What can COVID-19 teach us about handling climate change?
Article by: Bryan Yong Bo Ou, Saef Wan, Zue Wei Leong, Robin Goon Wooi Yeang, Justin Liew Jin Soong, Tan Win Sim & Rahim Ismail
The world is at a standstill due to the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In Malaysia, we are seeing small victories in a slow decrease of daily cases with a relatively high recovery rate of 80% (Ministry of Health, 2020) as businesses cautiously return to operation. However, it still remains that COVID-19 continues to claim thousands of lives, push healthcare infrastructures to breaking points and debilitate the global economy. As the crisis rages on, governments around the world are under scrutiny for their lack of national priority and adequate preparation, weak policies preceding the outbreak and lacklustre responses.
Unfortunately, a parallel can be drawn between the current situation and climate change issues. In this article, we will elaborate on how the Malaysian government can improve its climate change approach by examining the lessons learned from this devastating pandemic.
Effective Leadership Requires A Clear National Priority
Currently, the national priority of every country is to act quickly and decisively on managing the COVID-19 crisis. Regardless of their respective styles of government, we are seeing a rare but not impossible exercise of political will translating directly into policy and substantive action, albeit to varying degrees of success. Here, we provide a comparative analysis of different countries to explore the governing practices and political styles that could more effectively address a crisis and can be emulated in the context of climate policy.
Despite views that a strong centralised management is preferable in dealing with a pandemic, there have been more promising results when a delicate balance is struck between central federal power and regional state power. This is because sub-national authorities are able to finetune approaches according to the specific needs of their localities, learn lessons from successful neighboring states and even ward off potentially misguided decisions made by the federal government. For example, the model in Germany yielded favourable results as Angela Merkel’s strong presence in the central government still allowed for important decisions to be made by local governments. As such, it may be advisable for countries to encourage cooperation between regional and central governments on the issue of climate change to find viable, tailored and effective solutions.
Furthermore, available data has shown that whether a government is democratic or autocratic does not determine their success in handling a crisis. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of China’s success in keeping its number of new cases down in a relatively short time period and Iran’s inability to produce similar results. In addition, there have been varying degrees of success across the democratic countries, from South Korea and Germany to the United States and Italy.
Meanwhile, bureaucratic agility and evidence-based governance have proved to be essential in managing the pandemic. This is most evident in the relatively successful Taiwanese and South Korean models, where evidence-based procedures were proactively and preemptively constructed. These procedures featured a strong emphasis on data transparency, information sharing vis-à-vis rapid implementation of contact tracing technologies and rigorous briefings by the government. Malaysia should consider applying this scientific and technology-based approach to anticipate and handle a climate crisis.
Drawing a parallel to climate change, the Paris Agreement allows its signatories across the world a large margin of flexibility when providing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on fighting climate change. NDCs are decided by national governments based on their own capacities and priorities. Therefore, this is an opportunity for Malaysian government to prioritise and follow up the climate agenda with clear strategies and actionable solutions, just as they are doing during the COVID-19 disaster.
Preparation is Key
Generally, the countries that were prepared and equipped to provide large-scale healthcare services, with established institutions and comprehensive patient access systems, experienced a far less devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and were in a better position to respond effectively to the crisis. This can be seen in countries, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Germany and Malaysia, which have sufficient national capacity to accommodate their goals of universal healthcare. As climate change may be just as devastating a crisis as COVID-19, we ask whether Malaysia is equally prepared to tackle climate change in terms of policy and institutional establishment.
Malaysia experiences a multitude of climate change impacts within the dimensions of agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, water resources, coastal and marine resources, public health, infrastructure and housing and energy. It is crucial for Malaysia to take appropriate steps to prepare for a climate crisis. To bring this point closer to home, this article will present case studies on agriculture, food security and flooding in Malaysia to illustrate that the government needs more effort to face current and future climate issues.
Agriculture and Food Security
Covid-19 affects overarching stakeholders of the food supply value chain and it covers all the processes which connect farm production to the final consumer as countries have taken proactive measures such as home confinement, lockdown and borders’ closure. Farmers working across borders or had to travel further are restricted to go to work despite agriculture being deemed essential. Farmers are facing disruptions in sudden decline of demand as people’s spending capacity in this uncertainty period owing to reduced income and job losses. For example, the Cambodian Farmer Federation Association of Agriculture Producers (CFAP) mentioned that the farmers in Cambodia are facing several hiccups to market the local produce in the absence of collectors that act as the major means of transportation (World Farmers’ Organisation, 2020).
