Written by: Wong Yun Qiu, Fathi Rayyan, Pun Hong Kai, Khalisah Khairina, Soo Yu Han
Edited by: Felix Culas and Nat Tan
Last year, Malaysia Youth Delegation (MYD) published an article breaking down Malaysia’s climate commitments, right after the government updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
With COP27 happening now (November 6 – 18, 2022), we examine Malaysia’s climate commitments, how much we have progressed, and what more needs to be done in this article. We also spoke to 3 prominent Malaysians working in this space to hear their views on Malaysia’s progress on climate action and what governments, private companies and civil society organisations can focus on going forward.
The three individuals are Dr Renard Siew, Dr Yasmin Rasyid, and Yin Shao Loong.
- Dr. Renard Siew is a sustainability and climate change specialist. He is an advisor for the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), and Presidential Fellow of Malaysia’s National Youth Council (Environment).
- Dr. Yasmin Rasyid is a sustainability scientist by profession, environmentalist by passion. She founded EcoKnights, a non-governmental environmental organisation in 2005.
- Yin Shao Loong is a senior research associate at Khazanah Research Institute.
Climate awareness is on the rise, but more needs to be done
The pandemic has heightened public awareness about the dangers of unmitigated impact of climate change. The word ‘climate change’ has recently been heard more in talks, board meetings, policy papers or even chats over coffee, especially among the youths. According to the National Youth Climate Change Survey conducted by UNICEF, 92% of Malaysian youths see climate change as a crisis , indicating high awareness of the issue. While awareness has risen, there is still a lack of deep understanding on how to tackle it.
To address this, the public and private sector must collaborate to make climate data more prevalent and accessible, and apply data-informed decision making in the local context.
As Yin says, “We need more public education on climate science that is relevant to Malaysia. We need better awareness of climate data and the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities in the UNFCCC.”
A prominent example of public data sharing in Malaysia is COVIDNOW – an open data initiative led by pro-bono developers, which eventually became a success story of collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the Department of Statistics. If a similar initiative is implemented in the form of a transparent and accessible national climate database, the information can be used by the public to develop a strong understanding of current climate conditions and comprehend future climate scenarios and projected changes. One such example is the International Monetary Fund’s Climate Change Indicator Dashboard, which shows how climate change, financial risk and policy data can be housed under one roof.
Additionally, integrating a climate change syllabus in the national curriculum allows a formal progression of understanding and fosters individual responsibility towards taking the reins in tackling climate change.
Beyond individual action, the private sector must also pull their weight, starting with a thorough understanding of how climate change affects their operations through non-financial reporting. In September 2022, Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad amended its sustainability reporting requirements, mandating listed companies to report climate-related disclosures in alignment with the Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) .
This requires companies to disclose its Scope 1, 2, and 3 * (if appropriate) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and identify climate risks and opportunities, and how it integrates these elements into its long-term strategy. Whilst this is a progressive step in the form of a regulatory push, more attention needs to be given to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up more than 97% of business establishments, and contribute over one-third of Malaysia’s GDP  .
Major corporations and government-linked companies (GLCs) should pave the way in setting an exemplary path for MSMEs to follow. As Dr. Siew says, “GLCs are the first point of contact. They need to show and demonstrate leadership in this space.”
With the latest reporting requirements, the ball is now in the top players’ court to bring the rest in the supply chain along. They must conduct detailed Scope 3 GHG emissions accounting. Consequently, MSMEs will need to measure their Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions, subsequently pinning down the climate risks and opportunities in their operations. This is imperative if we are to ensure that our local economy remains resilient in the years to come.
* According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Scope 1 GHG emissions are from sources controlled or owned by an organisation; Scope 2 GHG emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling; and Scope 3 GHG emissions are from activities not owned by the reporting organisation, but that the organisation indirectly impacts in its value chain.
Make adaptation and finance as our priorities at COP27
“Malaysia has been overly committed to climate mitigation policy, ” said Yin, “We should be fully embracing COP27’s themes of Adaptation and Finance, which are squarely within the interests of developing countries like Malaysia.”
Finance for adaptation has always been a hot topic of discussion but lacks progress at COP. Even if the Paris Agreement’s goals are achieved, the impacts and risks of climate change cannot be fully reversed and can only be reduced through adaptation actions. The COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact, though imperfect, set up a goal for developed countries to double the funding provided to developing countries for adaptation by 2025 .
Back home, the massive floods that hit Malaysia last year took 54 lives and resulted in RM6.1 billion of losses . The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) warned that worse floods are expected in 2022 . The general public is asking how well prepared we are in adapting to the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the answer is: we are a long way away.
A transformational approach to adaptation involves an all-of-society approach and adequate funding. We looked at three climate finance sources for developing countries, the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility (GCF), and the Adaptation Fund (AF). Our search found that Malaysia received funding from AF to support the Nature-based Climate Adaptation Programme for Urban Areas of Penang. Additionally, Malaysia obtained USD 3 million from the GCF to prepare a National Adaptation Plan (NAP), which has not been published yet .
