Green energy illusions: The hidden costs of Murum Dam’s ‘renewable energy credits’

A protest against the Murum Dam in 2012

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We, the undersigned, are concerned that the Bursa Carbon Exchange (BCX), which aims to support national and corporate commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, is planning to auction renewable energy credits from the Murum Dam in Sarawak.

The undersigned organisations call on the Bursa Carbon Exchange and its potential customers to recognise that the Murum Dam:

Affected biodiversity: The dam, constructed between 2008 and 2015 and operated by Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), is estimated to have cleared 24,500ha of naturally regenerating forest, equivalent to the size of Kuala Lumpur.

This deforestation affected the habitat of totally protected species, including the silvered leaf monkey and the Bornean gibbon.

Led to human rights issues: The dam displaced and resettled more than 1,400 indigenous Penan and Kenyah villagers without their free, prior, informed consent.

In 2012 and 2013, blockades set up by Penan villagers to protect their customary land led to the arrest of 10 villagers, including two children.

In the aftermath of the project, the resettled Penan and Kenyah lost ties to their ancestral lands along the Plieran and Danum river, altering their traditional ways of life.

Infertile soil, polluted rivers and forests affected by industrial plantations have affected their ability to cultivate plants, fish and hunt for game in and around the resettlement areas.

Impacts such as poorly constructed longhouses, a lack of basic necessities, no steady stream of electricity and a scarcity of healthcare facilities are well documented in reports by Suhakam and the Malaysian Bar.

Is marred by poor governance practices: The dam’s construction began before legal requirements were met. The social and environmental impact assessment was made available neither to the public nor to communities before or during the construction process.

According to SEB, the assessment had not even been completed as of 2012 – four years after the construction began.

Additionally, despite the fact that 1,400 people were displaced, resettlement negotiations only began two years after the construction of the dam commenced.

Further, SEB’s resettlement action plan was only made available to the communities when it was leaked to them two years later.

Is a source of greenhouse gas emissions: Tropical rainforests are significant carbon sinks.

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the deforestation of 24,500ha of forests for the dam amounted to nearly nine million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Further, large hydropower projects in the tropics are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions due to the breakdown of organic matter in the reservoir, leading to significant climate-damaging methane emissions, which an independent study had estimated to be 56,340 tonnes per year.

Has no transparent documentation: The Murum Dam is certified according to the I-REC standard, under which there is no obligation for technical documents concerning the project to be made public.

At the time of publication, there is no page on the SEB website, the I-REC website or any other source with even a description of the renewable energy credits project, let alone any detailed technical documents such as disclosures of its claimed baseline or additionality, which are essential criteria for credible renewable energy credits projects.

6) Does not reduce carbon emissions: Renewable energy credits are an unproven concept.

They involve a power producer in one locality selling hypothetical credits (ie one MWh of renewable energy) to a buyer in another locality that does not have access to renewable energy – meaning that the buyer can claim they are using 100% renewable energy even if they purchase power from a fossil-fuel powered grid based on their purchase of a hypothetical credit.

Given that this renewal energy credit [exercise] is conducted nine years after the construction of the dam began, these credits neither changes the emissions of their customers nor incentivises additional renewable energy capacity, as the dam had been built a decade ago.

Illustrating this, a 2022 study published in Nature found that “the widespread use of RECs by companies with science-based targets has led to an inflated estimate of the effectiveness of mitigation efforts”.

No time to waste

Mega-dams associated with violations of indigenous rights, destruction of biodiversity and non-transparency are not a climate solution.

We have a very narrow period to keep 1.5C alive. We do not have time to waste on unproven renewable energy credits based on problematic projects.

End the renewable energy credits greenwash. Suspend the Murum Dam renewable energy credits and all other questionable projects from the Bursa Carbon Exchange.

Endorsed by:

  1. AJ Rimba Collective
  2. Agora Society Malaysia (Agora)
  3. Alliance of River Three (ART!)
  4. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  5. Bruno Manser Fonds
  6. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (Coac)
  7. Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center)
  8. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  9. Consumers Association of Penang
  • Engineers Without Borders Malaysia (EWBM)
  • Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)
  • Family Frontiers
  • Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia (FKMM)
  • Free Tree Society
  • Future Alam Borneo
  • Gabungan Darurat Iklim Malaysia
  • Gerakan Belia Sepunjabi Malaysia
  • Gerimis Art Project
  • Glimpse of Malaysia
  • Greenpeace Malaysia
  • Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas)
  • Kamy
  • Kaveinthran, Native Blind, independent disabled human rights activist
  • Kiu & Co
  • Lawyer Kamek
  • Malaysian Agroecology Society (SRI-Mas)
  • Malaysian Nature Society – Conservation Division
  • Our Journey
  • Pangolin Aware
  • Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
  • Partners of Community Organisations (Pacos Trust)
  • Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Malaysian Academic Movement, Gerak)
  • Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam – Kuasa
  • Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (Rose)
  • Persatuan Pemuliharaan dan Pemeliharaan Alam Sekitar Sarawak (Pelihara)
  • Pertubuhan Alam Sekitar Sejahtera Malaysia – Grass
  • Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka)
  • Pertubuhan Suara Anak Sabah
  • Reef Check Malaysia
  • RimbaWatch
  • Rimbun Dahan Arboretum
  • Save Rivers
  • Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (Susden Malaysia)
  • Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)
  • Sarawak Dayak Iban Association
  • Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  • Seagrass Guardians
  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  • Tonibung
  • Terabai Kenyalang Heritage Association of Sarawak (TKHAS)
  • The Borneo Project
  • Third World Network
  • Treat Every Environment Special (Trees)
  • Youths United for Earth (Yufe)
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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