Written By: Sonia Kiew, Syaqil Suhaimi & Reza Abedi
On December 12th, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and France co-convened the 2020 Climate Ambition Summit in partnership with Chile and Italy, which gathered 75 government, business and civil society leaders. The event also commemorates the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. At the Summit, new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), commitments and adaptation measures were outlined, which aimed at building a net-zero emissions and more resilient post-COVID future. Organizers stressed that the countries gathered at the summit represent “only national leaders with the boldest plans made during the course of the year.”  Unfortunately, Malaysia was not invited to attend.
The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) expresses its immense support to the nations, industry leaders, and cities that declared new commitments to cut their carbon footprints and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through their NDCs. MYD also acknowledges and stresses the saliency for vulnerable countries most impacted by the effects of climate change, to participate in the decision-making. Therefore, it is encouraging that nine African heads of state and 15 leaders of small island states were present at the Summit. Ethiopia announced “taking a whole-of-economy approach that protects people and nature”  while Suriname enhanced its National Adaptation Plan .
MYD commends the commitments made to deliver on net zero or carbon neutrality goals, which reflect the principles of equity enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
5 Years into the Paris Agreement – where are we?
2020 marks the fifth year since the creation of the Paris Agreement, yet the IPCC’s Special Report of Warming of 1.5 Degrees (SR 1.5) states that existing NDC commitments until 2030 would “result in a global warming about 3°C by 2100, with warming continuing afterwards (medium confidence).”  Therefore, time for action is running out and MYD as a youth organization expresses concerns over some ambiguities presented during the summit, with the hope that next year’s COP26’s discussions will be focused on ratcheting climate action, aligning with the ambitions announced at this Summit.
The Promise and Seductions of Nature-based Solutions
With countries like Suriname, the UK, Portugal and Spain announcing adaptation plans, and several leaders dedicated to increasing nature-based solutions (NbS), discussions on adaptation and resilience have moved centre-stage during the Summit – an optimistic and hopeful start to the conversation leading up to COP 26 on November 2021, of which NbS will be the central theme.
MYD lauds countries for recognizing NbS as “scalable and cost-effective responses to the climate threat.”  It is also essential to ensure that NbS are implemented with adaptation co-benefits for local communities, indigenous people and farmers, so as to avoid repeating past hard-learned lessons of carbon offset markets which led to land grabbing and assaults on human rights . It should be noted that the untapped potential of NbS as carbon sinks are not a cure-all to climate change; to rapidly decarbonize the economy there are other policy levers like carbon pricing and carbon taxing.
Furthermore, MYD strongly encourages climate finance commitments to come in the form of pure assistance (i.e. grants), to relieve vulnerable countries that are marginally responsible for GHG emissions.
It is worth noting that the oft-cited pledge by developed countries to provide US$100 billion in climate finance annually is actually not a legally binding target, as it is not mentioned in the Paris Agreement. Article 9, Paragraph 3  merely states that “developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources… Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.” This suggests that even this lofty goal may be inadequate to significantly affect climate outcomes, since contributions depend on how committed developed countries are in mobilizing these funds.
With new and strengthened NDCs presented at the Summit, as well as global initiatives like the Race to Resilience campaign that aims to protect over 4 billion vulnerable people from climate change impacts by 2030, the lived experiences of these individuals also bring valuable insights for developing durable, and lasting solutions. It is thus imperative for vulnerable countries to not only be safeguarded, but to be at the centre of the climate discussion.
In order to uphold the principles of equity, there must be clear and concrete action plans set forth by nations that have communicated their ambitions. NbS must work for the most vulnerable members of society and not against them, and gaps and ambiguities on climate finance must be addressed.
Writers: Saef Wan, Syaqil Suhaimi, Robiatul Saad, Robin Goon.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), countries around the world need to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius to fall within the ‘safe zone’ of climate change and prevent catastrophic changes to the planet. Currently, the combined rate of global emissions stands at 52 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e) annually. In order to have a chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius, the international community will need to halve global annual emissions by 2030 to the rate of 25 to 30 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e).
