In stark contrast to physical landscapes and seascapes, in which biotic and abiotic factors are intrinsically connected, the law attempts to address each part of the ecosystem – including land, forests, biodiversity, water and wildlife – as separate components. The net result is that laws and institutional arrangements are at the same time fragmented and overlapping.
Sabah is no exception and is even further complicated by the existence of three parallel court systems and gaps or conflicts between state and federal jurisdiction over environmental matters.
However, the law can also be a positive catalyst for collaboration, empowerment and innovation. It can provide space for constructive discussions between otherwise opposing parties about contentious issues such as Indigenous peoples’ access to protected areas and forest reserves. Doing so will require: a) a full understanding of the legal and institutional frameworks that govern particular social-ecological systems (such as the Telupid Forest Complex); b) an evaluation of how the legal system is supporting or hindering the functional connectivity (ecosystem, social-cultural, economic, etc.) and overall resilience of the system; and c) where there is a need to improve the legal system, the co-development of innovative legal responses or approaches.
As a starting point, the Legal Innovation Team is developing a multimedia handbook on land and environmental policy and law in Sabah. As the first major step towards this, we have produced a series of briefs which aim to provide accessible and accurate overviews of key laws, policies and institutions. However, they remains works in progress and should not replace a thorough reading of the official documents themselves.