News Splash: The rippling effects of water pollution

News Splash: The rippling effects of water pollution

Written by Farhana Shukor and Zhee Qi

Water is a natural resource that is vital to life and any threat to it would be detrimental towards the well-being of earth’s inhabitants. Water and sanitation were formally acknowledged as human rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 and 2015, respectively. Further, international human rights laws have also imposed obligations on countries to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

In August 2020, the Malaysia Prime Minister’s Office launched a research study — the Water Sector Transformation 2040 (WST 2040) — to investigate water sector reform, aiming to transform it into a “dynamic growth engine for the country”.

The Climate Change Impact and Adaptation task force of WST 2040 engaged members of the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) to develop a youth survey. This survey aimed to collate the youth’s opinions and their policy recommendations on climate change and the local water sector. It was open for responses from the 26th February 2021 till the 4th April 2021, and successfully garnered responses from 168 youths. The definition of youths here was people aged between 18-35 which was based on the definition provided by the Children and Youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO).

The survey findings were crystallised as MYD’s Water & Climate Change Youth Survey Report. This report provides a good starting point to determine the youth’s perception and understanding of climate change and the consequential risks from their lack of understanding, which can be used to develop solutions to sufficiently address these issues. In conjunction with that, an article on the report has been penned and published by MYD on our website.

While the previous article touched on governmental roles, this article aims to discuss matters at stake for water security and the power corporations hold in shifting the paradigm. In line with the survey findings and in light of rampant water pollution issues, this is an open letter to one of our stakeholders — corporations. Corporations have a big role in tackling the climate crisis because by large, they produce a substantial amount of emissions. The 3rd Biennial Update Report submitted by Malaysia to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2016 indicates that greenhouse gas emissions are largely attributed to the energy (77.9%) and waste (8.44%) sectors.

Risk by definition is uncertainty, but the lens for which we perceive the uncertainty can either identify the problem or the solution. In this article, we will address both perspectives and produce a Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis focusing on private corporations and their roles in this space, based on the report findings and additional resources.


Beginning on a hopeful note, it was found that the majority of the participants had access to water and sanitation.

Most participants confirmed that their municipalities have some initiatives in place to tackle existing water hazards such as providing temporary water supply alternatives and improving the supply infrastructure (refer to Figure 1).

[Figure 1: Municipal action against water related hazards experienced]

Notably, the findings reflected that 37-50% of participants were satisfied with the efforts of the private sector towards water related tasks. In relation to that, 53-64% of participants believe that the private sector should be “very responsible” for future actions such as ensuring sustainable consumption of water and planning for climate change impacts.

[Figure 2: Participants’ awareness of climate change risks]

Figure 2 provides an overview on the participants’ awareness of climate change risks. Based on this, it appears that there is generally a good awareness and understanding of climate change risks amongst youth. The caveat here is that the survey responses may largely be from youths who are part of environmental circles, hence the findings may not reflect the opinions of the wider Malaysian youth demographic. However, this assumption cannot be verified as there was no identifying data to indicate the field of study or work of all survey respondents’.


A majority of participants indicated they only have a single water source. This is a precarious scenario as any of the water hazards experienced may potentially disrupt water access for a significant period of time.

[Figure 3: Distribution of water related hazards experienced by participants]

In relation to that, it is also important to note that the greatest water hazard faced by participants is water rationing or cuts, with 64% of participants experiencing this hazard. Of this group, only 67% indicated that they were provided with a temporary alternative water source.  This hazard is also known to be linked to the frequent water pollution incidents that occurred in the state of Selangor and were caused by private corporations’ mismanagement of waste.

While most participants confirmed that their municipalities have some mitigation efforts in place, it is evident that those initiatives are merely short term coping strategies. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled to ensure water security. Based on the results from the second component of the survey, held on a conversation tool known as, it was emphasised that there is a need for cooperation between public, private and civil sectors to tackle these issues. The responses indicated that corporations too have a vital role to play in mitigating current water-related hazards (refer to Figure 4).

[Figure 4: Participant’s perception of stakeholder responsibility in mitigating water-related hazards]


An obvious threat to water security is water pollution. However, it is important to note that water pollution is ultimately a result of human activities such as the disposal of pollutants into waterways. Most water pollution occurrences can be attributed to corporate activities which are made worse by the lack or absence of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) considerations. Threats like water pollution can disrupt some business operations which can impact business outcomes and interests. 

As the community becomes more environmentally conscious, there exists a risk of economic and reputational losses when companies act negligently towards environmental protection. With the rising trend of ESG requirements worldwide, it was predicted that non-ESG compliant companies might lose out on investment opportunities. Hence, local companies are urged to take proactive steps to mitigate this risk and play their role in tackling the climate crisis.

Furthermore, based on the conversation results, most participants agree to increased penalties on corporations that harm and/or pollute the environment.

Threats were also identified in the findings on climate change risks. The findings mainly reflected a mismatch between knowledge or awareness of climate change and the significance of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ as in the Paris Agreement. The findings showed that most of the respondents believed that the government is responsible for limiting global warming to 1.5℃, with a small segment believing that a target is unnecessary. As noted above and as seen in Figure 2, there is generally a good level of awareness among youths on climate change risks. This against the awareness of limiting global warming would indicate some lack of awareness on how global warming relates to climate change.



