Written by: Abirrhami Rajagopal, Zhi Lin Yeoh, Sahana Kaur
Edited by: Kah Yau Lim and Yun Qiu Wong
World leaders are due to gather for annual climate change talks in Dubai for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28). Set to begin on 30th November, COP28 will discuss ways of avoiding man made climate change and adapting to warming temperatures.
This COP is the midway point between the formulation of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the target of halving global emissions by 2030 (United Nations, 2023). What makes this COP even more important is that it is the first time the world will take stock of its progress on the Paris Agreement, the goal to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2℃ and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels (UNFCCC, 2023).
As one of the signatories to the Paris climate treaty, Malaysia has been gearing up towards taking action to curb carbon emissions. As we are only weeks away from COP28, it is worthwhile to step back and assess Malaysia’s progress thus far. This article aims to acknowledge the key highlights of Malaysia’s progress towards meeting its commitments while also pinpointing areas where improvements can be made.
What are NDCs and GST?
In 2015, all 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Paris Agreement: a treaty on climate change. It was incredibly significant because it was the first legally binding treaty in history to focus on combating climate change as a whole. One of the most important provisions of the Paris Agreement is in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
NDCs are non-binding plans produced by governments to outline their climate-related targets. While NDCs have historically prioritised climate change mitigation strategies, many governments now include other themes like adaptation strategies. NDCs are submitted every five years, but parties can edit their existing NDC at any time – as long as the edits represent increased ambition. The UNFCCC Secretariat maintains the NDC Registry – a public repository of all NDCs – and produces an annual NDC Synthesis Report summarising the most up-to-date information.
The global stocktake (GST) is a process for countries and other stakeholders to evaluate the countries’ progress on tackling climate change. This is an incredibly important year because COP28 will be the first GST ever, with future ones scheduled to take place every 5 years. The GST process includes a Technical Dialogue phase, during which parties and other stakeholders discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and a political phase where these discussion findings are presented to high-level audiences.
What is Malaysia’s progress thus far?
Malaysia’s first NDC in 2015 aimed to unconditionally reduce carbon intensity against GDP by 35% by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Additionally, there was a conditional commitment to reduce it by an additional 10%, contingent upon receiving climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity building resources from developed countries (UNFCCC, 2015). The 2021 NDC updated this to convert the additional 10% to unconditional (UNFCCC, 2022). One thing to note is that the achievement of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement is not legally binding. Signatories are obligated to submit NDCs, and developing countries, unlike developed nations, are not required to adopt economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Some developing countries, such as Malaysia, opt for emissions intensity targets, which may lead to increased emissions if GDP rises, unlike absolute GHG targets, which ensure a reduction in emissions (Malaysia Youth Delegation, 2021).
One of the key documents that has been published towards meeting Malaysia’s climate commitments is the National Energy Policy 2022 – 2024 (NEP 2040). The NEP 2040 details the government’s priorities and targets for the energy sector towards meeting the Low Carbon Nation Aspiration 2040. By 2040, the NEP aims to reach an energy mix of 4% bioenergy, 4% solar, 9% hydropower, 27% oil products, 39% natural gas and 17% coal compared to 2018 numbers of 1% bioenergy, 0% solar, 6% hydropower, 30% oil products, 41% natural gas and 22% coal (Economic Planning Unit, 2022). It highlights natural gas as the key component to ensure energy security and drive sustainable socio-economic growth in Malaysia (Lew, 2023).
Figure 1: Primary Energy Mix Target of Low Carbon Nation Aspiration 2040 (Economic Planning Unit, 2022)
Also in 2022, Malaysia submitted its fourth Biennial Update Report (BUR4) to UNFCCC outlining its national circumstances, greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, progress in mitigation policies and actions, as well as support received and needs.
One of the key highlights of this year is the launch of the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR). Six energy transition levers have been identified with responsible transition targets. On Malaysia’s journey towards COP28, an advisory panel called the Climate Change Advisory Panel has been established to provide advice and guidance to the country’s delegation to COP28. Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad mentioned that Malaysia will focus on energy transition and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to that, Malaysia would also be focusing on its preparation to execute matters relating to carbon markets, climate finance, biodiversity conservation and climate adaptation.
Are we doing enough?
Mitigation: Renewable Energy & GHG Emissions
The declaration of the NDC target to reduce nationwide carbon intensity by 45% will not yield significant positive results without a solid implementation plan in the form of a net-zero carbon framework. This is further supported in the Twelfth Malaysia Plan, where Malaysia aspires to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The recently unveiled National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR) has prompted a decision to elevate the target for installed renewable energy capacity to 70% by 2050 (NETR, 2023). This is expected to be achieved by attracting multinational companies to operate in Malaysia that will generate new economic opportunities.
