It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning and I wish to thank the Organising Committee for inviting me to grace this occasion. On behalf of the Sabah State Government, I welcome distinguished participants from abroad who have travelled to Sabah to attend this Conference on Forests and Climate Change. Your participation is a reflection of your willingness to seek viable solutions together in addressing climate change through Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD-plus in the Heart of Borneo.


We are also indeed honoured to have with us today Malaysiaís former Prime Minister, Y.A.Bhg Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his wife Y.A.Bhg Tun Jeanne Abdullah, our staunch supporters in championing the cause of greening Malaysia.


The impacts of climate change are already measurable and visible around the globe. We continue to witness climate related disasters that displace communities, destroy property and food crops. As consensus grows on the serious impacts of global climate change, the role of forests in carbon storage is increasingly being recognised.


I was made to understand that about 30 percent of global carbon emissions come from agriculture, forestry, and land use change activities. Deforestation and forest degradation account for around 12 to 20 per cent of annual emissions. Fortunately, forests are able to absorb greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with recent studies suggesting that about 5 billion of the 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted annually through human activities are absorbed by forests.


Given this crucial role of forests, slowing or halting deforestation is seen as the obvious choice to mitigate climate change. However, in reality, making such a commitment is not that simple, especially in developing nations like Malaysia, and more so in a state like Sabah which is still working hard to bring quality growth and prosperity to the people. Yet, I am confident with increasing amount of knowledge and expertise, we should be able to find a balance that best suits environmental sustainability.


At the Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen, our Right Honourable Prime Minister Datoí Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak announced that Malaysia is adopting a voluntary reduction of emissions intensity by up to 40 percent in 2020 compared to 2005 levels. In addition to that, Malaysia has also committed to ensure that at least 50 per cent of the countryís landmass remains under forest cover as pledged in the Rio Summit.


In terms of forest cover, about 53 per cent of the Sabah's landmass is by legislation listed as forest reserves, parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Land use in Sabah has somewhat stabilised and any further conversion of forests would be negligible in size compared to the existing carbon sink pool in protected areas.

I must also point out that due to the heavy dependence on timber for revenue to develop the state, logging practices before the mid 1990s were skewed in favour of profit and not the environment. This is why we now have large parts of forest reserves, particularly commercial reserves, that are now in varying degrees of degradation. In 1997, the State implemented Sustainable Forest Management to allow forests to recuperate and to be restored through human intervention such as enrichment planting and silviculture.


In addition, billions of ringgit in potential revenue were foregone following the state governmentís decision to cease logging on 240,000 hectares of productive lowland dipterocarp forests, for the conservation of orang utans. We have also increased the size of totally protected forest reserves by two fold within the last eight years, testimony of our seriousness in tackling issues related to forests and the environment.††


The development of REDD and now REDD-plus is timely in enhancing forest carbon stocks. There are opportunities in Sabah for carbon enhancement through forest management, regeneration or rehabilitation. Through Sabah Foundation, we have pioneered the INFAPRO Carbon Sequestration Project with FACE The-Future, and Carbon RIL (Reduced Impact Logging) with New England Power. The two projects have respectively demonstrated the potential of sequestering 35 tonnes of carbon for every hectare through enrichment planting, and halving potential carbon emissions due to improved logging techniques.


In addition, several studies have also suggested that Sustainable Forest Management increases carbon storage in tropical forests with a net effect of 54 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This translates to about 140 million tonnes of enhanced carbon due to the practice of Sustainable Forest Management at Sabahís 2.6 million hectares of commercial forest reserves. With a conservative price of USD5 to USD8 per tonne of carbon, the total potential value of carbon in Sabah may range from about USD680 million to USD1.2 billion.


As part of the Heart of Borneo (HoB), Sabah has a crucial role to play in these global efforts. Having designated about 3.9 million hectares for the HoB, the implementation of a REDD-plus mechanism in Sabah will help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and increase the role of conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. It will also be useful for economic and social development by including local communities through REDD-plusís programmes and activities.


Despite this knowledge, none of the initiatives have actually turned into real transactions from carbon revenue.. Sabah is interested to explore how implementing REDD-plus could help realise its carbon potential and increase the value of the forests, while addressing climate change. This is especially crucial to Sabah given the now evident impending decline of revenue from the timber sector. The state is hard pressed to demonstrate and to realise tangible benefits of maintaining its forest reserves and protected areas, failing which, their sustainability will come under threat.


As such, I hope this two-day conference will help us to decode what REDD-plus is and help us learn what can be implemented on the ground in terms of policing, governance and the many other technical requirements. I hope participants will be able to contribute in our efforts to map out Sabahís strategy in relation to this issue


The State Government looks forward to recommendations from this conference and will do its level best to facilitate enabling environments to realise REDD-plus in Sabah. The four MoUs which will be signed shortly between the Sabah Forestry Department and various partners, is evidence that we walk the talk.††


Before I end my speech, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Sabah Forestry Department and WWF-Malaysia for their partnership in organising this conference. I must also thank speakers and participants for your presence here today. I wish you all a fruitful conference and to our foreign guests, do enjoy Sabahís hospitality while you are here.


I hereby declare this Conference officially open.


Thank you.