Food insecurity has severely threatened the livelihoods of 820 million or about one in every nine people around the world even before Covid-19 (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 2019). In this pandemic scenario, without timely and effective policies, a slight shortage of food supply will trigger a massive impact to the vulnerable segments of population including migrants, the displaced, and those in conflict areas who are already grappling with hunger and other crises (FAO, 2020). The period between March and May is particularly fertile for various fruits and vegetables. Covid-19 has limited the amount of marketable produce and it leads to food wastage by leaving surplus perishable items dumped at farms (Food Forward, 2020).
Homogeneously, the agricultural sector in the worsened climate will jeopardize non-traditional food security. As the agricultural ecosystem heavily depends on good climate, the changes lead to the disruptions on agricultural climate elements especially on temperature, precipitation, and sunlight with further implication to the arable and hydrology sectors. In arable sectors, climate change affects the seasons, quality and shift of areas suitable for cultivation (Kim, 2014). Current literature proves that the expected reduction in crop yields because of climate change will impact the agriculture sector significantly. Vaghefi et al.(2011) stated that RM162.53 million will be lost annually in the Malaysian rice industry with a 2°C increase in temperature. An analysis of 28 years of data shows that the increase of 1°C and 1mm in rainfall would decrease the yield of paddy between 43% and 61% (Ali and Ali, 2009). Even though Malaysia is a rapidly developing country, it has not yet reached self-sufficiency in the production of food to be able to sustain its population in the climate change worsened future (Alam, 2014).
In 2015, Malaysia’s Agriculture and Agro-Based Ministry recorded RM299 million loss in several states in the agricultural sector due to the damage of produce, infrastructure, and assets. Another post-flood study focusing on Kelantan in 2015 found agricultural losses incurred by farmers at 5% level of significance for almost all the reported crops, livestock, and agricultural assets (A. Jega, 2018).
Flooding in Malaysia
Climate change induces more severe and frequent weather events, such as monsoon rainfalls. Malaysia as a country with two monsoonal seasons might experience increasing frequency and magnitude of rain-induced flooding at river and coastal areas.. While the Integrated Shoreline Management Plan (ISMP) has been developed for coastal states to minimise flood risk and implement adaptation strategies, it has yet to be implemented throughout Malaysia(Mokhtar et al., 2019).
Malaysia’s economic activities are centred in dense areas which are vulnerable to flooding. Malaysia increasingly continues to build on vulnerable flood plains, without proper planning and flood risk assessments (Yeganeh and Sabri 2014). At this current point, the Malaysian government has to invest in building resilient communities and infrastructure. Strategies that have been recommended by scientists include the relocation of high-risk coastline cities, reducing paved areas, adding green roofs and using more absorptive pavement materials (Tan, 2020)
Furthermore, flooding is a threat to public health. A case study conducted in Malaysia also found a doubling of leptospirosis (a rare bacterial infection) cases post-flooding (Firdaus et al., 2018). With links to vector borne diseases, increased exposure to raw sewage and limited access to medical facilities, the World Health Organisation asserts that it is very likely that multiple epidemics will develop simultaneously during a flood crisis. Therefore, access to medical care systems in mitigating and adapting to floods must be considered.
In the best case scenarios of climate change impact, global access to clean water is predicted to drop to 22-24% due to flooding (Arnell and Lloyd-Hughes 2014). This will have a disproportionate impact on native and rural communities as their existing access to clean water, medical care and emergency services are already limited. As flooding events worldwide are expected to increase by 66% over the next 30 years due to climate change (Pregnolato, 2017), it is clear that the Malaysian government needs to address this impact of climate change. The National Adaptation Plan must consider risk planning, healthcare infrastructure, emergency services and resource mobilisation.
Robust Policies and Strategies Leads to Effective Crisis Response and Management
The lack of climate policies as robust as health emergency policies in Malaysia
Reflecting on Malaysia’s experience with SARS, MERS, and H1N1, the effectiveness of our COVID-19 response must be credited to the healthcare emergency policies. The Ministry of Health devised a health emergency work plan (MySED II 2017-2021) and a Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre in 2007 to prepare and respond to pandemics like COVID-19. However, when it comes to climate change, Malaysia has yet to formulate any action plan for climate mitigation, adaptation, or disaster risk management in line with Paris Agreement guidelines.