In the recent news, the Energy Industries Council (EIC) declared that Malaysia is on track to achieve its net zero commitment by 2050 through the action plans outlined in the NETR (Bernama, 2023). Malaysia’s energy sector was recorded to contribute to 78.5% of GHG emissions in 2019 (NETR, 2023). Based on the recently announced NETR, GHG emissions are expected to reduce from 7.9MtCO2e per capita in 2019 to 4.3MtCO2e per capita in 2050 with the implementation of the roadmap. Malaysia aims to increase its number of electric vehicles by 80% by 2050 to be in line with the NETR. However, a subsidisation initiation will be needed to ensure the affordability of the vehicles to allow the adoption of EV (NST, 2023). Inevitably, the scaling up of non-energy subsidies is also expected to drive emissions growth in line with the projects and initiatives set in the NETR (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Development of the NETR divided into 2 parts. Part 1 outlines the 10 flagship catalyst projects and initiatives. Part 2 highlights the establishment of energy mix targets and initiatives (NETR, 2023)
Despite these initiatives, Malaysia still has a considerable distance to cover in order to meet the 70% renewable energy target. It will need to ramp up new and existing programmes to support the development and implementation of renewable energy technologies, particularly for solar PV which is projected to reach 58% of power system installed capacity by 2050 (NETR, 2023). According to the *Bank Negara Malaysia’s Economic and Monetary Review for 2022, Malaysia still relies heavily on natural gas and coal for electricity generation, accounting for 35.7% and 43.6% respectively. In contrast, solar, hydro, and other renewable sources make up only 20.1%. This heavy dependence on coal persists due to the relative lower cost of energy produced by coal. Much of the energy contained in coal is not converted to electric but is lost as heat, reducing its efficiency in energy production.
Additionally, Malaysia’s low ranking of 54 in the climate policy category of the Climate Change Performance Index 2023 can be attributed to the absence of comprehensive climate legislation (Bank Negara Malaysia, 2023). While Malaysia has made commendable efforts in addressing climate change, the country’s upper-middle-income status, as classified by the World Bank, has resulted in limited inflows of climate finance. This places Malaysia at a comparative disadvantage in accessing climate funding compared to nations with lower income levels as it is estimated that USD85 billion is needed for Malaysia to adapt to climate change (Noor Baharin, 2023).
*Bank Negara Malaysia, also known as the central bank of Malaysia
The increase in the earth’s average surface temperature raises the concern on the ability of countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The climate-linked impacts include sea-level rise, extreme weather events like drought, flood and storms, as well as adverse consequences to health and mortality, ecosystems and biodiversity, and agricultural yields. While Malaysia has taken steps towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to enhance its approach towards climate change adaptation to improve resilience to climate change effects (Mahadi and Joshi, 2023).
Climate adaptation measures are not rocket science, they are well-proven and Malaysia has the local expertise and technology to implement them. They vary from urban greening to tackle urban heatwaves, flood mitigation and better planning to minimise the impacts of great rains, to mangrove restoration and engineering solutions to combat coastal erosions (Yin, 2022). Examples of adaptation measures can be found here in our previous article: Fantastic Climate Adaptation Measures and Where to Find Them.
In Malaysia, the majority of climate change adaptation efforts made to-date are related to flood mitigation and prevention measures. What Malaysia currently lacks is a comprehensive and coordinated national adaptation action plan. The recently published Mid-Term Review, Twelfth Malaysia Plan mentions that a national adaptation plan will be formulated to address current and future vulnerabilities on the impact of climate change while strengthening flood and disaster management (Ministry of Economy, 2023).
One of the biggest impediments to building Malaysia’s resilience to climate change is adaptation financing. We need to tap into national and international funds available to bring these adaptation solutions to life. Malaysia’s COP27 lead delegate Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang said “Adaptation finance is crucial for developing countries. The allocation [of funding from developed countries] is skewed towards mitigation” (Tan, 2022).
The financial landscape for international funds is becoming more accessible than it has ever been. Under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, the developed countries are obliged to provide funds and technology transfer to developing countries for their climate actions. Some of the financial mechanisms under the treaty are the Adaptation Fund, Green Climate Fund, The Global Environment Facility, and Special Climate Change Funds. In fact, in September 2020, the Adaptation Fund approved a USD 10 million project for Nature-based Climate Adaptation Programme for the Urban Areas of Penang Island, which is a collaboration between the state government, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and Think-City. (Adaptation Fund, 2023). Additionally, as stated in a joint report by multilateral development banks (MDBs), climate finance from MDBs reached a new peak in 2022. Scaling up public climate finance, in particular for low and middle-income economies, is one of the top items on MDB’s climate finance agenda (European Investment Bank, 2023).
Malaysia has also received more external funding in the past, however that focus of financing is still mostly on the mitigation while adaptation funding i focused on information and policy or flood-mitigation infrastructure. In 2021, Malaysia announced that it seeked USD 3 million from the Green Climate Fund to develop a national plan to adapt to climate change amid the deadly floods that occurred in late 2021 to early 2022. However, the status of these funds is unclear (Mahadi and Joshi, 2023).
What can you do to play your role as a citizen?
- Advocate for policies you believe in! Whether it is by organising peaceful demonstrations or by collecting signatures on a petition, use your voice to advocate for climate-friendly policies.
- Stay educated and updated, and share that knowledge with others. Misinformation and disinformation are both huge problems for climate action. By staying up to date on the latest climate news, you can help address this issue directly!
- Volunteer with environmental organisations. If you have the time, supporting an eco-friendly organisation can be a productive and beneficial way to spend a few hours each week! You can usually help out in many different ways, ranging from social media assistance to hands-on conservation work
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