Based on the threats presented, a number of opportunities present themselves that could be taken by stakeholders. Participants appear to strongly support most of the water policy options presented in the survey (see graph below). Thus, it could present valuable opportunities for stakeholders, especially corporations, by being first-movers or pioneers. 

[Figure 5: Participant’s preferred policy strategies]

Public support on implementation will be strong if there was more: i) integrated water resource management; ii) technological innovation, such as water-recycling technology; iii) climate change adaptation planning, such as improving early warning systems; iv) nature-based solutions, for example mangrove conservation for coastal protection; v) water demand management, such as use of water-saving toilets; and vi) integrated river basin management.

Further to the above, the survey findings confirm that a majority of participants agreed to encourage the private sector to invest in water-conserving and recycling technologies.


Closing: Call to Action
Moving forward, corporations should be more attentive towards the environmental impact of their actions, and make climate-friendly decisions in their businesses. Corporations are encouraged to be honest about their sustainability capacity because it is arguably better to make pledges they can deliver and act on, rather than making large but empty declarations in their sustainability report. We hope that by sharing these findings, corporations are able to fill in the gaps.

Nonetheless, the responsibility does not solely fall on the shoulders of corporations. The government should also be active in tackling climate change alongside corporations because both stakeholders should complement each other in their actions – areas in which the government falls short in, the private sector can support further or compensate for, and vice versa. 

Lastly, the public too has a role to play in this. As the current generation, we owe a duty towards the coming generations to safeguard and ensure the sustainability of resources. This article demonstrates that public participation is crucial in holding the authorities accountable and paves the way forward for the public to partake more actively in climate movements.


  1. Malaysia Third Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC
  2. Ayisy Yusof. (2021, Aug 9) “Companies urged to adopt ESG standards”. News Straits Times. <>.
  3. (2021, Aug 31) “Over 450 areas in Selangor affected by unscheduled water cut”. The Star. <>.
  4. Slezak, M. “Australian teenagers’ climate change class action case opens ‘big crack in the wall’, expert says”. ABC News. 27 May 2021, 26 September 2021. <>.
Study Session 1: Climate Change and Public Health

Study Session 1: Climate Change and Public Health

Written by Hong Kai, Sabrina Hoong, Chanel Ng

The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) hosted a study session: Climate Change and Public Health with Dr. Khor Swee Kheng, a public health specialist  focusing  on health policies and global health — more specifically the political economy of health and the strengthening of the health systems. He shared about the linkages and complexities between climate change and public health. Inspired by his sharing session, this article writeup intends to explore the linkages between the two.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report revealed alarming findings. Substantial evidence reveals the significant human influence on the rising temperatures — a 1.5°C rise in climate temperature is now inevitable. This growth will have profound consequences for human civilisation, ranging from increased droughts and rainfall events to sea-level rise.

While it may not appear obvious, the worsening climate crisis directly impacts public health in various forms (see figure below). For instance, it was reported that extreme heat due to the changing climate could increase heat stress on humans (IPCC, 2021).

[Figure: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.)]

In addition to heat stress, weather extremes such as increasing floods may favour the transmission of diseases. In 2014, Kelantan suffered its worst flood and one of its main adverse health outcomes was the rise in the incidence of diseases, particularly vector-borne Leptospirosis.

The types of diseases that affect public health can be broadly divided into communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases.

Communicable diseases are infectious and can be grouped into three categories — waterborne (e.g., Cholera), airborne (e.g., Covid-19), and vector-borne (e.g Dengue). Extreme weather events such as the El Niño can lead to ecological conditions facilitating the emergence of vector-borne diseases, thus increasing the risk of exposure towards society at large.

Climate change, which influences temperature and rainfall fluctuations, encourages the spread of neglected tropical diseases, such as Dengue (Paul and Tham, 2015). As this phenomenon worsens, ecological changes are expected to become more rapid. This increases the chances for new viruses to spread across the population, where mutation may in turn increase the potency of the virus (Shope, 1991).

Non-communicable diseases are chronic diseases developed by factors such as the environment, genes, and behaviour. Such diseases include respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders, cancer, and diabetes. Due to the indirect nature of their relationship, these diseases are often overlooked in the discourse of public health and climate change.

For diabetes, extreme weather events and rising temperatures may increase the morbidity of such patients, particularly those with existing cardiovascular diseases (Zilbermint, 2020). As for those without an existing condition, rising temperatures may lead to more people choosing to stay indoors. This discourages the practice of a more healthy and active lifestyle, weakening one’s immune system and physical health.

There is also a strong link between climate change and mental health. The relationship is often characterised through climate anxiety or eco guilt, new terms coined recently to reflect their growing occurrence. A major factor that contributes to climate anxiety is recognising the arrival of danger but lacking the ability to mitigate it. (Ingle and Mikulewicz, 2020). Climate anxiety is particularly prevalent amongst children and young people — a recent survey on ten-thousand 16 – 25-year-olds found that 95% of respondents were worried about climate change, and this is partly due to disappointment towards the lack of governmental action on tackling the crisis (Thompson, 2021).