Call for strengthening climate commitment
At the international level, Malaysia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, SDG 2030 Agenda and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction(SFDRR). However, we have not yet seen the same level of ambition reflected in our international and local climate commitments. Malaysia’s Nationally Determined Contributions(NDCs) to the UNFCCC was unambitious to contribute to a limited global warming of 1.5°C. Moreover, the topic of climate change and disaster risk management was only recently and vaguely mentioned as part of the 11th Malaysia Plan mid-term review.
The priority for Malaysia as a developing economy requires evidence-based mitigation and adaptation policies. Mitigation refers to the reduction or stabilisation of current levels of greenhouse gases, while adaptation refers to the reduction of vulnerabilities and building resilience in light of current or expected climate change impacts.
Moving forward, Malaysia needs to urgently begin preparing the country to face climate change. Firstly, the government needs to draft implementable policies and specific mitigation and adaptation plans. Secondly, it needs to produce a legal framework to enforce climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. As the Climate Change Centre has been established, this is a great opportunity for Malaysia to convene experts to address pertinent climate change issues. This is a crucial avenue for long-term planning and inter-ministerial coordination. Since 2018, the previous government had expressed commitment to draft a National Climate Change Act. We hope that the government continues on with this effort to address climate change.
In the long run, Malaysia will need to implement more comprehensive climate change mitigation policies to cut emission rates, increase the capacity of carbon sinks and reduce levels of greenhouse gases.
The lessons learned from the collective experience of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic should be utilized by governments of all levels in shaping their policies to deal with the already-present symptoms of a bigger climate crisis.
Alam, M. M. et al. (2016) ‘Climate change and food security of the Malaysian east coast poor: a path modeling approach’, Journal of Economic Studies, 43(3), pp. 458–474. doi: 10.1108/JES-10-2014-0169.
Ali, R. & Ali, A.K. 2009. Estimating the Prospective Impacts of Global Warming on Malaysian Agriculture. Proceeding of 2nd National Conference on Agro-Environment 2009, MARDI, Malaysia, Mar 24-26.
Arnell, N.W., Lloyd-Hughes, B. The global-scale impacts of climate change on water resources and flooding under new climate and socio-economic scenarios. Climatic Change 122, 127–140 (2014).https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0948-4
COVID-19 (Latest Updates) (2020) Ministry of Health Malaysia. Available at: https://www.moh.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/2019-ncov-wuhan (Accessed: 18 May 2020).
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. (2019). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns. Rome: FAO.
FAO. (2020). Q&A: COVID-19 Pandemic – impact on food and agriculture. (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) Retrieved June 4, 2020, from http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/q-and-a/impact-on-food-and-agriculture/en/
Hankla, C., Martinez-Vazquez, J. and Ponce Rodríguez, R., 2019. Local Accountability And National Coordination In Fiscal Federalism. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited. ISBN: 978 1 78897 217 8
Hooper, E., Chapman, L., and Quinn, A. (2014). “Investigating the impact of precipitation on vehicle speeds on UK motorways.” Meteorol. Appl.,21(2), 194–201.
Huong H T L, Pathirana A (2013) Urbanization and climate change impacts on future urban flooding in Can Tho city, Vietnam Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17:379–394
Jega, A. A. et al. (2018) ‘Assessing Agricultural Losses of 2014 / 2015 Flood Disaster in Kelantan , Malaysia’, 4(1), pp. 407–415.
Kim, C. (2014). The Impact of Climate Change on the Agricultural Sector. Seoul: Korean Rural Economic Institute.
Mokhtar, A. et al. (2020) ‘Planning the Malaysian Coastline – Integrated Shoreline Management Plan’, Apac 2019, pp. 1169–1176. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-0291-0_160.
Pregnolato M, Ford A, Glenis V, Wilkinson S, Dawson R (2018). Impact of Climate Change on Disruption to Urban Transport Networks from Pluvial Flooding Journal of Infrastructure Systems Volume 23 Issue 4
Sutchiewcharn N, Saffioti C (2019). Understanding Flood Risk in Malaysia through Catastrophe Modeling Brink The Edge of Risk
Vaghefi, N. et al. (2011) ‘The economic impacts of climate change on the rice production in Malaysia’, International Journal of Agricultural Research. doi: 10.3923/ijar.2011.67.74.
