman of the HVEC, said Sarawak faces the dire consequences in light of the government’s failure to uphold human rights.

“Flooding of Murum Dam begun last Saturday, while six out of seven villages remain in the region, and more than 100 Penan people blockade at the Murum dam site,” she said.

Australia-owned Hydro Tasmania is implicated in the human and environmental violations by assisting Sarawak Energy.

The dam project in the area is reported to have caused flooding on the lands of indigenous peoples at Murum, although most of the affected villagers have not been resettled and their demands not addressed.

Weber also implicated Sarawak Energy workers as the suspected arsonist in a Penan village. “We have been informed that one Penan village was burnt down in a case of suspected arson by Sarawak Energy workers.” Other allegations include communities reporting the loss of fishing boats due to the impoundment. An estimated 1500 Penan and 80 Kenyah natives will lose their homes due to the Murum dam impoundment,  Weber said.

“The construction of Murum dam would not have been possible without support from Western engineers and managers. Hydro Tasmania, have staff secondments in Sarawak, including engineer Andrew Pattle who directed the Murum dam construction. Hydro Tasmania is responsible for the displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. We condemn Hydro Tasmania, as they continue to assist human rights violations and environmentally destructive practices in Sarawak,” Weber said.

“We are asking Hydro Tasmania and our Tasmanian Government to stop supporting the Sarawak government in their oppression of indigenous people in Sarawak, stop implicating our state in this humanitarian crisis.  As long as Tasmania assists the Sarawak regime they are culpable for assisting the Sarawak government’s human rights violations.  People of Murum, Sarawak and International NGOs are calling for urgent intervention and an immediate stop of the Murum dam impoundment,” Weber said.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown addresses conference delegates in Sarawak earlier this year.

Former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown flew to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak,  earlier this year to give his backing to a large group of local communities opposing the controversial mega dam projects in the region.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Conservationists blast Tasmanian wood exports to China

The Tasmanian Government has given Forestry Tasmania the trial green light to export blackwood logs to China with high hopes of potentially creating a multimillion wood industry– ignoring earlier forest moratorium with conservationists in the region.

The Office of Premiere Lara Giddings announced the initial shipment will create “an industry worth tens of millions of dollars to Tasmania.”

Forestry Tasmania continuing to slaughter massive quantities of minor species timbers, including blackwood, and exporting them. (Photo: Tasmanian Times)

Forestry Tasmania, in partnership with the private sector, will be shipping the initial logs to the Asian importer to test the feasibility of  manufacturing high quality engineered wood products from logs. These logs are said to be unsuitable for local processors and thus considered waste.

Minister for Resources and Energy Bryan Green supports the initiative saying the  trial is part of  state government’s Innovations Plan which seeks to convert forest residues into high value manufactured wood products. Green reiterated some blackwood are unsuitable for local sawmillers and processors.

“This is the type of innovative thinking that will be required as the forest industry transitions to a smaller resource base. If the trials prove successful, the finished product will be marketed by private companies, which are working in partnership with FT,” he said

Green is confident the trial export will ultimately result into establishing a manufacturing facilities in Tasmania thereby increasing market demand for blackwoods in Australia.

The Premiere’s Office also confirmed Forestry Tasmania has increased its export of whole logs in response to the closure of the Triabunna woodchip mill.

Some of the whole logs are for pulpwood in China, others are to trial the new products and the remainder are being peeled. Logs are currently being stockpiled in readiness for a shipment out of Hobart later this month and for further shipments out of Burnie.

Local retailers of Tasmanian forests identified by Market for Change (Photo: MFC)

This development, however, stirred anger from Green activists in the region. Groups such as The Markets for Change, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, The Last Stand, and Still Wild Still Threatened– in a joint press release– blasted the initiative saying the State Government’s support to Forestry Tasmania is a “provocative act”  that undermines the Tasmanian forest peace process.

Peg Putt of Markets for Change said her group has suspended new overseas market initiatives and protests a fortnight ago as a gesture of encouragement. She said the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania agreed to sit down and talk. However, Minister Green has “indulged in a series of provocations.” She said the trial shipment is contradictory to the intention to reduce logging.

Miranda Gibson of Still Wild Still Threatened from the Observer Tree also said it is devastating to hear of the ongoing developments which are obvious design to nullify forest protection. Gibson claims  Forestry Tasmania have signed up 22 logging contracts last year, eleven of which are new ones.