Now narrowing our focus on Malaysia, prominent local climate-sensitive diseases include: cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, malaria, dengue and chikungunya. (Alhoot et al., (2016). It was estimated that a reduction in short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) could prevent 5,900 premature deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution per year, from 2030 onwards (Shindell, D., et al, Science, 2012). Storms, floods and droughts can lead to the rise and emergence of climate‐sensitive diseases due to contamination of water and environment, and creation of breeding sites for disease-carrying vector mosquitoes.

Malaysian healthcare strategies to manage public health in the face of climate change

The Malaysian government has introduced various strategies and roadmaps over the years to reduce the public health impacts due to climate change. However, some may argue that these plans were not implemented effectively.

For instance, the National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP) was published by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2013, aiming to improve the quality of the environment and public health while maintaining the objective of sustainable development (Guidance document on NEHAP, MOH Malaysia, December 2013). It was introduced on the back of increasing incidences of food, water and vector-borne diseases over the years. However, the NEHAP 2016-2020 reported that the majority of the proposed action plan was not implemented, nor was there a concrete plan. The plan heavily focused on developing guidelines and research papers under institutional components and essential support functions for environmental health, but no mitigation actions were outlined to address the pollution sources.

As of 2015, one of the gaps in Malaysia in the report to the World Health Organisation (WHO) was the lack of planned allocations from domestic and international funds to cover the estimated costs of implementing climate resilient health systems. The development of an Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) system with early warning for climate-sensitive health risks and valuation of co-benefits to health of climate change mitigation activities was also absent.

In 2019, Malaysia adopted a National Policy on Climate Change, which incorporates health perspectives in its key actions. One of which is to mobilise financial and technical assistance in the area of public health and climate change. Although this positive measure could contribute to a climate-resilient health system, there has been little progress in fund allocations since the WHO report in 2015.

However, there may still be hope. The National Policy on Climate Change aims to establish and implement a national Research and Development agenda on climate change taking into account public health services and delivery, as well as integrate measures into policies, plans, programmes and projects in public health. In 2019, MOH established 11 Thematic Working Groups (TWG) on:

  • air quality;
  • water and sewage system;
  • solid waste;
  • hazardous waste management;
  • climate change;
  • contingency readiness and environmental emergency plans;
  • health impact assessment;
  • information technology;
  • urban drainage;
  • environmental health experts; and
  • vector-borne diseases.

The TWGs are tasked with finding ways of identifying threats to the environment, formulating strategies to overcome the issue.

The way forward

While climate mitigation measures provide clear and significant disease prevention opportunities in many sectors, including the health sector, these opportunities are not widely recognised or connected.

We have identified ways in which key measures addressing climate change can bring health co-benefits in a range of economic sectors. The health sector should participate in developing and executing relevant mitigation policies moving forward. For example, we need health leadership and participation in multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder decision making processes relating to climate mitigation, through engagement with key public and private sector stakeholders.

We must establish and strengthen core public health functions and capacities, including the analysis and communication of health co-benefit opportunities associated with various climate mitigation policies. More importantly, climate mitigation measures should be incorporated into relevant national health systems policies and plans in areas where the health sector has primary decision-making over GHG emissions sources from healthcare activities. This ranges from medical waste management, procurement policies, and healthcare facility infrastructure performance standards, aligning with the national health adaptation strategy of building and upgrading healthcare infrastructures to be climate-resilient. 

Effective engagement with youth groups, civil society organisations and the private sector and providing them with a platform to advocate for climate justice will also help raise public awareness about opportunities for climate and health. This will play a transformative role in building public support and creating demand for broader uptake and implementation of climate and health promoting mitigation measures in Malaysia (Technical Briefing for the World Health Organization Conference on Health and Climate).

Climate change mitigation policies can prevent significant communicable and non-communicable diseases caused by key economic sectors, therefore saving health costs from reduced deaths and diseases. Harnessing climate actions for health benefits play a transformative role in the climate debate by strengthening public and policymaker will for action, which supports coordinated stakeholder engagement and partnerships.


Action Plan for Environmental Health. Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2020.

Alhoot et al, 2016. “Climate Change and Health: The Malaysia Scenario.” Climate Change and Human Health Scenario in South and Southeast Asia, 2016, 243-268. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-23684-1_15. 

“Climate and Health Country Profile Malaysia.” World Health Organization. Accessed October 11, 2021.

Guidance Document: National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP) Malaysia. Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2015.

Malaysia’s Third National Communication (NC3) and Second Biennial Update Report. Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, 2020.

National Policy on Climate Change. Prime Minister’s Office, 2019.

Paul, Bryan, and Wai L. Tham. “Interrelation between Climate and Dengue in Malaysia.” Health 07, no. 06 (2015), 672-678. doi:10.4236/health.2015.76080.

“Promoting Health While Mitigating Climate Change.” World Health Organisation. n.d.