Yin mentioned that we need more awareness that these funds exist. To Dr. Siew, climate finance matters in the decarbonisation journey, as lack of resources and finance have always been a key challenge. Not only that, international funding can aid local talents (researchers and experts) in addressing Malaysia’s vulnerabilities.
Dr. Siew’s view was further echoed by Yin. He emphasised that the government of Malaysia should double down on adaptation efforts for extreme weather events, in addition to climate mitigation efforts. Countries that have higher historical CO2 emissions have a bigger responsibility to mitigate, in proportion to their emissions .
“Malaysia should be more active in developing policy on adaptation given that Malaysia is climate vulnerable and is insufficiently prepared to face extreme weather events. We should also step up efforts to secure international climate finance to tackle our vulnerabilities” – Yin.
Policies rather than pledges that really matter
While pledges are a good start, actually achieving climate targets is more important. National regulations and policies will help to drive the country towards these targets. Explicit policies can push individuals, businesses and Malaysian society to change. While progress is observed, Malaysia’s climate policy landscape still falls short of pushing for change at the required scale and pace to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“The long-awaited Climate Change Act is still on my wishlist – there have been various changes of course, but we haven’t seen the implementation of this yet.” says Dr. Siew.
In 2018, the government announced the plan to introduce the Climate Change Act to increase coordination between ministries and enhance the effectiveness of climate actions. Until today, there is limited public information on the content of the proposed Act. More recently, the Ministry of Environment and Water announced that they are still drafting the National Climate Change Legal Framework, which will set the foundation for a Climate Change Act that is only expected to come into force in 2024 
With climate risk impacts getting worse every year, there is limited time to wait for effective adaptation measures. Yin stresses that the National Adaptation Policy is critical as measures will likely take several years to work. In the meantime, we are continuously exposed to climate impacts. “National Adaptation Policy is really about protecting lives, livelihoods, and the country we call home,” says Yin.
Designing good policies and effectively implementing them are different. To Dr. Yasmin, enforcement is crucial and affects the usefulness of a policy. For policy to work, it needs enforcement mechanisms, complementary support systems and organisations with strong implementation capacity.
Malaysia could be more aggressive with its NDC
Malaysia updated its NDC * prior to COP26 last year. First, it pledged to reduce its economy-wide carbon intensity ** (against GDP) unconditionally by 45% against 2005 levels by the year of 2030, up from the previous target of 35%. It has also included four more GHGs under the national greenhouse gas inventory . Though the updates are welcome, our interviewees suggested more aggressive and comprehensive actions should be taken.
Dr. Siew proposed that Malaysia should focus its efforts on the long-neglected adaptation front while leading efforts in climate mitigation. He also proposed that Malaysia declares an absolute emissions reduction target along with the currently used emissions per GDP target. This is because the latter goal is a less reliable tool for reducing GHG emissions. A country using the emissions intensity target might still contribute to global warming despite meeting its emission targets, unless it decouples emissions from GDP growth.
Dr. Yasmin suggests that the NDC factors in the social aspect of mitigation and adaptation steps taken. However, she believes the social impacts of climate policies should be reflected as economic indicators, given the huge role of economics in running a country.
*NDCs are records of the commitments of Parties of Paris Agreement submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat to show their commitments in increasing the adaptive capacity of their countries towards climate change while implementing mitigation measures domestically. Though legally non-binding, NDCs are essential in predicting the outcome of the world in achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting world temperature rise ideally at 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (years between 1850 to 1900 )
** Economy-wide carbon intensity refers to the GHG emission intensity from all the seven GHGs under the national greenhouse gas inventory.
Malaysia has come a long way in being climate aware but many improvements can still be made, particularly in key aspects such as prioritising adaptation and finance, enforcement of policies and being more expansive in our NDC towards adaptation.
Given the widespread recognition of the severity of climate change among Malaysians, it is vital for Malaysia to fulfil commitments it made and also update its climate action. As a developing country, Malaysia can unlock international funding to assist its efforts in mobilising climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, which are currently constrained by limited resources.
Meanwhile, when revising Malaysia’s future NDC, the government should not sideline localised adaptation measures and policy developments to protect and provide a sustainable livelihood to Malaysians in the face of climate change.
Emphasis on adaptation measures allow us to take a proactive role in preparing for disasters and reduce vulnerabilities across sectors. This will eventually help us save costs in the long run, especially with the high frequency of extreme weather events in recent years. This can be done by combining critical policies (eg. Climate Change Act and National Adaptation Policy) with the necessary enforcement mechanisms to ensure its effectiveness.
- 26Sept_2022_Bursa_Malaysia_Enhances_Sustainability_Reporting_Framework_With_New_Climate_Change_Reporting.pdf (bursamalaysia.com)
- https://foe-malaysia.org/articles/expedite-efforts-to-seek-international-funds-for-climate-adaptation/ https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/special-report-12th-malaysia-plan-2021-2025-malaysian-case-carbon-tax
- Views – Articles – Research – Khazanah Research Institute (krinstitute.org)