Should countries fail to rise to the challenge and prevent a radical change in the climate, the youth generation will suffer the brunt of the climate crisis as a result of the older generation’s apathy. Of course, such a horrifying future cannot be left solely at the hands of the older generation who, quite simply, do not have a stake in this game. For this, it is vital for the youth to mobilize and get involved in decision making so that national and international policies capture our needs, and ensure that our interests are safeguarded.
In Malaysia, the existence of contemporary climate-focused youth organisations was made possible by the larger umbrella of environmental movement before its time, beginning since the 1970s. Examples of these organizations include the Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM) founded in 1974 and the more globally tuned Global Environmental Centre (GEC) which came into the scene later in 1998. Notable to mention, the initiation of other organisations such as Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (YAWA) which highlighted the need for environmental education among children in the 1990s.
The landscape of youth climate activism really started to take the distinctive form that we know today around 2008 – 2009 with scattered Malaysian youth figures at the time participating in climate conferences held regionally and internationally such as COP 14 in Poznan (2008), UN Climate Negotiations in Bangkok (2009) and COP 15 in Copenhagen (2009). The Malaysian Youth Climate Justice Network (MYCJN), a first ever local youth collective which focused on climate change was formed in 2009 by youth figures who were directly influenced by the global trend of youth movement trailblazed by Powershift Network or Energy Action Coalition in the US in 2004, and other such coalitions which consequently propped up in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom from 2006 until 2008.
At the time, MYCJN took to task diverse forms of activities ranging from policymaking to capacity building to demonstrations. The youth collective built their capacity by joining international youth coalition events, sent Malaysian youth delegates to COP 15, held awareness campaigns, and organized educational forums. Later, as MYCJN’s presence faded into the background, its efforts were continued by Powershift Malaysia, formed in 2013 as a result of Global PowerShift project’s second phase after an impactful conference in Turkey. With an almost similar modus operandi to MYCJN, Powershift Malaysia’s operation was divided into several arms of distinctive niches, only one of which has endured the test of time, the current Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD).
Inheriting the genetic makeup of MYCJN and Powershift Malaysia, MYD particularly focuses on policy-centred activities by having a team dedicated to policy research work, aside from producing position statements and policy articles. It also routinely organizes training series and produces attractive media content to spread knowledge about various topics related to climate change. Today, the youth climate scene is made more energized by the presence of other peer organisations such as KAMY and EcoKnights which have distinctive approaches in the fight against climate change.
KAMY for example, focuses on empowering vulnerable and marginalised groups by conducting bottom-up strategies to empower communities through multi-language advocacy, climate protests, workshops, and community awareness programs. Meanwhile, EcoKnights also works with key stakeholders to empower sustainable actions by focusing on public outreach, education and youth development. By engaging with relevant stakeholders of different levels, these youth organisations emphasize the importance of including the youth’s perspective and agenda in the government’s plans concerning climate change. They act as catalysts for youth empowerment in Malaysia in the effort to urge all levels of society, especially the government, to address more issues related to climate change. This elaborate history of the climate movement edifice in Malaysia reminds today’s youth activists that their movement is a coalition of international origin and that, therefore, they have never been and are not alone in this fight.
Other than the presence of the aforementioned youth network, there is a bigger than ever impetus for youngsters today to join the climate movement. From the gradual relaxing of restrictive legislations such as AUKU, to post-Malaysia Baru’s more intensive support for free speech, young people nowadays enjoy a sense of empowerment unparalleled to the days of past when youth activism used to be nipped in the bud by more authoritarian laws. The installation of a young, precocious MP to the powerful position of a cabinet minister which had even spurred international interest, became emblematic of this new momentum achieved by the Malaysian youth.
