Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
Meeting with Dr Elizabeth Philip, 23 January 2017
We visited the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) whilst in Kuala Lumpur at the end of January. As we were in Malaysia anyway (to make the most of the stopover back from New Zealand to the UK), we wanted to find out about offsetting initiatives happening there. We were lucky enough to meet with Dr Elizabeth Philip, Head of the Climate Change and Forestry Program at FRIM. She gave us insights relating to activities and challenges Malaysia faces in relation to forest protection, which we set out in brief below.
Dr Philip told us about a collaboration between FRIM, Malaysia Airlines, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), and the Forestry Department of Pahang, which started in 2011. Malaysia Airlines provided some funding for a voluntary carbon offsetting project in the peat swamp forest of South East Pahang (east of Kuala Lumpur). This project illustrates some of the challenges that can come with forestry management projects.
The peat swamp forest in Pahang is rich in biodiversity (home to animals such as the Malayan sun bear and the Asian elephant), and stores lots of carbon. However the forest is at risk from deforestation, and has been degraded in many areas due to human influences.
There were some initial troubles with tree selection, but the project seemed to achieve successful replanting of a small degraded area, thanks also to the involvement of the local community.
Unfortunately, in 2014 due to the abnormally hot conditions caused by El Niño, the replanted area of forest was destroyed in a forest fire, and since Malaysia Airlines’ disastrous 2014, they have stopped providing funds.
It seems that Malaysian Airlines went into the project with good intentions but, for reasons outside of their control, the money they invested probably hasn’t yet led to carbon reductions due to the fire. What is promising is the shift in strategy at the site – FRIM and their partners are now focused on water management to reduce the risk of future fires. Hopefully FRIM will be able to find the funding to continue the project and redouble the initial efforts funded by Malaysia Airlines.
A key question for any offsetting scheme is – ‘is it additional to what is already being done?’. In response to the question of how useful the voluntary offsetting money from Malaysia Airlines was, Dr Philip stated that the Pahang project wouldn’t have been carried out so fast without it (which is something!) but it certainly seems like it would be difficult to measure how much carbon was saved per dollar spent for Malaysia Airlines (and hence also for anyone who used their voluntary carbon offsetting scheme).
Besides this offsetting scheme, Dr Philip mentioned various other efforts around forest protection. She told us that they are trialing the use of biodiversity credits in Sabah (to offset biodiversity losses elsewhere) but so far have had little success due to a lack of funding. Dr Philip noted that multinationals are not as interested in peat forest as they are in charismatic megafauna such as orangutans, and also suggested that Malaysia does not attract as much attention from large funding organisations due to the larger emissions reduction potential of nearby Indonesia.
After meeting Dr Philip, we took a guided tour of the FRIM canopy walkway, which was awesome!