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

MYD Position Statement on the Climate Ambition Summit 2020

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.” [1] 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” [2] while Suriname enhanced its National Adaptation Plan [3].

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).” [4] 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.” [5] 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 [6]. 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.

Demystifying Climate Finance

With COVID-19 impacting climate finance flows, meeting the $100bn goal is crucial to ensuring no one gets left behind. As the largest providers of climate finance, France, along with the EU, made an enormous contribution in 2019 of €23.2 billion in climate finance, a 6.9% increase compared to 2018. [7]

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 [8] 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.


Youth and Climate Change in Malaysia

Youth and Climate Change in Malaysia

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. 

Environmentalist groups holding placards to demands greater Government action on climate change-based initiatives and policies during #MYClimateRally organised by pressure group Klima Action Malaysia (Kamy) at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. adib rawi yahya/theSun

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. 

Is ASEAN Critical to its Regional Climate Actions?

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. 


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Written by: Chew Ai Hui, Fathi Rayyan, Liyana Yamin, Rahim Ismail