WHO (2014) Floods and Health World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe
World Farmers’ Organisation. (2020). Covid-19 Pandemic Outbreak: Overview of the Impact on the Agricultural Sector. Rome: WFO.
Yeganeh N, Sabri S (2014) Flood Vulnerability Assessment in Iskandar Malaysia Using Multi-criteria Evaluation and Fuzzy Logic Research Journal of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology 8(16): 1794-1806
Below are summaries by MYD members on what they learned from Study Session 1 with En. Ridzwan Ali from KASA.
En Ridzwan’s session was very comprehensive in the sense that there was a detailed exploration on the history and mechanism of the UNFCCC and PA. Not only that, he also touched on how Malaysia’s Climate Change Policies might look like post-2020, which to me, was the most important takeaway during his session. With the restructuring of MESTECC to MOSTI, as well as the confusion that came along with it, I thought that it was imperative that we were informed of what the current Ministry had planned in terms of climate change and environmental policies.
En Ridzwan highlighted that to support the implementation of Malaysia’s NDCs, Rancangan Malaysia Ke-12 (RMK12) and Rancangan Malaysia Ke-13 (RMK13) would be crucial. RMK12 is meant to be implemented from the year 2021-2025 and would include items such as: the Development of the National Climate Change Act, the National Adaptation Plan, Enhancing Mitigation Modeling and Climate Change Projection, and, Enhancing Capacity and Technical Experts on Climate Change. Personally, I am excited by the prospect of Malaysia having its own National Adaptation Plan as it is important for us to plan and anticipate for future weather events that will affect the livelihoods of our people.
MYD’s first study session with En. Ridzwan was extremely fruitful. He helped us understand the UNFCCC’s structure and negotiation process by simplifying the technicalities. It was very appropriate for those who are just beginning to understand the international climate negotiations. The session started off with the basic structure, followed by the very significant timeline of the climate negotiations; from the Kyoto Protocol and all its amendments, to the Paris Agreement right up to the future negotiations (SBs-52 Bonn until COP 29 and beyond).
Furthermore, the session not only taught us how the process works, but also where it may be improved. We now understand the major points of the Paris Agreement which needs to be seriously considered, namely implementation plans for Article 6 and a common time frame for the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). En. Ridzwan also shared several other important negotiations which need considerable attention such as Implementation of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture and financial support for loss & damage to name a couple. From this understanding, we as a youth climate organization which purpose is to advocate for climate policies can shift our focus to these pressing topics in order to attain maximum and relevant impact.
Towards the end of the session En. Ridzwan shed some light on the negotiations’ impact on Malaysia. Among the impacts, he presented Malaysia’s commitment as a country, which mainly required the procurement of significant documents on a timely basis such as the Biennial Transparency Report (BTR) and National Inventory Report (NIR), which needs to be produced every 2 years. Following this, he noted Malaysia’s limitations in producing these reports which include the lack of capabilities for gathering necessary data. Lastly, he shared Malaysia’s plans under RANCANGAN MALAYSIA KE-12 (RMK-12), (of which it should be noted are uncertain due to the change in government) for the next decade on climate change which includes the Development of National Climate Change Act among others. Knowing this, there is no better time to advocate for pressing issues to be adopted in Malaysia’s climate policy.
I am extremely thankful that En Ridzwan has agreed to spend his weekend with us to share his experiences with climate negotiation and the importance of the soon to be fully enforced Paris Agreement. En Ridzwan’s session was informative but not too heavy. He managed to conduct it with a friendly tone and was very responsive to our questions. I found his sharing of the proposed Rancangan Malaysia Ke-12 (RMK-12) to be the most exciting. He explained how the National Climate Change Act development, enhancement on capacity, and the introduction of economic instruments are within the proposed enhancement for the upcoming RMK.
As someone who is relatively new to the topic of climate negotiations, En Ridzwan’s session managed to give me an extremely optimistic prospect to look forward to. It was very enlightening to hear him speak on how the Ministry has been heavily involved in climate negotiations. It may be disheartening to hear about how certain projects have been put on a temporary halt due to the transition of governments. However, hearing how the Ministry is being restructured with the possibility of an increase in the workforce goes to show that climate work is given weight by the current government. I look forward to watching the country progress towards a greener direction.