Shope, R. “Global climate change and infectious diseases.” Environmental Health Perspectives 96 (1991), 171-174. doi:10.1289/ehp.9196171.

Technical Briefing for the World Health Organization Conference on Health and Climate, 27-29 August, Geneva. Discussion Draft.

Protection of Natural Resources and Nature-Based Solutions

Protection of Natural Resources and Nature-Based Solutions

Written by: Lee Ee Jenn & Azierah Ansar

The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) organized its second study session of the year with Dr Wong Ee Phin on the topic of ‘Protecting Natural Resources’. Dr Wong is the Principal Investigator of the research project ‘Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants’ (MEME) & Assistant Professor at University of Nottingham Malaysia. She has extensive experience in conservation efforts, in particular with elephant behaviour and Human-Elephant Conflict.

Why is conservation important? Links to climate change

The session commenced with Dr. Wong emphasizing the importance of conservation, both on its own merits as well as considering its role in climate change. Biodiversity loss and natural resource mismanagement are imminent threats, as can be seen through the concept of planetary boundaries, the predetermined “safe operating spaces” for humanity. Crossing certain boundaries (biophysical thresholds) could have catastrophic consequences to humanity, including abrupt environmental change that make the planet far more unstable and hostile to humans (Steffen, W. et al., 2004). Currently, three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped, as illustrated below—the rate of biodiversity loss being at critical levels. As seen in the second screengrab, our rate of development is far exceeding the ability for the planet to regenerate.

[The inner green shading represents the recommended “safe operating space” for nine planetary systems. The red wedges, on the other hand, represent the approximate state of the current position for each of the planetary systems. Currently, the boundaries for the rate of biodiversity loss, climate change, and human interference with the nitrogen cycle have been exceeded. The highlight of the chart is the devastatingly high rate of extinction (unit: the number of species per million species per year), which conservatively exceeds by 1,000% of its proposed value and 1,000 times its rate compared to its pre-industrial rate (Image & description taken from: Rockstrom, J et al, 2009).]

[The equation above shows that when demand, the rate at which the biophysical subsystems are consumed for the purpose of economic development (or any other reason) is higher than the supply, which is the biosphere regeneration, Earth will stray from its state of stability, known to geologists as the Holocene, and enter instead the Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2002) where humans become the main driver of global environmental change (Steffen et al, 2007).]

Since the industrial revolution, 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has been significantly altered, more than 85% of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed, and plastic is expected to outnumber the populations of fishes in the oceans by 2050. The catastrophic destruction of our ecosystem has led to over 1 million species of animals, plants, and insects to be threatened by extinction.

Every natural ecosystem exists in an equilibrium, with all the organisms of an area influenced by and interdependent upon one another. If one element in the ecosystem is altered, a knock-on effect occurs to disrupt the food chain — if one population decreases, other species’ populations will also be affected. As Dr Wong put it: ‘‘The more the web of life is untangled, the faster it is going to collapse’’.

[Example of a food web: where the decrease in the primary producers will affect the apex predators (tertiary consumers) due to the disrupted food chain for other organisms’ survival.]

Extinction is an irreversible phenomenon that permanently reduces genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is highly important in sustaining and improving agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Dr Wong highlighted that as new strains of disease evolve and climates become ever more volatile, our best hope for finding plants that are resilient—to continue growing food we can consume, for instance—is in nature’s gene bank. Take the 1860s European grape vine catastrophe: an insect completely annihilated every vineyard in the continent, paralysing the European’s wine production industry (Olmo, 1976). The industry was only saved due to grafting, a procedure made possible by the variety of vine genes conserved at the time. We will be unable to adapt to such threats if we continue on our current trend.

Furthermore, the effects of mismanagement of natural resources are not only felt within a limited geographical area, but worldwide. It is estimated that 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere due to deforestation alone (UNEP). Such consequences feed into a vicious cycle, where events that lead to loss of biodiversity exacerbate climate change and climate change could also become an important driver of loss of biodiversity. Hence, it is important for climate change and conservation to be addressed together.

One of the ways to do this is through the implementation of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS).

What is NBS?

Nature-based solutions (NBS) is a catch-all term encompassing a broad range of actions that ‘use’ natural habitats to tackle socio-environmental challenges. This can range from managing and protecting ecosystems, to green infrastructure in urban areas, to applying ecosystems-based principles to agriculture (University of Oxford, 2021).

Nature-based solutions can help us:

  • Adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • Slow global warming by storing carbon;
  • Increase water and food security;
  • Manage disaster risk: controlling floods, stabilising shorelines;
  • Safeguard public health.

Engineered interventions, such as seawalls and irrigation infrastructure, have been the dominant approach to coping with climate variability so far. NBSs stand starkly in contrast to such ‘hard’ and ‘grey’ methods, and have the advantages of relatively low costs and additional benefits for people and nature. Restoring natural forests, for instance, can not only protect communities downstream from flooding, but also increase carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity.

