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. 

Sources:

Abdul Latif S. N., Chiong M.S. & Rajoo, S. et al. (2021). The trend and status of energy resources and greenhouse gas emissions in the Malaysia power generation mix, https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/8/2200

Adam Aziz. (2018). Beginning 2019, no price difference between solar generation and consumption tariff https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/beginning-2019-no-price-difference-between-solar-generation-and-consumption-tariff

Babunal, V. (2021). Environment and Water Ministry sets 10 key targets as KPI. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2021/09/725555/environment-and-water-ministry-sets-10-key-targets-kpi

Bernama. (2021). Malaysia to become important hub for mineral industry development. Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA). https://www.mida.gov.my/mida-news/malaysia-to-become-important-hub-for-mineral-industry-development/

Bernama. (2021). Muhyiddin: Malaysian Forestry Policy unites all states in forestry conservation efforts.  https://www.nst.com.my/news/government-public-policy/2021/03/675798/muhyiddin-malaysian-forestry-policy-unites-all-states

Bujang A.S., Bern C.J. & Brumm T.J. (2016). Summary of energy demand and renewable energy policies in Malaysia  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364032115010175

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. (n.d.). Q&A: Understanding Paris Agreement NDCs https://www.c2es.org/content/q-and-a-understanding-paris-agreement-ndcs/

Economic Planning Unit. (2010). Prime Minister’s Department, Putrajaya  https://www.pmo.gov.my/dokumenattached/RMK/RMK10_Eds.pdf

Energy Commission. (2021). Report on Peninsular Malaysia Generation Development Plan 2020 (2021-2039) https://www.st.gov.my/en/contents/files/download/169/Report_on_Peninsular_Malaysia_Generation_Development_Plan_2020_(2021-2039)-FINAL.pdf

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2021). Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

Joshi, D. (2019). Reduce total emissions, not just emissions intensity of GDP https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2019/10/534211/reduce-total-emissions-not-just-emissions-intensity-gdp

Julie Chao. (2021). Latest IPCC report points to urgent need to cut emissions https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2021/08/09/latest-ipcc-report-points-to-urgent-need-to-cut-emissions/

Kimura, S. (2018). An analysis of alternative vehicles’ potential and implications for energy supply industries in Indonesia https://www.eria.org/uploads/media/ERIA_RPR_2017_15.pdf

Liew Jia Teng. (2021). MPIA urges government to reassess RE quota allocation https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/mpia-urges-government-reassess-re-quota-allocation

Kementerian Alam Sekitar dan Air. (2021). Climate Change E-Colloquium 2021 and the Virtual Launch of Malaysia’s Third Biennial Update Report https://www.facebook.com/KementerianAlamSekitarDanAir/videos/4194203654032601 

 Kementerian Alam Sekitar dan Air. (2021). JC3 Flagship Conference Fireside Chat https://ibfimonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/012-Dr.-Nagulendran-Kangayatkarasu.pdf 

Malaysiakini. (2021).  Environment minister blasts S’gor’s plan to degazette Kuala Langat forest https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/590298?utm_source=telegram&utm_medium=textlink&utm_campaign=mkininews

Ministry of Energy and Natural Resource (KeTSA). (2021). Kerangka Pelan Transformasi Industri Mineral Negara 2021-2030. https://www.ketsa.gov.my/ms-my/pustakamedia/Penerbitan/Kerangka%20Pelan%20Transformasi%20Industri%20Mineral%20Negara%202021-2030.pdf

Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. (2021). Malaysia’s energy transition plan 2021-2040 https://www.ketsa.gov.my/ms-my/pustakamedia/KenyataanMedia/Press%20Release%20ASEAN%20Energy%20Meeting%2021%20June%202021.pdf

Nancy Harris & David Gibbs. (2021). Forests absorb twice as much carbon as they emit each year, World Resources Institute https://www.wri.org/insights/forests-absorb-twice-much-carbon-they-emit-each-year

Susskind, L., Chun, J. & Goldberg, S. et al. (2020). Breaking out of carbon lock-in: Malaysia’s path to decarbonisation https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbuil.2020.00021/full

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. (2021). Electricity supply industry reform and design of competitive electricity market in Malaysia https://www.oxfordenergy.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Electricity-Supply-Industry-Reform-and-Design-of-Competitive-Electricity-Market-in-Malaysia.pdf