However, I was also extremely intrigued by the mention of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which concerns the carbon credit trading market. The general idea is that countries who struggle to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions can purchase carbon credits from other countries to remain within their carbon emission reduction target. In exchange, the money paid can be used by the latter country to further improve infrastructure on reducing carbon emission. But the negotiation on this point has been unsuccessful for two consecutive years in the Conferences of Parties (COP) held respectively in Katowice and Madrid. Given the carbon market’s bad track record on human rights violations, it made me wonder about the feasibility of such a market. After all, the most affected by climate change are always the most oppressed community. A balance to it can be and should be found.
The MYD Study Session with Mr Ridzwan was eye-opening. I learnt a lot about the origins of the Paris Agreement as a whole, as well as Malaysia’s future plans in line with the climate crisis. A topic that certainly piqued my interest was the Internationally Transferable Mitigation Outcomes (ITMO) under Article 6. This voluntary multilateral trading system certainly seems like an upgrade from the Clean Development Mechanism implemented under the Kyoto Protocol. Mr Ridzwan suggested that Malaysia should switch to a service-based economy to be a high-income developing country. I disagree with his view. Switching to a tertiary economic structure would push the manufacturing burden to other countries. This would not reduce the global carbon demand.
A point Mr Ridzwan raised that is undeniable is the lack of manpower and resources in Malaysia. We need more experts and funding to support adaptation and mitigation measures at state and federal levels. However, as things stand, the National Climate Change Act in works seems promising. Let us see what the future holds for adaptation and mitigation in Malaysia.
Nobody doubts that Paris Agreements, its history, and implementations can be such a heavy topic at times. Studying its history and relevance to countries would be a huge task to do. But it is not the case on the first MYD Study Sessions of the year where En. Ridzwan of MEWA delivered a fun and engaging lecture about the topic. The way En.Ridzwan delivered the topic showed his vast experience and expertise on the topic.
From the session, I realized that climate negotiations are not all about saving the planet by keeping greenhouse gases emission low or keeping the world temperature well below 2℃. Economic agenda still plays a vital role in influencing nations’ take on the negotiations. I realized this when En. Ridzwan explained how carbon credit was a failure when the European Union established their own carbon credit market (EU Emissions Trading System), and how developed countries are reluctant to push the agenda because they think the agreements are not fair due to the developing countries mainly just “sit back and relax” without the obligations to put any financial nor technological commitments as En. Ridzwan explained it. I hope that in the near future cooperation between developed and developing countries can be improved and the gap between them narrowed. Time is against us.
It was refreshing when En. Ridzwan mentioned that Malaysia aims to become the leader in climate change mitigation and adaptation particularly in Southeast Asia. With the implementation of Rancangan Malaysia Ke-12 and Ke-13 (RMK12 and RMK13), we do not know what the future might hold for Malaysia and it’s climate change ambition, but things are optimistic. What could be a better time to advocate critical issues in Malaysia’s climate policy than now?
MYD follows developments in climate policy to help connect society and climate change. What demands will you make to the decision makers to avert the climate crisis?
The magnitude of the COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented and has been developing since late 2019. Currently, the number of reported cases is in the millions and will continue to climb in the foreseeable future. The ongoing pandemic has given us the opportunity to visualise the predicament when the Earth’s average surface temperature increases beyond 1.5ºC. It highlights the issues that need to be addressed for the climate crisis such as rampant misinformation, social inequality and the lack of sensible national leadership.
While an economic recession lurks in the future horizon, we must be aware of vulnerable communities that are affected the most in terms of health and financial wellbeing. At this juncture, national priorities need to be adapted where this pandemic serves as an opportunity for transformation. We acknowledge that comparing COVID-19 to climate change is akin to that of apples to oranges, but the crisis is in many ways inextricably interconnected. The message is clear: we have to act urgently with the available resources.
The case for climate crisis
For the rest of the 21st century, we face a world that is gradually warming. A recent study references 9 tipping points that can be triggered by climate change, which may lead to irreversible consequences like a “hothouse Earth”. However, the story is yet to be written and we can change this precarious narrative by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC. We need vigorous mitigation and adaptation strategies that call for the same urgency and scale as our response to COVID-19. The global reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic proves that the world is capable of taking collective action, but only if the priority is aligned, in this case, to reduce economic losses and save human lives.