Subsequent to this was Undi18’s phenomenal success which secured the right to vote in the general election for 3.8 million youths aged between 18 to 21, additionally invigorating their agency in determining the nation’s direction. Today, with talks about creating a youth-centred political party, the youth of Malaysia truly are in a more leveraged position, unimaginable even 5 years ago, to push forward the climate narrative. This progress is more than enough reason for young people to be inspired to seize the opportunity and take on the mantle of activists for the climate.
To get more involved, youngsters should check their local area for climate or environmental organisations such as MYD, KAMY, EcoKnights and many others. These organisations usually hold useful webinars or study sessions and thus, they provide access to those interested to learn about the different aspects of climate action. Even better, young people can play their part in fighting climate change by applying to become members of said climate organisations. On a more personal level, a simple effort would be to sign a pledge or petition supporting relevant progressive causes, whether to fight single-use plastics, or to stop deforestation. Every signature will definitely help.
Another method is to make use of social media platforms to voice out opinions related to climate initiatives or policy in Malaysia. This helps increase the public’s awareness as the action collectively saturates the nation’s social media traffic with important climate issues. On a daily level, the youth can proactively try to live a sustainable lifestyle. From consuming less energy, using public transportation, refusing single-use plastics to opting for zero waste household goods, every little action counts. More importantly, young people who are eligible to vote should support politicians and parties that have more environmentally focused agendas. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things us youth can do to contribute, but it is a great stepping stone for our climate journey.
Without a doubt, today’s youth and the climate are inseparable. In this sense, the youth play an integral part not only in the fight against climate change, but also in the fight for their own survival. While Malaysian youth’s climate activism is not yet mainstream, it is gaining traction fast. Ultimately, the participation of more young people in this fight will strengthen national and international climate coalitions and enable them to demand serious commitment across governments and implement more ambitious actions for the climate.
Despite many sceptics who thought the wide divergence of views among its members would pose difficulties, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has now been celebrated as an economic powerhouse, known as the major global hub of manufacturing and trade apart from being one of the world’s fastest-growing consumer markets. However, ASEAN now faces an unprecedented threat, as the region is considered as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. As ASEAN turns 53 this year, one may wonder how the regional organization is responding to this challenge. For this issue, this article intends to discuss ASEAN’s involvement in formulating climate policy initiatives, its challenges, and the way forward to strengthen policy enforcement and climate change commitments of its member states.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, four of the world’s ten countries most affected by climate change are located in Southeast Asia: Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. While all ASEAN Member States (AMS) are susceptible to climate impacts such as sea-level rise, extreme weather events like extreme drought and flood, the effects are more pronounced in countries with significant low-elevation coastal areas where increased frequency and intensity of typhoons, tropical storms, floods and droughts have regularly gripped news headlines. In addition to physical damage and impact on fishing resources, climate change threatens food security in the ASEAN region through loss of agriculturally productive territory and reduced nutritional value of crops.
Member states need to step up their efforts in tackling climate change. ASEAN plays an important role to incorporate climate change adaptation and mitigation in its regional frameworks to push the AMS. Below is a brief account of ASEAN’s initiatives on climate action since 2007.
13th ASEAN Summit where the ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability was announced in 2007
It was then followed by the ASEAN Declaration on the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) and 3rd CMP to the Kyoto Protocol. The declarations had a clear goal to address climate change issues and achieve sustainable development
This was also followed by the ASEAN Socio-Culturally Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2009-2015 where it aims to address impacts of climate change through the implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures with a few principles at core like the common but differentiated responsibilities
ASEAN Working Group on Climate Change (AWGCC) was also established in 2009 to oversee the blueprint accompanied by other relevant working groups like energy and transport
ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Framework for Climate Change: Agriculture and Forestry Towards Food and Nutrition Security and Achievement of SDGs was integrated into the ASEAN Framework for Climate Change (AFCC)
ASEAN has also worked on several regional policies related to climate change such as ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation, ASEAN Environmental Education Action Plan and also ASEAN Disaster Management and Monitoring Response System
While the regional efforts mentioned above deserved to be recognised, the conversation on climate change has yet to get a centre stage in its regional meetings, as issues of economic development are still the main priorities for AMS. The increasing coal consumption, in addition to relatively modest and unambitious nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement are hurting ASEAN’s fight against climate change. Further, limitations like inadequate capacity, monitoring mechanism and consensus-based decision making had caused difficulties in implementing resolute solutions. Weak enforcement of existing AMS agreements has also been the subject of criticism. For example, although the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (THPA) was agreed in 2002 but considering it is a consensus-based decision making, thus it was fully ratified in 2014. Even years after its ratification, the haze still becomes a recurring problem in the region as the THPA prescribes no specific sanctions against a country that fails to comply with its obligations.