The Straits Times. (2018). Malaysia to draft Climate Change Act, formulate national adaptation and mitigation plan https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-to-draft-climate-change-act-formulate-national-adaptation-and-mitigation-plan

UNFCCC. (2015). Intended nationally determined contribution of the government of Malaysia https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Malaysia%20First/INDC%20Malaysia%20Final%2027%20November%202015%20Revised%20Final%20UNFCCC.pdf

UNFCCC. (2018). Malaysia third national communication and second biennial update report to the UNFCCC https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Malaysia%20NC3%20BUR2_final%20high%20res.pdf

UNFCCC. (2020). Malaysia third biennial update report to the UNFCCC https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/MALAYSIA_BUR3-UNFCCC_Submission.pdf

UNFCCC. (2021). Malaysia nationally determined contribution update https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Malaysia%20First/Malaysia%20NDC%20Updated%20Submission%20to%20UNFCCC%20July%202021%20final.pdf

UNFCCC. (n.d.). Nationally determined contributions https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs

Yeo Bee Yin. (2020). Special report: Reform is fast becoming the only choice, The Edge Markets https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/special-report-reform-fast-becoming-only-choice


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 https://mydclimate.org or email at focalpoint@mydclimate.org 


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.

Conclusion

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.

Sources: 

  1. https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/12/10/parisversaire-climate-ambition-summit-whos-whos/ 
  2. https://unfccc.int/news/climate-ambition-summit-builds-momentum-for-cop26 
  3. https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/NDC-Invest-Supporting-NDC-Development-in-Latin-America-and-the-Caribbean-Suriname.pdf 
  4. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/
  5. https://nature4climate.org/news/momentum-for-nature-based-solutions-continues-to-grow-despite-disappointing-un-climate-talks/
  6. https://www.twn.my/title2/briefing_papers/twn/NBS%20TWNBP%20Sep%202020%20Stabinsky.pdf
  7. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/10/29/climate-finance-eu-and-member-states-contributions-continued-to-increase-in-2019/#
  8. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf 

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. 

References

Anbumozhi, V. (2017). Ensuring ASEAN’s Sustainable and Resilient Future. ASEAN@50 – Building ASEAN Community: Political–Security and Socio-Cultural Reflections, 4, 309–323. 

ASEAN Climate Change and Energy Project. (2019). Multiple game plan for ASEAN in tackling climate change. ASEAN Climate and Energy Insight. https://accept.aseanenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Energy-Insight_Multiole-Game.pdf  

Eckstein, D., Künzel, V., Schäfer, L., & Winges, M. (2020). Global climate risk index 2020. Germanwatch. https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/20-2-01e%20Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202020_10.pdf 

Letchumanan, R. (2010). Is there an ASEAN policy on climate change? Climate Change: Is Southeast Asia Up to the Challenge, 50–62. Retrieved from https://www.snrd-asia.org/wp-content/uploads/SNRD-Newsletter/issue-2/Documents/Adaptation%20to%20Climate%20Change/Is%20there%20an%20ASEAN%20policy%20on%20Climate%20Resillience.pdf 

Sagbakken, H., Overland, I., Merdekawati, M., Chan, H. Y., & Suryadi, B. (2020). Climate change, security and regional cooperation in ASEAN. ASEAN Focus. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ASEANFocus-March-2020.pdf

The ASEAN Post. (2019, November 26). Is ASEAN losing its battle with climate change? https://theaseanpost.com/article/asean-losing-its-battle-climate-change

Wijaya, A., & Idris, S. (2018, September 26). ASEAN countries must act together to confront climate change. World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/11/asean-countries-must-act-together-confront-climate-change

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

Of COVID-19, Oil Price Crash, and Climate Change

The arrival of the new decade has presented itself in a daunting way and 2020 has been nothing but tragedies. The coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe and infected millions with hundreds of thousands of mortalities. Oil price crashed and WTI crude has reached a negative price for the first time in forever. Climate change agenda is still on the table and struggling as countries around the world roll back climate-friendly policies amidst the public health concern. Even the Conference of the Parties (COP) has been postponed for a year due to the concerning pandemic.

Let us look at what has happened thus far. The outbreak of COVID-19 started late 2019 and spreading violently early this year. One by one, the countries closed their border and lockdown orders were issued. People were advised to stay at home and were enforced to social distancing in an attempt to flatten the curve. The economic activities started to slow down as people are no longer travelling and working from home. Factories are shut, international air travel declined, and non-essential businesses are closed, which reduced the global demand for oil, the energy source that mostly powers the economy. 

