Massive pressure and prolonged protests have finally led to the state of Sarawak in Malaysia stopping the construction of a controversial hydropower project on the Baram River, reports Norway-based Rainforest Foundation (RFN), one of the world’s leading organisations in the field of rights-based rainforest protection.
The original plan was to build a dam that would produce 1500 MW, which would have led to the displacement of up to 20,000 indigenous people and placed an area of 412 square kilometers of rainforest under water.
Senior Adviser Siri Damman of the Rainforest Foundation is very pleased for the turnaround.
“This must be the biggest victory for civil society in Malaysia for many years, perhaps decades. We have repeatedly provided support to the local population’s longstanding battle to halt the construction of the dam, and it is very gratifying to see that the fight has finally paid off,” she says.
The support helps
Rainforest Foundation has supported the struggle in several ways, including through support to local organizations, the financing of studies looking at alternatives to the construction of dams and support to attorneys’ fees for activists.
“Civil society in Malaysia works under difficult conditions, and it is totally awesome that this struggle has yielded results,” says program coordinator Geir Erichsrud.
Can change the future for other power plants
The Baram dam was part of hydropower investments costing billions, originally including the construction of 12 mega dams in Sarawak.
The State of Sarawak has already allowed the construction of two other dams in the region, which has led to the displacement of over 10,000 indigenous people.
Baram, however, was the largest, and the dam’s cancellation offer hope that the rest of the developments could also be reconsidered.
RFN is independent Norwegian organization working to save the world’s rainforests and ensure the rights of the people living there. It works with over 70 local organizations in 11 rainforest countries on four continents.
The NGO works for a world where the environment is protected and human rights are fulfilled. Its specific focus is the intersection – in the rainforest – of these two worldwide struggles.
RFN supports indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the world’s rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfil their rights.
RFN seeks to we build long-term partnerships with legitimate and representative local organisations, with the aim of enhancing their capacity and effectiveness and elaborating shared strategies.
The organisation is part of the international Rainforest Foundation network with sister organisations in the United Kingdom and the USA. RFN is a legally and financially independent non-governmental organisation, with a highly specialised staff of approximately 45 people.
RFN impact including Southeast Asia:
2000 – Orang Rimba gain exclusive user rights to their forest
Together with its local partner organisation, WARSI, RFN secured the establishment of a 600 square kilometre national park in Sumatra, Indonesia, securing exclusive user rights for the indigenous Orang Rimba people in and around the park. This was the first time in Indonesia that an indigenous group was permitted to maintain its presence and continue its traditional hunting and gathering activities within the boundaries of a national park.
2012 – Campaign achieves drastic reduction in use of palm oil
RNF launches a campaign with two aims: to reduce Norway’s consumption of palm oil and to expose the link between deforestation and the production of palm oil. The campaign receives extensive media coverage, resulting in increased consumer awareness. Norwegian food producers respond rapidly and, by the end of the year, have cut their use of palm oil by two thirds.
2013 – Norway divests from palm oil companies
The largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), divests its shares in 23 palm oil companies that are considered to be responsible for tropical deforestation. The GPFG’s investments in the palm oil industry are thus reduced by more than 40 per cent. This follows years of campaigning by RFN for a reduction in the GPFG’s investments in the palm oil industry.
2015 – Norway to further reduce deforestation impact of investments
GPFG strengthens its commitment to avoid investing in companies responsible for the destruction of the world’s rainforests, as part of its new climate change mitigation policy. RFN has challenged the GPFG to reduce the deforestation impact of its investments, and has given detailed input in the drafting of the new policy.