As climate change issues become more critical and complex, ASEAN has to rethink how best it can coordinate climate change actions across the different sectoral working groups. It also needs climate change concerns to be mainstreamed in all of its institutions, and not only limited to the socio-cultural, but also economics and political security frameworks. For example, the climate change agenda should be embedded in foreign trade agreements facilitated by ASEAN, due to increasing investor’s interest in environmental sustainability. Regional cooperation amongst the AMS in addressing climate change is imperative not only for their economic interests, but also to safeguard their credibility in shaping the discourse on climate justice and sustainability issues at the international stage. ASEAN also needs to strengthen the enforcement mechanism of its existing agreement, and hold members accountable over their commitments. It can start to:
Advocate for an improved disclosure and reporting of climate change related risk and commitment, as well as monitoring and publicly commenting on the implementation of nationally determined contributions by its member states
Formulate a Regionally Determined Contribution (RDC) for ASEAN to encourage more ambitious commitments between member states
Expedite the formulation of ASEAN Climate Change Initiatives (ACCI)
Accelerate and expand the implementation of ASEAN Power Grid (APG) to facilitate speedy roll-out of renewable energy sources which would also allow regional renewable electricity trade between its members
Emphasize the importance of strengthening partnerships, best practices between member states, and
Continuously engage private sectors and civil society groups in addressing climate change
ASEAN’s motto “one vision, one identity, one community” distinctly portrays the serious commitment of the association to unify its 10 member states into a shared goal of achieving “cooperative peace and shared prosperity”. Now, it is more important than ever to turn that spirit into collective action in responding to the threat of climate change.
Anbumozhi, V. (2017). Ensuring ASEAN’s Sustainable and Resilient Future. ASEAN@50 – Building ASEAN Community: Political–Security and Socio-Cultural Reflections, 4, 309–323.
ASEAN Climate Change and Energy Project. (2019). Multiple game plan for ASEAN in tackling climate change. ASEAN Climate and Energy Insight. https://accept.aseanenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Energy-Insight_Multiole-Game.pdf
The arrival of the new decade has presented itself in a daunting way and 2020 has been nothing but tragedies. The coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe and infected millions with hundreds of thousands of mortalities. Oil price crashed and WTI crude has reached a negative price for the first time in forever. Climate change agenda is still on the table and struggling as countries around the world roll back climate-friendly policies amidst the public health concern. Even the Conference of the Parties (COP) has been postponed for a year due to the concerning pandemic.
Let us look at what has happened thus far. The outbreak of COVID-19 started late 2019 and spreading violently early this year. One by one, the countries closed their border and lockdown orders were issued. People were advised to stay at home and were enforced to social distancing in an attempt to flatten the curve. The economic activities started to slow down as people are no longer travelling and working from home. Factories are shut, international air travel declined, and non-essential businesses are closed, which reduced the global demand for oil, the energy source that mostly powers the economy.
Now, comes the OPEC+ coalition led by Saudi Arabia, entering in a discussion with Russia to cut the oil production. The negotiation essentially fall apart when Russia refused to slow down their production, further driving the oil price down as both Saudi Arabia and Russia ramping up their production in a bid to gain the market share. The price war and the low global demand for oil has caused a worldwide oversupply and deficit in storage. The oil price kept dropping and anybody with oil futures contracts are scrambling to get the contracts off their hands. They are paying to release the contracts as there is no more storage available to reserve the supply. Then, it happened, the free fall of oil price. The WTI crude dipped to a negative price and traded as such. It has since rebounded but still hovering at a low price of around $30.