Now, comes the OPEC+ coalition led by Saudi Arabia, entering in a discussion with Russia to cut the oil production. The negotiation essentially fall apart when Russia refused to slow down their production, further driving the oil price down as both Saudi Arabia and Russia ramping up their production in a bid to gain the market share. The price war and the low global demand for oil has caused a worldwide oversupply and deficit in storage. The oil price kept dropping and anybody with oil futures contracts are scrambling to get the contracts off their hands. They are paying to release the contracts as there is no more storage available to reserve the supply. Then, it happened, the free fall of oil price. The WTI crude dipped to a negative price and traded as such. It has since rebounded but still hovering at a low price of around $30.

Needless to say, the oil price has always been volatile and this is one of the many cycles that we have observed. However, the COVID-19 situation did trigger the major collapse of oil prices. The supply and demand shock that the oil and gas industry experienced today may be the first in history. The oil price is expected to be low for a significant period as countries reopen and the global economy recovers. The major enigma now, what does this mean for climate change? Does it help the climate change agenda and accelerate climate action or will it delay the supposed transition from fossil fuels?

Historically, low oil price is a major issue with significant impacts for climate advocates. The low price tag of oil supply reduces the incentives to change to a more sustainable energy and raw materials. People will be driving more often, logistics costs will be more economical, and it will be more affordable to use natural gas as a source of energy. This will drive consumption and ultimately increase carbon emission. It will be difficult to convince some policymakers and business leaders to switch to renewable sources of energy. In short, the low oil price affects the economic decision and that decision is not necessarily in favour of the climate change agenda.

In the transportation sector, the low oil price delays the transformation to electric vehicles as there will be a sustained demand for internal combustion engine vehicles. The fuels are cheap enough for people to ignore the fuel economy of the car and have more mileage at the same cost. The sales of conventional vehicles will be booming and electric vehicles will be only appealing to those who are less cost-conscious in making economic decisions. Even in the logistics sector, the affordable fuels for the trucks, ships, and airplanes accelerate business growth as more goods transported around the world.

The low oil price creates a business case for the energy sector to use natural gas as an available option for the source of energy. It diminishes the immediate needs to deploy renewable energy and entice the policymakers to continue to rely on fossil fuels rather than sourcing to alternative energy. Even in the manufacturing sector, petroleum remains the major raw material for many products, from crayons to lubricants. Low oil price abates any effort to substitute this material with a more sustainable source. Plastics will remain as the go-to material for packaging with lesser incentive to find alternatives. Yet, there is still a glimmer of hope for the climate change agenda. The low oil price only delays the energy transition but did not change the trend.

The recent cycle of oil price crash is another proof that the market is volatile and demonstrates that it is an unreliable investment. The latest market crash should be the catharsis for the oil and gas industry to change their investment strategy. In a world with a low oil price, small producer companies will be forced out of business and they will need government intervention to recover or else bankruptcy is imminent. However, big producer companies are resilient and chose to wait it out as they have enough cash reserve to persevere of yet another cycle. Nowadays, they are pressured to diversify their portfolio in an extravagant attempt to future-proof their company. The golden preferred investment? Renewable energy.

In a bigger scheme of things, this approach makes sense. Renewable energy is dubbed as the cheapest source of electricity. The cost of developing and building the infrastructure for renewable energy is lower than the fixed cost of fossil fuel and it is decreasing as the innovation progressed. The renewable energy sector is less volatile than the fossil fuel market hence it should be an attractive investment. Reading the room, the oil and gas companies should invest strategically in the renewable energy sector and start the energy transition. An unconventional move has to be made to stop investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. The oil and gas industry has the capacity to change the tide and the industry is never short of great engineering talents so expanding to the renewable energy sector is not a far-fetched idea. It is just a matter of will. The industry can take this opportunity as an advantage, right here right now, to reduce the dependency of fossil fuels and build more infrastructure to accommodate the new energy. It is a long-term exit strategy for a sustainable prospect and future-proofing of the company.