Miranda Gibson grabs media spotlight for her tree vigil. (Photo: Bob Brown)

Jenny Weber of the Huon Valley Environment Centre said her group will “maintain a close watching brief for the moment, but are exceedingly concerned that the longer the negotiations are drawn out the more magnificent forests we lose to the chainsaw.”

“We are waiting with high anxiety for some demonstration of the good faith that is claimed to exist,” Ula Majewski of The Last Stand concluded.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Aussie forests escape inferno, Greens rejoice

Australia’s old-growth forests will not go to the furnace to generate electricity—at least for now.

Environment watchers are rejoicing over the Parliament’s vote against subsidies intended for loggers to burn native growth forests to generate power.

A campaign against forest burning. (Design by Paul Kimbrell http://www.eastgippsland.net.au)

Tasmania’s Huon Valley Environment Centre, for one, praised the Federal MPs who voted against Lynn MP Robert Oakeshott’s motion to allow Renewable Energy Certificates to be generated by burning wood from the logging of native forest.

The Green Left described the motion as a narrow escape for the logs to avoid the blazing inferno — a vote of 72-72 with Speaker Peter Slipper casting the final ‘no’ vote to Rob Oakeshott’s motion.

A spokeswoman for the Western Australia Forest Alliance, Jess Beckerling, says it is a win for forests around the country. “It’s a really strong indication that common sense has prevailed,” she told the ABC.

In a press statement, the Huon Valley Environment Centre biomass campaigner Will Mooney also said this rejection must encourage government and businesses to search for a truly renewable energy options. He said communities across Australia will be relieved that plans for polluting native forest fuelled power stations will not be eligible to draw on incentives.

He added the vote scrapped the plan to build power station near Lonnavale in Tasmania. A 30MW power station is estimated to consume over 300,000 tonnes of timber a year.

Huon Valley Environment Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber also said the vote “backs up the concerns of conservation organisations, health advocates, scientists and community groups who have voiced a range of concerns about logging industry plans to prop up native forest logging with large scale wood-fired power stations…”

Prior to the vote, letters have been sent to the Members Of Parliament rejecting Oakeshott’s Disallowance Motion.

A Tasmanian tourist spotted this sign and posted it in a travel blog.

The Australian Forest and Climate Alliance urged the MPs to act at this critical time for the future of not only Australia’s forests, but also the climate.

The native forest logging industry is currently experiencing market driven changes that provide the opportunity to shift Australia’s wood and paper production industry onto a sustainable path, based on plantations. The opportunity to transition the forest industry at this critical time will be lost if new incentives are created that will drive ongoing native forest logging.

The disallowance motion put forward by Mr Oakeshott that would allow native forest wood ‘waste’ burnt for electricity to be eligible for Renewable Energy Certificates under the government’s Renewable Energy Target. The climate alliance cited reasons to reject disallowance motion which summarise the unfeasibility of the plan.

This motion, if passed, will create a new incentive to log Australia’s last remaining native forests, prevent the rapid transition into a viable plantation based industry.  Australia’s public native forests are much more valuable as carbon sinks, biodiversity habitats, water providers and purifiers, and as tourist destinations.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet told Nine News the government was determined to provide support for bio-energy investment while also ensuring that native forests are afforded appropriate protection.

“While biomass derived from native forests though is no longer recognised under this regulation as an eligible renewable energy source … those changes do not … prohibit the use of this biomass for bio-energy.”

The vote against Oakeshott put to rest the controversial “endorsement of scientists” who argued burning forest can lead to renewable energy.

A poster purportedly designed in favour of clearfelling (Photo:Anonymous blog)

Early this month, the Port Macquarie News reported a controversial move to classify burning of native wood waste as renewable energy has received support from scientists.

It said 49 forestry scientists and practitioners signed a letter of support for a motion put forward by Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott and seconded by New England independent Tony Windsor that would see logging companies granted Renewable Energy Certificates for burning native forest residues.

Professor Rod Keenan, the director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research Centre at The University of Melbourne, was among the signatories, the paper reported. Keenan is said to have argued that wood waste, now burnt either in the forests or at the sawmill, was an appropriate substitute for fossil fuels.

However, the Green Left published ” Scientists’ open letter to Oakeshott: Burning forests for energy will make climate change worse.”

At Styx Forest, TAS, the diameter of an old tree can hold a number of people. (Photo: Flickr)

The green publication noted the scientists saying the ”decision to support incentives for native forest-burning power stations has alarming ramifications for communities and natural ecosystems across Australia.”

If you have any question about this article, please leave a Reply or email The Green Journo.