However, nature-based solutions are treated with caution by some conservationists and researchers, as  poor implementation can have adverse effects. For example, an afforestation (tree planting) project using a non-native monoculture (one species only) could result in poor biodiversity and degrade soil quality. Moreover, NBSs such as afforestation or creating new ecosystems can distract from the need to protect existing intact ecosystems, and have even been framed as a climate change solution by fossil fuel giants, allowing them to claim to reach net zero without substantially cutting emissions. NBS have an important role to play in climate policy, but individuals must be wary of their potential misuses (Seddon et al., 2020).


Many nature-based solutions can be implemented in Malaysia, two of which are detailed below.

1. Coastal habitats such as mangroves protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave erosion and tropical storms, and slow the intrusion of saltwater that can damage crops and livestock. Mangroves in particular are massive carbon sinksbeing one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world—and contribute to food security and local communities through fishery resources.

However, an estimated 24% of Malaysia’s mangroves are not under legal protection, and thus vulnerable to deforestation (The Star, 2021). Mangrove habitat loss is ever-ongoing to clear space for more plantations and developments, and we should oppose this.

There are a number of initiatives currently ongoing to preserve mangroves which should be more widely implemented. For instance, the ecoCare Centre managed by the Malaysian Nature Society in Terengganu fosters the regeneration of mangroves by planting nurseries and raising awareness through workshops (Malaysian Nature Society, 2021). In regards to climate policy, Malaysia should extend full protection status as permanent forest reserves to its mangroves, cooperating with local communities to ensure enforcement.

2. NBSs are not limited to the wild, but can also help urban spaces mitigate and adapt to climate change by bringing ecosystem services back into cities. Tree-lined streets and green spaces can provide natural shading and reduce cooling needs (which guzzle energy otherwise) while lessening noise pollution and air pollution. Tree-shaded walking and cycling paths simultaneously function as ecosystem and mobility corridors. NBSs have human needs at the forefront of their considerations, and more green space further serves to provide recreation and health benefits, improving quality of life across the board.

Think City, an urban policy outfit, is currently working on a Climate Adaptation plan in partnership with Penang City Council. It aims to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect, referring to metropolitan areas experiencing significantly warmer temperatures than surrounding rural areas due to human activities and infrastructure. They are working on greening Penang (rooftops, parking spaces, pocket parks etc) and using plant-based methods of increasing water catchment to alleviate flooding (Think City, 2021). Given the rising threat of heat waves especially in sweltering tropical Malaysia, other cities are encouraged to follow their model as well.

Aside from the aforementioned solutions, NBS also include:

  • Coral reef and rainforest conservation;
  • Agricultural solutions, like using existing agrobiodiversity to increase biodiversity and landscape resilience to extreme events;
  • Rebuilding and stabilising river banks and wetlands;
  • Upsloping vegetation to reduce the risk of landslides.

Malaysia is a megadiverse country, and it is time to recognise that all of these solutions have a place in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. We should challenge the idea that climate risks must be tackled by gray infrastructure like dams and drainage systems, as there are better nature-based alternatives that address our socio environmental issues whilst restoring our relationship with nature and preserving habitats for wildlife.


In conclusion, biodiversity loss and natural resources not only have biophysical effects, but could also impact the survival of human society and its development. Whilst we could justify protecting our natural resources on moral principles alone, our session with Dr. Wong and our further research prove that there are practical reasons for conservation that greatly impact humanity and our daily lives. Proactive and efficient conservation regimes must be rolled out, or we must prepare for the worst possible outcome if it is business as usual.


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Breaking down Malaysia’s climate commitments

Breaking down Malaysia’s climate commitments

Breaking down Malaysia’s climate commitments

Written by: Dhaartshini, Lim Kah Yau, Nat Zhai, Robin Goon 

Malaysia updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in August, stating its intention to unconditionally reduce economy-wide carbon intensity (against gross domestic product [GDP]) of 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. This is the first modification made to its NDCs, which were first submitted in 2015, and it represents a 10% increase in ambition.

In the previous version, Malaysia committed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity of GDP by 35% unconditionally and a further 10% conditional upon receipt of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed countries, by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

With this new NDC, it is worthwhile pondering if this increased ambition indicates that Malaysia has taken significant strides to mitigate GHG emissions in the past few years, and whether it has received sufficient assistance from developed countries. 

This article will aim to answer this question and also highlight where Malaysia could potentially do better to meet its climate commitments. 

For context, NDCs are submitted by countries who are parties to the Paris Agreement, reflecting the commitment by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to impacts of climate change. Every five years, an updated NDC has to be sent to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, and each successive NDC must show progress from the previous version.

The achievement of NDCs are not legally binding. Signatories to the Paris Agreement are only legally obligated to submit an NDC. Additionally, developing countries do not have to adopt economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets as developed countries do. 

That is why some developing countries like Malaysia have opted to use reduction in emissions per unit of GDP as a target for its NDC. Emissions intensity refers to the GHG emissions per unit of economic activity, measured by the GDP levels. The downside of emissions intensity targets is that emissions can actually increase if the GDP increases. In contrast, an absolute GHG target results in an absolute reduction of GHG emissions. 