Climate change has been an important agenda item to the international community since the 1980s. Researchers have been telling us that anthropogenic climate change is real and that it leads to disaggregated and disproportionate impacts around the world. Similar to COVID-19, the extent of impact of climate change can be context-specific, whereby factors such as socioeconomic status, resource availability and capacity can influence the susceptibility to such shocks. Furthermore, the global implications of COVID-19 reinforces the fact that under times of duress, the vulnerable population will be hit the hardest, particularly those who are in poverty, who have underlying health conditions and who are working in informal and service sectors. In India, where 90% of the workforce is in the informal sector, reports are coming on the fear of hunger preceding the fear of the virus; in the United States, a record number of 22 million individuals have filed for unemployment. While what we are experiencing under COVID-19 is a new reality with large and long-term implications, climate impacts will cast a darker and more permanent legacy.
We can draw parallels with the increasing severity of natural disasters due to climate change. In 2013, super typhoon Haiyan claimed 8,000 lives and caused up to USD $3 billion of damage. The disaster wrecked local economies and left 1.9 million homeless, causing many to seek refuge in nearby cities, including Manila. Research has already demonstrated that the future of climate change comes with huge economic losses. For example, one study shows that climate damage to global financial assets could cost between US$ 2.5 to 24.2 trillion by 2100. In the US alone, a business-as-usual scenario may cost up to 6% of the country’s GDP by the end of the century.
governments, institutions and establishments with power and authority must use their platforms to mobilize climate action that complements the efforts of non-state actors
There is an opportunity to implement a system of accountability to bridge the gap of inequality while addressing climate change. Data on historical emissions identifies the key contributors to anthropogenic climate change, allowing us to exercise the common but differentiated responsibility principle. A report by the UN Environment states that the world needs to cut annual emissions by 7.6% through 2030 to limit end-of-the-century global warming to 1.5ºC. We need to call upon states with significant emission footprints to take responsibility for their legacy by reducing emissions and by channeling capital and resources to areas that are, and will be, hardest hit by climate change. Other countries should continue to deliver actionable and transparent policies, with tangible objectives pursuing decarbonization.
At the core of climate change, we advocate to preserve the natural ecosystem from further damage and to uphold the sanctity of all life. The COVID-19 responses draw upon the recognition of the latter – being aware of the value of one’s and others’ life and that we are responsible to safeguard them. Garrett Hardin outlines the tragedy of the commons, whereby the ungoverned state of the natural world will continually be degraded. Without assigning accountability, society will undoubtedly suffer from self-inflicted negative externalities. The climate action narrative must extend beyond the argument of moral conscience to more equitable collective actions from governments and corporations alike. In particular, oil and gas companies need to pay for the cost of damages and invest in renewable energy.
The impacts of the climate crisis, impending as they may be, can still be minimised through comprehensive adaptation and long-term strategies. States need to increase their action to ensure that there are significant steps taken to implement mitigation and adaptation efforts, and they need to do this by marrying top-down and bottom-up approaches. The containment of COVID-19 is a great example of how both approaches work in tandem, particularly how top-down approaches mobilized bottom-up efforts to achieve efficiency. Strict top-down orders to #StayAtHome in an effort to #FlattenTheCurve is clearly communicated, supplemented with various strategies and stimulus packages. Institutions also did a great job in streamlining information and guidance on how to take personal precautions like standing 6-feet apart and washing your hands for 20 seconds. Responsible citizens are practicing social distancing to break chains of transmissions as well as mobilising efforts to support frontliners and marginalized communities. In the case of Malaysia, movements #KitaJagaKita and #MisiBantuOA were founded to channel essentials to affected communities.
In addressing the climate crisis, governments, institutions and establishments with power and authority must use their platforms to mobilize climate action that complements the efforts of non-state actors. Institutions and states should be more proactive in building climate resilience, rather than reacting to direct implications as we have done with COVID-19. More than ever, citizens require support for adaptation mechanisms to better prepare against the future. The stimulus packages prepared by states must not be a mechanism to bail out corporations and reestablish unsustainable practices. Fatih Birol asserted that these stimulus packages must be “focused on investing in clean energy technologies and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels”. The present dire state of the global economy requires a tremendous shift towards developing a low carbon, green economy.
Moving forward with the lessons from the global pandemic, we need to accept that the climate crisis lies around the corner and we are vulnerable to it. Accountable leadership is crucial in mobilizing the efforts and resources necessary to combat climate change in accordance with science. Compared to climate change, the response to COVID-19 has played out on a much shorter time scale, which demonstrates how we are keen to keep the status quo, much to the detriment of humankind. Traditional systems have failed to uphold the sanctity of life on an equitable level. Emerging from this global state, we need to remove the distorted lens of time and space that distracts from the urgency of the climate crisis. The only acceptable response to the climate crisis demands actions today, right now.