News Link: Asian Correspondent

Tasmania grapples with forest destruction and job losses

Tasmania is grappling with the paradox of saving its environment in the face of massive job losses. While Green activists are fighting for the protection of old growth forests, thousands of forestry-related jobs have to go. The ABC  reported the state is projected to lose about $1.4 billion dollar from its wood industry while thousands of people have been thrown out of job.

No job vacancy sign posted at a sawmill in Tasmania

For a small state such as Tasmania, livelihood depends on forestry, agriculture and mining. Tasmania is the sixth and smallest state in Australia, an archipelago of more than 300 islands, 240 kilometres (150 miles) south-east of the mainland.

Green activism has intensified in the region over the last few years in the wake of alleged forest destruction made by Malaysia-owned Ta Ann Group. Left-wing Greens have accused the contractor as an exploiter of the state’s old-growth forests. The same contractor, they claim, has ravaged the jungle of Borneo in Sarawak.

Penan man standing next to a Shin Yang Timber passing truck loaded with logs. (Photo: Sarawak Report)

It is an irony. Ta Ann won an award as an emerging exporter in the Tasmanian Export Exports Awards in 2008 only to alert environmentalists of the impending catastrophe wrought on the state’s old growth forests.

Last year, the Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC) accused Ta Ann of receiving wood from old growth forests as defined by the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement on at least 35 occasions during 2009-2011. HVEC claimed the contractor is processing wood acquired from the logging of old growth forests, high conservation value forests, and forests with recognised world heritage values in Tasmania.   “Ta Ann’s demand for native forest wood and its large wood supply contract is driving logging in some of Tasmania’s most important and contentious forest areas….  Ta Ann’s operations here in Tasmania are far from eco-friendly and must rank amongst the worst logging practices globally…” HVEC claimed.

Activists have campaigned the government to prevent further logging in the disputed conservation area. The Observer Tree launched a vigil early this year to press Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stop the Ta Ann Group from further logging in the last remaining old-growth forests.

An intesified campaign against Ta Ann in Tasmania (Photo: HVEC)

The Observer Tree is one among the guardians of Tasmanian forests along with the Last Stand which has been involved in direct action and campaigns related to nukes, forests, refugees, human rights, whaling and climate change, among other causes. These groups support similar causes advocated by Friends of the Earth, Kanuguba, Rising Tide, Huon Valley Environment Centre, Still Wild Still Threatened, the Greens and the Wilderness Society, GetUp!, Market Watch, and other civic groups.

In 2011, the Gillard Government came up with a plan to protect Tasmania’s forest by signing a pact that covers the protection 570,00 hectares of forest lands. About 430,000 hectares belong to the high degree of conservation while the remaining 143, 000 hectares was allotted to help the state honour its logging contracts. Gillard also signed a $172 package to fund the transition from native forest to plantation forest.

This historic deal, however, did not stop tensions already disrupting the forestry business. Green activists are apprehensive that Ta Ann’s contract will continue to destroy old growth forests.

Tasmanian forest in ruins

Activists have also directly lobbied consumers and clients of Ta Ann to stop buying logs from the company.

While jobs have to go, however, it becomes clearer that the Government has no option but to kowtow importers to buy Tasmania’s logging industry.

Tasmania’s Deputy Premiere Bryan Green has embarked on a $24,000 trade mission to Singapore, China, and Japan over the past week to promote the state as open for business.

Green said the trade mission was not solely focus on the wood industry but an opportunity to forge stronger trade relations with East Asia.

“We have a robust economy which we need to continue to grow and diversify to attract investment and jobs… The Government has faith in the Tasmanian brand and the opportunities that it can provide in sectors like agriculture, renewable energy, mining and forestry, “ the vice premiere’s website noted.

The Last Stand crew, along with the HVEC and Code Green, welcomed the vice premiere back upon his arrival at the airport. They, however ridiculed the trade mission and created a new name for Ta Ann as the huge walking, talking Pinocchio. The crew said the wood products are far from “eco-friendly” contrary to the advertising claims of Ta Ann.

A Green activists holds a banner to warn Ta Ann's Japanese wood buyers

In an email loop accessed by Asian Correspondent, the crew said:

“Ta Ann, one of Malaysia’s biggest wood cartels is ripping through the Tasmanian wilderness, sourcing wood that comes from the destruction of high conservation value forests and selling it in Japan as ‘eco-friendly’ plywood.”

The group solidifies its resolve to recruit more supporters to write letters to existing and prospective clients of Ta Ann urging them to stop buying wood sourced out from Tasmania’s old growth forests.

News Link: Asian Correspondent