What is Malaysia doing to meet the NDCs?

Over the years, Malaysia has received financial or capacity building assistance from the Global Environment Facility, Germany, United Kingdom and other parties in various areas. The country has also introduced many policies to reduce GHG emissions. 

Malaysia’s NDC implementation time frame is from 2021 to 2030. Several important, new, national-level policies are also scheduled to be introduced in the near future. 

To understand what Malaysia has been doing to meet the NDCs so far, one can look at the country’s biennial update reports (BUR) to the UNFCCC, which is required of Paris Agreement signatories. 

In Malaysia’s third BUR submitted in 2020 (latest data from 2016), the emissions avoidance recorded comes from three main sectors: energy, waste and forestry. 

Chart 1: Summary of emissions avoidance achieved in 2016 

Mitigation actions in the forestry, energy and waste sectors contributed the most to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Malaysia

Source: Malaysia third BUR

From this table, one can see that most emissions avoidance was achieved by the forestry sector (20,307.5 Gg CO2 eq), followed far behind by the energy sector (9266.3 Gg CO2 eq) and the waste sector (6315.6 Gg CO2 eq). CO2 eq (equivalent) is a measure used to compare emissions from different GHG based on their global warming potential. 

Evidently, Malaysia relied heavily on the forestry sector — reducing deforestation, sustainable management of permanent reserved forest, forest certification schemes and other actions — to reduce emissions. 

How is Malaysia doing now?

Malaysia became a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter from 2004 onwards. 

The majority of emissions come from the energy sector, followed by waste and industrial processes and product use (IPPU). The Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector has been crucial to remove GHG emissions. However, it has not kept pace with the increase in emissions from other sectors, which explains why Malaysia became a net GHG emitter. 

Chart 2: The annual total GHG emissions from 1990-2016

Malaysia became a net greenhouse gas emitter from 2004 onwards

Source: Malaysia third BUR

As to where Malaysia stands currently with regards to its NDC target, the 12th Malaysia Plan indicates that Malaysia has achieved 29.4% reduction in GHG emissions intensity per unit of GDP by the end of 2016, compared to 2005 levels. 

Nevertheless, more actions that could contribute to the NDC target are coming up. A NDC Roadmap and National Adaptation Plan are expected to be introduced in these two years. Furthermore, the new Minister of Environment and Water has stated that a framework to improve and enforce climate change laws, a new carbon trading scheme and changes to the National Greenhouse Gases Inventory Centre are among the 10 key performance indicators for the ministry. 

A new renewable energy target of 31% and 40% by 2025 and 2035 in installed capacity was announced in July, the majority of which will be generated in the form of solar energy in Peninsular Malaysia at least until 2025. 

Meanwhile, the dominance of coal power plants in Peninsular Malaysia will be replaced by natural gas power plants from 2030 onwards, according to the Report on Peninsular Malaysia Generation Development Plan 2020. Utility-scale batteries will be installed from 2030 onwards to support renewable energy generation. 

Chart 3: Capacity Mix by Fuel (%) (2021-2039)

The dominance of coal as a fuel for electricity generation is expected to be replaced by natural gas in Peninsular Malaysia by 2030 

Source: Report on Peninsular Malaysia Generation Development Plan 2020

All these could be reasons why the government is confident that it can achieve the new NDC target, which it previously stated that it could only achieve with assistance from developed countries. 

How can Malaysia do better?

An argument for Malaysia to be more ambitious is that it could do much more to reduce emissions in the energy sector, particularly in terms of promoting renewable energy. 

This does not necessarily mean the country should increase its dependence on large-scale hydropower. 

The inclusion of hydropower in its energy supply was spurred by the Four-Fuel Diversification Policy in 1981 and the presence of large rivers with suitable elevation in nearly all Malaysian states. However, large-scale hydropower plants have resulted in the loss of land for many indigenous tribes in Malaysia, who have made their voices heard through protests. Environmental damage due to the submerging of huge tracts of land is also another contested topic. 

Instead, Malaysia could focus its efforts on increasing renewable energy generation from solar power and other sources, be it through expanded quotas for Feed-in Tariff (FiT), Net Energy Metering (NEM), Large Scale Solar (LSS) schemes; promotion of self-consumption schemes; or introduction of electricity market reforms that enable peer-to-peer trading, third party grid access and offsite RE generation.

Malaysia’s strategic location near the equator, coupled with its existing high energy reserve margins, substantiate its potential for more aggressive solar energy policies. In fact, some industry leaders have complained that current policies, such as the quota for RE in the electricity generation capacity mix, are limiting the adoption of renewable energy in the country. 

On the other hand, Malaysia’s reliance on LULUCF removals to meet its NDC target is a risk due to the continued encroachment of human activities into forest reserves, as seen with the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve degazettement by the Selangor government recently. The degazettement was only revoked after much public protest.

Additionally, the ability of trees to rapidly absorb carbon weakens with the warming planet. This drop in carbon sink effectiveness due to climate variability has also been “projected with high confidence” in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. A more worrisome consequence of unchecked climate change is that resulting occurrences such as forest fires may reverse the function of these sinks and instead, turn it into a carbon source.