PETRONAS recently recorded a 68% fall of profit after tax in the first quarter of 2020. To brace the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and oil price crash, PETRONAS has decided to cut capital expenditure and operating expenses of the year. Still upholding the three-pronged strategy; maximize cash generators, expand core business, and stepping out, PETRONAS plan to future-proof the organization and ensure the company’s long-term sustainability. With the establishment of the new business unit, Gas & New Energy, PETRONAS should react to the current situation by investing heavily in wind and solar energy infrastructure and accelerating technological innovation as outlined in the strategy of stepping out. The acquisition of Amplus Solar and a joint collaboration with Universiti Teknologi MARA are good starts but PETRONAS is capable to do more than that. Building solar farms and conducting feasibility studies of offshore wind farms are among many proactive measures that PETRONAS can undertake in this situation. It is imperative for PETRONAS to grow renewable energy as one of the core businesses and cash generators since it is an incentive to dampen the effect of oil price volatility. The shift, sooner or later, will help to sustain the company. Hopefully, the cost-cutting exercise soon to be conducted by PETRONAS would not involve the little amount of 5% of capital expenditure, announced earlier this year, reserved for the renewable energy. After all, PETRONAS aspires to be a significant contributor to the Malaysian government’s renewable energy target of 6GW by 2025.

No doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered the oil price crash and in a way, it has helped reduce the carbon emission as people stay at home and non-essential long-haul journeys are banned. It is nothing short of tragic. What matters the most is the next steps. We must take advantage of the low oil price and volatility of the market as a sign to invest in clean energy, hence recognizing the long-term economic trends and urgent threat of climate change. The business case of fossil fuel investment has weakened leading to accelerated energy transition. However, it must be acknowledged that low oil prices could reduce the economic incentives to reduce emissions. Nevertheless, we should come out of this pandemic and market crash with a new outlook and fresh perspectives. The oil and gas industry may not recover to its former glory but we can make the energy industry to be future-proof. Business, as usual, should not persist and the challenge of climate change should no longer be ignored.

Bibliographies

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Written by: Meor MH

Migration Issue: Why the Global Community Needs to Care About Climate Change?

1.0   What is Climate Migration?

Climate migration is the result of climate change effects causing population movements away from increasingly unviable or uninhabitable places. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted it as one of the greatest climate change impacts. Millions will be displaced due to coastal inundation, water stress, frequent flooding, reduced crop yields, disease outbreaks, among other climate change effects. Climate change will cause population movements by making certain parts of the world much less viable places to live in. 

Definitions and labels conferred to people displaced by climate change have very real implications for the obligations of the international community under the law. There are a lot of discussions surrounding it worth exploring and it is a highly contested debate amongst international rights lawyers. For the purpose of this article, we shall adopt the definition proposed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which states “Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons, who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or chose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”. IOM in their study on Migration and Climate Change uses the term “forced climate migrant” acknowledging that it is not a universally accepted term but hopes that it conveys a reasonable and accurate impression of the increasing phenomenon of non-voluntary population displacement likely as the impacts of climate change grow and accumulate.

 

 

2.0 How Climate Migration Materialises in Asia

Asia is projected to be hard hit by climate change, more than most regions in the world. The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 forecasted that intense cyclones, excessive rainfall, and severe floods will make South and Southeast Asia among the worst affected by climate change. When adaptation measures fail to perform in one country, victims resort to migrating away from the disaster region. In some cases towards less affected parts within the country, and in the cases of international interest, across country borders. In 2019 we have recorded India and Pakistan baked in a heatwave, Chennai was hit by a water crisis, rising seas engulfed Indonesia’s coastline, powerful storms slammed into the Philippines, Indonesia’s forests were  ablaze, and torrential rains lashed Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. All of these contexts are important to illustrate how other neighbouring countries of affected states will be roped into this scenario.

As much as migration is seen as an important mechanism to deal with climate stress, people usually only resort to it when other means of adaptation are insufficient to meet their immediate needs, i.e when governments have proven incapable of giving assistance. In slower-acting climate processes or even in the most extreme of natural disasters, climate migrants would require money and networks like family, friends, or historical ties in a destination country they would settle in. These people displaced by environmental causes will mostly find new homes within the boundaries of their own regions. The 2004 Asian Tsunami for example killed more than 200,000 people and displaced twice as many. However, they were not displaced to OECD countries but rather were overwhelmingly borne by the local region. Those who are not able to find new homes within their own country usually seek refuge in places where there are existing cultural or ethnic ties to them. Therefore, Bangladeshis are likely to seek refuge in India or Pakistan, Indonesians from Sumatra would consider Malaysia and so on. As a country that is already struggling to  address humanitarian issues due to the influx of  hundreds of migrants/refugees, Malaysia must adapt itself for this larger  scale humanitarian issue involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees driven by climate change.  