Needless to say, the oil price has always been volatile and this is one of the many cycles that we have observed. However, the COVID-19 situation did trigger the major collapse of oil prices. The supply and demand shock that the oil and gas industry experienced today may be the first in history. The oil price is expected to be low for a significant period as countries reopen and the global economy recovers. The major enigma now, what does this mean for climate change? Does it help the climate change agenda and accelerate climate action or will it delay the supposed transition from fossil fuels?
Historically, low oil price is a major issue with significant impacts for climate advocates. The low price tag of oil supply reduces the incentives to change to a more sustainable energy and raw materials. People will be driving more often, logistics costs will be more economical, and it will be more affordable to use natural gas as a source of energy. This will drive consumption and ultimately increase carbon emission. It will be difficult to convince some policymakers and business leaders to switch to renewable sources of energy. In short, the low oil price affects the economic decision and that decision is not necessarily in favour of the climate change agenda.
In the transportation sector, the low oil price delays the transformation to electric vehicles as there will be a sustained demand for internal combustion engine vehicles. The fuels are cheap enough for people to ignore the fuel economy of the car and have more mileage at the same cost. The sales of conventional vehicles will be booming and electric vehicles will be only appealing to those who are less cost-conscious in making economic decisions. Even in the logistics sector, the affordable fuels for the trucks, ships, and airplanes accelerate business growth as more goods transported around the world.
The low oil price creates a business case for the energy sector to use natural gas as an available option for the source of energy. It diminishes the immediate needs to deploy renewable energy and entice the policymakers to continue to rely on fossil fuels rather than sourcing to alternative energy. Even in the manufacturing sector, petroleum remains the major raw material for many products, from crayons to lubricants. Low oil price abates any effort to substitute this material with a more sustainable source. Plastics will remain as the go-to material for packaging with lesser incentive to find alternatives. Yet, there is still a glimmer of hope for the climate change agenda. The low oil price only delays the energy transition but did not change the trend.
The recent cycle of oil price crash is another proof that the market is volatile and demonstrates that it is an unreliable investment. The latest market crash should be the catharsis for the oil and gas industry to change their investment strategy. In a world with a low oil price, small producer companies will be forced out of business and they will need government intervention to recover or else bankruptcy is imminent. However, big producer companies are resilient and chose to wait it out as they have enough cash reserve to persevere of yet another cycle. Nowadays, they are pressured to diversify their portfolio in an extravagant attempt to future-proof their company. The golden preferred investment? Renewable energy.
In a bigger scheme of things, this approach makes sense. Renewable energy is dubbed as the cheapest source of electricity. The cost of developing and building the infrastructure for renewable energy is lower than the fixed cost of fossil fuel and it is decreasing as the innovation progressed. The renewable energy sector is less volatile than the fossil fuel market hence it should be an attractive investment. Reading the room, the oil and gas companies should invest strategically in the renewable energy sector and start the energy transition. An unconventional move has to be made to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. The oil and gas industry has the capacity to change the tide and the industry is never short of great engineering talents so expanding to the renewable energy sector is not a far-fetched idea. It is just a matter of will. The industry can take this opportunity as an advantage, right here right now, to reduce the dependency of fossil fuels and build more infrastructure to accommodate the new energy. It is a long-term exit strategy for a sustainable prospect and future-proofing of the company.