What will it take?

While it is good to introduce comprehensive policies to tackle climate change, it is equally important to have consistent and good execution, as well as sufficient political will to enact lasting and impactful change. Malaysia has a mixed track record on this. 

The country’s actions towards a more sustainable economy started in the 1980s, with the government then adopting the Four-Fuel and Five-Fuel Diversification policies to wean Malaysia off petroleum dependence and diversify into natural gas, coal, hydropower and renewable energy. The plans were a success. By the end of 1995, Malaysia’s dependence on oil had reduced from almost 90% to less than 15%. 

Chart 4: Timeline of core national policies that drive the resource supply utilization in Malaysia

Malaysia began diversifying its energy source to include natural gas, hydropower and renewable energy in the 1980s

Source: The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies 

The Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), which pays renewable energy generators a premium rate over a period of time, was introduced in 2011. The quota for solar is no longer available, but FiT for biomass, biogas and small-hydro are still open. In 2016, the FiT was replaced by the NEM as the cost of solar panel installation became competitive.

However, the take-up rate for NEM quotas by 2018 was low because renewable energy generators had to sell electricity at a low displacement cost. This was corrected to a 1:1 offset basis in 2018. Subsequently, the quota taken up by commercial and industrial customers in nine months was three times more than what was achieved in the previous three years. 

These examples show that with sufficient political will, adjusting Malaysia’s energy portfolio is doable. However, ambiguities persist in some policy implementations. 

In the transportation sector, Kimura (2018) illustrated that the National Electric Mobility Blueprint  was intended to strengthen Malaysia’s electric mobility ecosystem and charging infrastructure. However, action on electric vehicle (EV) policies are minimal as of 2021. Instead, the National Automotive Policy (NAP) focused on the development of Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEVs). While this is laudable, it is not exactly expanding the implementation of electric mobility ecosystems. 

There is also the issue of policy inconsistency in Malaysia. In his unveiling of the National Forestry Policy in March, former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin highlighted the need to be proactive in conservation. A month after that, he unveiled the National Mineral Industry Transformation Plan 2021-2030, which intends to open swathes of land for mineral resources exploration. This dichotomy within the government reflects a lack of political will and direction in meeting Malaysia’s NDC.

All in all, Malaysia has taken many steps to meet its NDC, but there is much that could be improved, especially in terms of promoting renewable energy generation, protecting forest reserves as a carbon sink and in ensuring proper implementation of policies and roadmaps. Malaysia can increase its NDC target, but this will have to be followed with strong commitment, political will and transparency from all stakeholders. 


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About Malaysian Youth Delegation

Established in 2015, Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) is a youth-led organization in Malaysia, which focuses on climate change policy and negotiations, providing a platform for curious and interested youths to explore the world of climate agreements. MYD strives to educate the public on climate change policy by organizing training sessions and public talks. MYD also regularly engages with the Government of Malaysia on climate change policies. 

For more information, visit or email at 

Water and Climate Change Youth Survey Report: Article #1

Water and Climate Change Youth Survey Report: Article #1

Water and Climate Change Youth Survey Report: Article #1

Written by: Rahim Ismail and Zhee Qi.

With contributions from Farisah, Felix Culas, Janak Preet Kaur, Jasreena Kaur, and Reza Abedi.

In August 2020, the Malaysia Prime Minister’s Office launched a research study — the Water Sector Transformation 2040 (WST 2040) to investigate water sector reform, aiming to transform it into a “dynamic growth engine for the country”. Water is a crucial element needed to sustain life and the ecosystem, which in turn regulates the water cycle; if ecosystems are disrupted, both water insecurity and climate change will escalate.

Water and sanitation have been formally recognized as human rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 and 2015, respectively. Further, international human rights laws also imposed obligations on countries to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The Climate Change Impact and Adaptation task force of WST 2040 engaged members of the Malaysian Youth Delegation to develop a youth survey, aimed to collate the youth’s opinions and their policy recommendations on climate change and the local water sector. It was open for responses from the 26th of February 2021 to the 4th of April 2021, and successfully garnered valid responses from a total of 168 youths. The definition of youths here was based on that provided by the Children and Youth constituency to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO), which defines youths as people aged between 18-35.

Figure 1: Distribution of participants’ main sources of water

The survey showed that 96% of the participants view access to drinking water and sanitation as a human right, with 1% in disagreement and 3% indicating they “don’t know”. It was also found that 96% of Malaysian youths are dependent on a single water supply, and this can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 2: Distribution of participants’ main sources of water, by location (urban/rural)

Based on Figure 2, most participants are dependent on tap water and followed by bottled water. Notably, almost all participants that source water from wells, streams, rivers, and lakes are based in rural regions.

Water hazards may disrupt the water supply for a substantial amount of time, hence relying on a sole source of water weakens water security. This situation leaves society vulnerable to health risks due to the limited access to sanitation and basic needs.