 

 

3.0 Impacts of Climate Migration

If climate migration follows the pattern of the existing civil and humanitarian crises migration pattern, the probable case would be that low to middle-income countries  will be the largest hosts of climate migrants. This is especially the case for Malaysia as our neighbouring countries are hotspots for climate disasters; from threats of inundation of thousands of Indonesian islands and more than 20 separate incidences of typhoons in the Philippines just last year. Climate migrants tend to stay within their borders or their cultural lines, or are flushed to the city, causing a phenomenon known as the urban flood. This could negatively impact urban welfare and service provision, with studies predicting a massive increase of people living in the slums, possibly up to  1.7 billion, if the phenomenon is unplanned and rapid. This is exacerbated by food and water scarcity caused by climate change itself, and increases the spread of disease with overpopulation.

In Malaysia, rapid urbanisation had resulted in  sprawling car-dependent low density areas with little public open space, often characterised by an exploding rate of land clearing with significant growth in population, like the Klang Valley. Urban sprawl is also the cause of several environmental adversities, like loss of green space, species habitat, and agricultural land in the wake of low-density sprawling development. The development of infrastructure such as  pavements increased the total surface area of  impervious surfaces, which leads to flash flooding that overwhelms the drainage system. 

Even though the number of people displaced through climate migration are in the millions, the normative frameworks and policy response remains scattered and inadequate. Addressing the issue today would minimise forced displacement and minimise the fluctuation in patterns of climate-induced migration, which is already incredibly difficult to keep track of due to lack of capacity. This results in the  inability to be spatially and temporally specific about the location, severity, timing, and nature of climate change and its likely impacts on different population groups, leaving us unable to predict and prepare for the impact.

 

 

4.0 Recommendation to Actors

Currently, Malaysia has no existing policy response to climate migration. It would be humane of us to start opening diplomatic doors for international climate migrants as done by countries like Australia and New Zealand, to save vulnerable people who would otherwise be at-risk of extinction. The lack of legislative or administrative provisions for refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia means that the burden of protection of the refugees, from reception, registration, documentation, and also refugee status determination would lie upon the 173 staff of UNHCR who are currently monitoring a total of 178,600 refugees from their 2 offices. In their report, they cited that the lack of funding hampered their effort to support the government. If the population of people of concern continues to grow with climate migration and the policy response remains dormant and inadequate, this support from UNHCR may shatter under the pressure.

To enable an easier transition for  climate migrants, pre-existing frameworks can and may be utilised. In assisting them, governments should be pressured to pursue efforts broadening the definition of refugee, constituted within the refugee law and to revise the principle of non-refoulement within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as  suggested by the United Nations Human Rights Committee following the case of the Teitiota family from Kiribati who sought asylum in New Zealand. 

Preservation of life should always be the priority of any government, regardless of its method as upheld in the European Court of Human Rights, in Budayeva & ors. v. Russia, that even inaction upon positive obligation is a breach of human rights. Such a precedent should be applied to climate change due to the repeated nature of failure of risk mitigation, warning issuance, as well as evacuation aid and negligence investigation when necessary. Whilst it may not be binding in Malaysia, this precedent could be persuasive in convincing the state and public to create a framework for adaptation should we wish to pursue and advocate for it.

In essence, climate migration is an inevitable effect of climate change. Legal frameworks and other means of adaptation are crucial in ensuring the preservation and protection of human rights. Therefore, the state must look into addressing this issue urgently. As individuals, we could contribute by volunteering via manpower, expertise, or even pecuniary means. Here are some UN-accredited organisations within Asia and the Pacific that you could contribute to: https://www.unenvironment.org/civil-society-engagement/accreditation/list-accredited-organizations.

Written byMahirah Marzuki, Azierah Ansar

Study Session #3 – How Climate-Sensitive are Malaysia’s Laws and Regulations?

Study Session #3 – How Climate-Sensitive are Malaysia’s Laws and Regulations?