PETRONAS recently recorded a 68% fall of profit after tax in the first quarter of 2020. To brace the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and oil price crash, PETRONAS has decided to cut capital expenditure and operating expenses of the year. Still upholding the three-pronged strategy; maximize cash generators, expand core business, and stepping out, PETRONAS plan to future-proof the organization and ensure the company’s long-term sustainability. With the establishment of the new business unit, Gas & New Energy, PETRONAS should react to the current situation by investing heavily in wind and solar energy infrastructure and accelerating technological innovation as outlined in the strategy of stepping out. The acquisition of Amplus Solar and a joint collaboration with Universiti Teknologi MARA are good starts but PETRONAS is capable to do more than that. Building solar farms and conducting feasibility studies of offshore wind farms are among many proactive measures that PETRONAS can undertake in this situation. It is imperative for PETRONAS to grow renewable energy as one of the core businesses and cash generators since it is an incentive to dampen the effect of oil price volatility. The shift, sooner or later, will help to sustain the company. Hopefully, the cost-cutting exercise soon to be conducted by PETRONAS would not involve the little amount of 5% of capital expenditure, announced earlier this year, reserved for the renewable energy. After all, PETRONAS aspires to be a significant contributor to the Malaysian government’s renewable energy target of 6GW by 2025.
No doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered the oil price crash and in a way, it has helped reduce the carbon emission as people stay at home and non-essential long-haul journeys are banned. It is nothing short of tragic. What matters the most is the next steps. We must take advantage of the low oil price and volatility of the market as a sign to invest in clean energy, hence recognizing the long-term economic trends and urgent threat of climate change. The business case of fossil fuel investment has weakened leading to accelerated energy transition. However, it must be acknowledged that low oil prices could reduce the economic incentives to reduce emissions. Nevertheless, we should come out of this pandemic and market crash with a new outlook and fresh perspectives. The oil and gas industry may not recover to its former glory but we can make the energy industry to be future-proof. Business, as usual, should not persist and the challenge of climate change should no longer be ignored.
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Climate migration is the result of climate change effects causing population movements away from increasingly unviable or uninhabitable places. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted it as one of the greatest climate change impacts. Millions will be displaced due to coastal inundation, water stress, frequent flooding, reduced crop yields, disease outbreaks, among other climate change effects. Climate change will cause population movements by making certain parts of the world much less viable places to live in.
Definitions and labels conferred to people displaced by climate change have very real implications for the obligations of the international community under the law. There are a lot of discussions surrounding it worth exploring and it is a highly contested debate amongst international rights lawyers. For the purpose of this article, we shall adopt the definition proposed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which states “Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons, who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or chose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”. IOM in their study on Migration and Climate Change uses the term “forced climate migrant” acknowledging that it is not a universally accepted term but hopes that it conveys a reasonable and accurate impression of the increasing phenomenon of non-voluntary population displacement likely as the impacts of climate change grow and accumulate.
2.0 How Climate Migration Materialises in Asia
Asia is projected to be hard hit by climate change, more than most regions in the world. The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 forecasted that intense cyclones, excessive rainfall, and severe floods will make South and Southeast Asia among the worst affected by climate change. When adaptation measures fail to perform in one country, victims resort to migrating away from the disaster region. In some cases towards less affected parts within the country, and in the cases of international interest, across country borders. In 2019 we have recorded India and Pakistan baked in a heatwave, Chennai was hit by a water crisis, rising seas engulfed Indonesia’s coastline, powerful storms slammed into the Philippines, Indonesia’s forests were ablaze, and torrential rains lashed Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. All of these contexts are important to illustrate how other neighbouring countries of affected states will be roped into this scenario.
As much as migration is seen as an important mechanism to deal with climate stress, people usually only resort to it when other means of adaptation are insufficient to meet their immediate needs, i.e when governments have proven incapable of giving assistance. In slower-acting climate processes or even in the most extreme of natural disasters, climate migrants would require money and networks like family, friends, or historical ties in a destination country they would settle in. These people displaced by environmental causes will mostly find new homes within the boundaries of their own regions. The 2004 Asian Tsunami for example killed more than 200,000 people and displaced twice as many. However, they were not displaced to OECD countries but rather were overwhelmingly borne by the local region. Those who are not able to find new homes within their own country usually seek refuge in places where there are existing cultural or ethnic ties to them. Therefore, Bangladeshis are likely to seek refuge in India or Pakistan, Indonesians from Sumatra would consider Malaysia and so on. As a country that is already struggling to address humanitarian issues due to the influx of hundreds of migrants/refugees, Malaysia must adapt itself for this larger scale humanitarian issue involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees driven by climate change.