Figure 3: Participants’ awareness of climate change risks

The issue of having a sole water source is connected to climate risks as well as water hazards. As shown in Figure 3, out of 106 participants who answered, most were aware of at least five climate risks out of the seven presented. This result indicates a good general understanding of climate change among most participants.

Figure 4: Water related hazards experienced by participants

According to Figure 4, the most common water hazards experienced by the participants are water rationing/cuts and floods. As responded in the survey, steps have been taken by the respondents’ municipalities — with the majority of measures being a temporary supply of alternative water sources and improvements to supply infrastructure — both of which may have been actions taken to solely address the water cuts.

Figure 5: Municipal action against water related hazards experienced

With reference to Figure 5, although the statistics reflect that most municipalities have taken the initiative to mitigate water cuts, most are temporary measures. Only a small percentage of municipalities were identified to be implementing long-term measures. The number of participants who experienced flood outnumbered participants whose municipalities implemented damage prevention measures by almost three-fold. Even more concerning is that 14% of participants live in municipalities that have not carried out any measures to address the hazards.

Further querying the aforementioned personal experiences of youth with water cuts and floods found that human wellbeing and ecosystem health are the top concerns of youth in Malaysia when discussed in relation to water security. The result is analogous to the definition of water security as stated in Bakker et al. (2013) as “sustainable access on a watershed basis to adequate quantities of water of acceptable quality to ensure human and ecosystem health”.

The respondents are also concerned about the frequent water pollution issues and agreed that one of the problems is that the current regulations or laws regarding water pollution allow large corporations to escape with only punishments. These concerns correspond to the most voted statement by the respondents which was that irresponsible parties who are deteriorating the water sources and natural environment should be penalized with strict and transparent punishments. This delineates their vote for the government to introduce heftier penalties to address the issues.

Essentially, the findings demonstrate that most municipalities — even those within the more developed and urban areas, are not mobilizing their resources efficiently to withstand the impending threat of climate risks.

At this juncture, it is then pertinent to discuss the Environmental Quality Act (EQA) 1974 — the foundational document of water governance in Malaysia. The EQA tables the guidelines on prevention and controlling of environmental pollution, which includes water and the punishments to those involved in environmentally detrimental actions. The lack of enforcement of the EQA can be manifested through the frequent recurrence of water pollution recently due to the inadequacy of fines imposed (Keeton-Olsen, 2020). Water policies in Malaysia were made individually by states on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, states do not have a centralised policy to adopt and this results in the existence of various acts and guidelines on water.

Water security is a wicked problem due to it being a highly politicized and complex issue. The potential impacts of uncertainties such as climate change risks can further threaten water security. The National Water Resources Policy (NWRP) was tabled in 2012 by the government to serve as a comprehensive guide to aid water and water resource governance in Malaysia. The policy takes into account various reports and studies from related stakeholders and emphasizes the plan to sustain and secure water resources for human and environmental needs. As water security is a cross-ministerial problem, NWRP complements existing policies from different ministries (Ministry of National Resources and Environment, 2012).

In the wake of the water pollution events in September 2020, which affected one million people in the Klang Valley, the Ministry of Water and Environment (KASA) introduced the Environmental Crime Prevention Unit (UCJAS). The establishment of UCJAS is aimed to strengthen the implementation of the EQA, Water Services Industry Act 2006, and Biosecurity Act 2007 (KASA, 2020). UCJAS also acts as a repository for environmental crimes which can be used to accelerate the investigation and legal response.

 All in all, youths who participated in the survey are aware about the ongoing environmental issues and are negatively affected by the impacts. Water security is seen to jeopardize both human wellbeing and environmental health. Environmental criminals should be held accountable and more severe punishment should be imposed. The Government has various instruments to tackle these problems but their efficacy is still in question. Also, information surrounding the performance of the implementation of these policies are not made sufficiently accessible to the public. The increased awareness of environmental issues among youths can be viewed as progress in the sustainable development and climate change mitigation and adaptation scene. Therefore, more opportunities should be provided to the youths to participate in decision-making processes and more transparency in information sharing should be practiced, especially when it affects the livelihoods of fellow Malaysians.


1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nation Habitat, World Health Organization. Fact Sheet No. 35, The Right to Water, August 2010, available from

2. Keeton-Olsen, D. (2020, December 23). Pollution, water cuts strengthen calls for environmental law reform in Malaysia. Mongabay Environmental News. Retrieved from

3. Bakker, K., Dunn, G., Norman, E., Allen, D., Cook, C., Albuquerque, R., & Simpson, S. (2013, January). Water Security Indicators: The Canadian Experience. Global Water Partnership.

4. Ministry of National Resources and Environment. (2020, September 15). Penubuhan Unit Cegah Jenayah Alam Sekitar (UCJAS) – Kerjasama Strategik Antara Kementerian Alam Sekitar dan Air (KASA) Dengan Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN).

5. Ministry of National Resources and Environment. (2012). National Water Resources Policy.

6. General Assembly resolution 64/292, The human right to water and sanitation, A/RES/64/292 (28 July 2010), available from

7. General Assembly resolution 70/169, The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, A/RES/70/169 (17 December 2015), available from