This position statement was written to persuade the Ministry of Environment and Water to consider adopting the term ‘climate change’ in its rebranding process.
On the 3rd of April, Malaysiakini published an article stating that the Ministry of Environment and Water (MEWA) is still undergoing a rebranding process. The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) presents this statement to appeal to the Ministry to add the term ‘climate change’ in addition to the term ‘environment’ in the Ministry’s new name.
The term ‘environment’ encompasses issues within the spectrum of the natural world which includes land, water, forestry, waste management, air quality, pollution and others. Departing from that, however, the term ‘climate change’ distinctively signifies the dangerous and accelerated rise in global temperature caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. This term has since gained its own magnitude and preference among the international climate change advocacy network since the founding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. In short, the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘environment’ are no longer simply interchangeable in today’s state of affairs.
Climate change affects many sectors worldwide including agriculture, fisheries, livestock, forestry, tourism, food, energy and health. The effects of climate change also threaten the collapse of ecosystems, extinction of animal species and the natural world. In relation to this, a Merdeka Centre survey in 2016 stated that a significant number of Malaysians (81%) are concerned about climate change and dissatisfied with the government’s efforts in managing it.
In brief, we believe in the significance of including the term ‘climate change’ in the name of the Ministry for the following reasons:
1. Having the term ‘climate change’ in the Ministry’s nomenclature would signify its mandate to address climate change, in line with Malaysia’s commitment in conventions and resolutions that it had signed or ratified which include the term climate change:
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Entered into force 1994, signed by Malaysia in 1993 and ratified in 1994.
Kyoto Protocol on UNFCCC. Drafted in 1997, ratified by Malaysia in 2002, came into force in 2005.
Paris Agreement as a replacement of the Kyoto Protocol under the UNFCCC signed by 197 parties. Adopted in December 2015, ratified by Malaysia and came into force in 2016.
Additionally, the implementation of the National Policy of Climate Change by the government in 2010, further supports the weightage given towards climate change on a national level.
2. Adding the term ‘climate change’ in its name, the Ministry will demonstrate that it recognizes climate change as a highly precipitous phenomenon that threatens the very existence of human societies. It would additionally serve as a guiding principle which influences the Ministry’s agenda-setting to be laser-focused on this state of emergency.
3. Globally, there are currently 6 governments only with ministries that have progressively embraced the term climate change: New Zealand, Canada, Finland, India, Pakistan, and UAE. It would serve as an opportunity for Malaysia to lead by example, especially in the ASEAN region, in showcasing its steadfast commitment to a global movement that impacts humanity across generations. This gives the government credibility and leverage in international negotiations on the issue of climate change.
4. It will allow for collaboration with other countries for the common cause of tackling climate change (e.g. Malaysia and UK climate change and low carbon initiative). This will foster strong connections with allies with the hopes of learning from their success stories and increasing technological exchange.
5. As climate change is now a global concern, including the term will increase the strength and presence of climate change initiatives in Malaysia. This may cultivate the interest of investors and create better investment opportunities in green technology.
6. The addition of ‘climate change’ will also emphasize the ministry’s position as the go-to in coordinating this matter across federal, state and local authorities to avoid duplication of efforts. This position also provides a direct avenue for climate advocacy NGOs, environmentalists, private sectors and the general public to coalesce with one another, engage with the Ministry and derive solutions on climate action.
7. The Ministry’s emphasis on climate change will increase support for climate change causes among the youth. It will allow for a chain effect to occur when the youth start taking initiatives and influence the people around them to partake in the government’s initiatives regarding climate change. Additionally, youth climate change advocacy groups will be able to sense the Ministry’s inclusivity.
8. The ‘finite pool of worry’ theory predicts that as concern over one issue (like economic survival) grows, concern over other issues (like climate change) will start to diminish. Given the current circumstances that the country is heaving through such as COVID-19 and the pre-existing resistance from some sectors of the public, there is more need to highlight climate change as a problem. Omitting the term ‘climate change’ from the name of the ministry may negatively impact the climate change cause.
9. It has been observed that the Ministry’s inclusion of the term ‘climate change’ in its name previously was effective in dealing with an expanse of issues involving climate change. There was more awareness of its importance and its impact was more perceived by the common public.
