Success stories: exposing Borneo’s energy boondoggle

In 2009, Cynthia Ong, the Founder and Executive Director of LEAP, a Malaysian NGO, contacted Mongabay about a plan to build a coal plant in Sabah, on the tip of Malaysian Borneo. Ong had just started to mobilize local opposition to the plant, which put rainforests and mangroves, the livelihoods of local farmers and fishermen, and the coral reefs of the Coral Triangle at risk.

Through a series of in-depth articles, Mongabay raised the international profile of the issue, attracting the attention of Daniel Kammen, who was then a renewable energy expert at the World Bank and a professor at UC Berkeley. Kammen and his team went on to develop a comprehensive energy plan that showed Sabah had no need for the coal plant, raising questions about the true motives for the project. Mongabay’s reporting revealed conflicts of interests among the plant’s backers and detailed severe ecological threats, spurring articles by Time Magazine and other news outlets, which strengthened campaigners’ resolve and ratcheted up pressure on Malaysian officials to cancel the project.

In 2011, the Malaysian government formally canceled the project, noted it would “pursue other alternative sources of energy.” That victory would help catalyze a broader movement to shift Southeast Asia cleaner energy sources. As a result, neighboring Sarawak in 2015 announced a major change to how it would pursue energy development.

“Mongabay’s very existence as an ally for all our work, as a platform for issues, stories, wins, struggles, conversations, voices … is deeply needed and relevant,” said Ong. “Mongabay is a game changer in the world.”

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