The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) organised its third study session this year on 11 July 2020, discussing climate mitigation and adaptation in Malaysia. The session was guided by Evelyn Teh, a Senior Researcher on Climate Change at the Third World Network (TWN). She assists the TWN team in producing climate talk reports for negotiators, think tanks and civil societies at the UNFCCC. She is a core team member in Malaysia’s 2020 NDC update task force, and a working group member on ‘Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Risk’ for the 12th Malaysian Plan (12MP). Evelyn has been trained in environmental policy and impact assessment, urbanisation and social studies.

  

Evelyn Teh Senior Researcher on Climate Change at the Third World Network (TWN), presenting her slides to the Malaysian Youth Delegation audience over Zoom

“We must either prepare for the best case scenario from a more sustainable future, or be prepared to live with the worst case scenario from a business as usual future.”

 

The session was kicked off by stating the importance of drastic measures to reduce GHG emissions which must be achieved within the next 12 years to keep temperatures within 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. Evelyn noted that legislative measures become integral in restricting, regulating, and facilitating a holistic and climate-centric approach for economic and social development.

 

Evelyn goes on to highlight that It is important to understand how law works to help us connect the dots on why some laws are stuck, why are some laws so old, why are some laws existing but not implemented on the ground. This understanding can help us better tackle and call for implementation of climate change into Malaysian law. To name some important basics mentioned by Evelyn, Policy is not legally binding but can lead to new laws, an Act is a piece of legislation that is a basis for forming a Law and a Law is an implemented Act. Implementation of climate change policies depend on how mainstreamed climate change planning is across various ministries, including state departments and agencies. During the session, various acts and policies were analyzed and critiqued to identify potential areas of improvement. 

 

The Renewable Energy Act 2011 provides the establishment and implementation of a special tariff system to catalyze the generation of renewable energy and to provide for related matters. It was noted that it only identifies electricity as energy. Attention is not focused on recovery of usable heat as an important sustainable energy source for industrial, commercial and residential applications. This causes a missed opportunity to harness other forms of energy which can potentially decrease our GHG emissions.

 

The National Land Public Transport Master Plan was formulated to drive regulatory and industry reform for the transport sector with an aim to increase the public transport modal share for urban areas from 16% in 2011 to 40% in 2030. Currently taking into account every urban area, the public transport model share is not too good, for example in Penang it is only 3% .Despite these plans, Malaysia is still expanding the industry based on non-sustainable models. Last year alone the government spnet RM1.89 billion in fuel subsidies and private cars are affordable (average of 1.1 Million new registrations per year between 2010 – 2019). So imagine 1.1 Million new vehicles on the road every year – to manage this surge, the Malaysian solution was to build more roads, but it only paves way for exacerbating GHG emissions. 

 

Legislation for the agricultural sector in Malaysia is guided by the National Agro Food Policy (2011 – 2020) and the National Commodity Policy (2011 – 2020). Their sole purpose is to increase food production and export of industrial commodities. The concept of a self-sustaining index is non-existent in these policies. There is a dangerous imbalanced focus and investment on cash crops: Palm oil, cocoa, pepper, coffee, tea, various fruits including durian, and coconuts have caused extensive deforestation, monoculture and increased emissions from unsustainable farming practices driven by the need for high production. The policies’ heavy dependence on imported foods and lack of a holistic environmental view when it comes to expanding the sector is a worrying sign for Malaysia’s food security. 

 

The session also mentioned potential flaws in the industrial sector, highlighting the cement industry, construction and urban planning, waste management and the environmental quality assessments. In general, environmental accountability, emission standards and control is poorly regulated. Evelyn shared that the  Environmental Impact Assessment, managed by the Department of Environment or Environmental Quality Act, does not consider the carbon footprint and emissions impact of any assessed project. There are no provisions in the EQA or the EIA Guidelines where it makes a distinctive requirement for projects to mitigate its carbon footprint or place any emphasis on projects to have climate adaptive features. Furthermore, Methane is not considered as an air pollutant alongside nitrous oxides and sulphur oxides.

 

Evelyn ended the session by noting that addressing climate change is a highly complex, multifaceted, challenging attempt to undo business as usual but it is necessary. We must either prepare for the best case scenario from a more sustainable future, or be prepared to live with the worst case scenario from a business as usual future.

 

Some of the members from The Malaysian Youth Delegation and Evelyn Teh during the 3rd Study Session over Zoom.

Some of the members from The Malaysian Youth Delegation and Evelyn Teh during the 3rd Study Session over Zoom.

Written by: Janak Preet Kaur