Humanity has less than 10 years to limit global heating to 1.5℃ according to the 2018 IPCC report by leading climate scientists. With all this considered, the Malaysian Youth Delegation calls for the Ministry of Environment and Water to:
1. Adopt the term “climate change” as part of the Ministry’s official name 2. Lead and coordinate the government ministries in sustainable climate action 3. Further develop contemporary climate change and related policies for the present and future generation.
Written by: Syaqil Suhaimi, Saef Wan, Liyana Yamin, Jen Ho, Ai Hui, Fathi Rayyan, Zhee Qi, Mahirah Marzuki, Sonia Kiew, Azierah Ansar, Alyaa See, Raudhah Ibrahim, Preveena Jayabalan, Ngiam Karyn, Meor Muhammad Hakeem, Bryan Yong
Malaysian Youth Delegation members met with the Mufti of Federal Territories, Datuk Seri Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri earlier this week. The purpose of the meeting was to engage with the office of the Mufti which holds authority over the religious affairs of Islamic communities in Malaysia.
We had the opportunity to converse over topics pertaining to climate change and how awareness level among Malaysians is currently low. The discourse on climate change in Malaysia is currently trapped inside a bubble among demographics which predominantly consists of educated and urban youths. Although climate change will ubiquitously impact people everywhere in the near future, it is not talked about enough in Malaysia.
Climate scientists predict that in Malaysia, vast areas will experience water shortage, extreme variations of rainfall, extreme heat, sea level rise, dry spells in certain areas and severe floods in others. In fact, the worst floods in Malaysia for the past 30 years have all occurred since the year 2003 and it does not look like the situation will ever let up.
These phenomena will destroy infrastructures, affect everyday access to jobs, strangle the country’s economy, and more importantly, threaten future livelihood. All this has not even included other external threats which will definitely arrive at the country’s shores like global food shortage, the climate refugee crisis, and so on. Thus, putting the climate crisis at the top of the national agenda is an urgent task.
However, challenges in communicating the climate crisis is immense. One of the main problems is that a lot of the materials related to the climate crisis are disseminated in English by using expressions and terminologies which are difficult for lay people. This further constricts the access to climate crisis discourse. Therefore, by engaging with figures like the Mufti, MYD hopes that people in the religious sector will increasingly pick up the discussion on the climate crisis and utilize their platforms to further the discourse in their own creative ways.
MYD members Saef and Aqil with the Federal Territories Mufti, Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri
The Mufti’s office received our engagement effort very well. During the brief session that we had, the Datuk Mufti concurred with our sentiments about the lack of awareness of climate crisis in Malaysia and expressed his concerns over other environmental issues as well. The Mufti opines that above everything else, the stress on the individual responsibility of Muslims is important so that they play their roles in supporting environmental and climate crisis causes.
Following this idea, he quotes a verse from chapter 8 of the Quran: “And fear the Fitnah (affliction and trial) which affects not only those of you who do wrong (but all people).” He explains that the Fitnah can also be understood in the form of environmental disasters like haze from wildfire or even sea level rise, thus explaining the importance for everyone, not just certain individuals, to act.
He is optimistic that individual responsibility, when collectively awakened, can help reduce carbon emissions across various societal and economic levels. For him, when a Muslim individual possesses this sense of responsibility, they will incorporate and implement climate positive attitudes within any form of capacity or authority that they have in companies, organisations or institutions.
The Mufti also notes that he is saddened by the state of environmental consciousness in Malaysia where plastic pollution is ravaging our rivers and oceans, and unbridled greed is driving businesses to invade forests and natural habitats to extract resources.
He adds that the consequence of this unrestrained way of life is unfortunately symbolized by the extinction of animal species such as the recent demise of Malaysia’s Sumatran rhino, Iman. The Mufti agrees that even though the environment goes through processes of natural change on its own, catastrophic environmental disasters in the recent past, including climate change, are undeniably caused by humans. This, he said, is exemplified in a verse from chapter 30 of the Quran: “Corruption (disasters) has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done..”
In the end he concludes that humanity’s current mode of existence is unsustainable and in his words, “tidak alami”, which means disconnected to nature. Reiterating his optimism, he says the solution is to begin with planting a sense of responsibility for nature in every Muslim individual, as each individual is able to reverberate change across all sectors.
MYD is glad to have engaged with the Mufti and received his opinions and wisdom. We hope that this engagement will translate into a more intensified commitment by the religious sector to help raise awareness in our society in the battle against the climate crisis.