3.0 Impacts of Climate Migration
If climate migration follows the pattern of the existing civil and humanitarian crises migration pattern, the probable case would be that low to middle-income countries will be the largest hosts of climate migrants. This is especially the case for Malaysia as our neighbouring countries are hotspots for climate disasters; from threats of inundation of thousands of Indonesian islands and more than 20 separate incidences of typhoons in the Philippines just last year. Climate migrants tend to stay within their borders or their cultural lines, or are flushed to the city, causing a phenomenon known as the urban flood. This could negatively impact urban welfare and service provision, with studies predicting a massive increase of people living in the slums, possibly up to 1.7 billion, if the phenomenon is unplanned and rapid. This is exacerbated by food and water scarcity caused by climate change itself, and increases the spread of disease with overpopulation.
In Malaysia, rapid urbanisation had resulted in sprawling car-dependent low density areas with little public open space, often characterised by an exploding rate of land clearing with significant growth in population, like the Klang Valley. Urban sprawl is also the cause of several environmental adversities, like loss of green space, species habitat, and agricultural land in the wake of low-density sprawling development. The development of infrastructure such as pavements increased the total surface area of impervious surfaces, which leads to flash flooding that overwhelms the drainage system.
Even though the number of people displaced through climate migration are in the millions, the normative frameworks and policy response remains scattered and inadequate. Addressing the issue today would minimise forced displacement and minimise the fluctuation in patterns of climate-induced migration, which is already incredibly difficult to keep track of due to lack of capacity. This results in the inability to be spatially and temporally specific about the location, severity, timing, and nature of climate change and its likely impacts on different population groups, leaving us unable to predict and prepare for the impact.
4.0 Recommendation to Actors
Currently, Malaysia has no existing policy response to climate migration. It would be humane of us to start opening diplomatic doors for international climate migrants as done by countries like Australia and New Zealand, to save vulnerable people who would otherwise be at-risk of extinction. The lack of legislative or administrative provisions for refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia means that the burden of protection of the refugees, from reception, registration, documentation, and also refugee status determination would lie upon the 173 staff of UNHCR who are currently monitoring a total of 178,600 refugees from their 2 offices. In their report, they cited that the lack of funding hampered their effort to support the government. If the population of people of concern continues to grow with climate migration and the policy response remains dormant and inadequate, this support from UNHCR may shatter under the pressure.
To enable an easier transition for climate migrants, pre-existing frameworks can and may be utilised. In assisting them, governments should be pressured to pursue efforts broadening the definition of refugee, constituted within the refugee law and to revise the principle of non-refoulement within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as suggested by the United Nations Human Rights Committee following the case of the Teitiota family from Kiribati who sought asylum in New Zealand.
Preservation of life should always be the priority of any government, regardless of its method as upheld in the European Court of Human Rights, in Budayeva & ors. v. Russia, that even inaction upon positive obligation is a breach of human rights. Such a precedent should be applied to climate change due to the repeated nature of failure of risk mitigation, warning issuance, as well as evacuation aid and negligence investigation when necessary. Whilst it may not be binding in Malaysia, this precedent could be persuasive in convincing the state and public to create a framework for adaptation should we wish to pursue and advocate for it.
In essence, climate migration is an inevitable effect of climate change. Legal frameworks and other means of adaptation are crucial in ensuring the preservation and protection of human rights. Therefore, the state must look into addressing this issue urgently. As individuals, we could contribute by volunteering via manpower, expertise, or even pecuniary means. Here are some UN-accredited organisations within Asia and the Pacific that you could contribute to: https://www.unenvironment.org/civil-society-engagement/accreditation/list-accredited-organizations.