Youth and Climate Change in Malaysia

Youth and Climate Change in Malaysia

Writers: Saef Wan, Syaqil Suhaimi, Robiatul Saad, Robin Goon.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), countries around the world need to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius to fall within the ‘safe zone’ of climate change and prevent catastrophic changes to the planet. Currently, the combined rate of global emissions stands at 52 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e) annually. In order to have a chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius, the international community will need to halve global annual emissions by 2030 to the rate of 25 to 30 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e).

Should countries fail to rise to the challenge and prevent a radical change in the climate, the youth generation will suffer the brunt of the climate crisis as a result of the older generation’s apathy. Of course, such a horrifying future cannot be left solely at the hands of the older generation who, quite simply, do not have a stake in this game. For this, it is vital for the youth to mobilize and get involved in decision making so that national and international policies capture our needs, and ensure that our interests are safeguarded.  

In Malaysia, the existence of contemporary climate-focused youth organisations  was made possible by the larger umbrella of environmental movement before its time, beginning since the 1970s. Examples of these organizations include the  Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM) founded in 1974 and the more globally tuned Global Environmental Centre (GEC) which came  into the scene later in 1998. Notable to mention, the initiation of other organisations such as Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (YAWA) which highlighted the need for environmental education among children in the 1990s.

The landscape of youth climate activism really started to take the distinctive form that we know today around 2008 – 2009 with scattered Malaysian youth figures at the time participating in climate conferences held regionally and internationally such as COP 14 in Poznan (2008), UN Climate Negotiations in Bangkok (2009) and COP 15 in Copenhagen (2009). The Malaysian Youth Climate Justice Network (MYCJN), a first ever local youth collective which focused on climate change was formed in 2009 by youth figures who were directly influenced by the global trend of youth movement trailblazed by Powershift Network or Energy Action Coalition in the US in 2004, and other such coalitions which consequently propped up in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom from 2006 until 2008. 

At the time, MYCJN took to task diverse forms of activities ranging from policymaking to capacity building to demonstrations. The youth collective built their capacity by joining international youth coalition events, sent Malaysian youth delegates to COP 15, held awareness campaigns, and organized educational forums. Later, as MYCJN’s presence faded into the background, its efforts were continued by Powershift Malaysia, formed in 2013 as a result of Global PowerShift project’s second phase after an impactful conference in Turkey. With an almost similar modus operandi to MYCJN, Powershift Malaysia’s operation was divided into several arms of distinctive niches, only one of which has endured the test of time, the current Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD).  

Inheriting the genetic makeup of MYCJN and Powershift Malaysia, MYD particularly focuses on policy-centred activities by having a team dedicated to policy research work, aside from producing position statements and policy articles. It also routinely organizes training series and produces attractive media content to spread knowledge about various topics related to climate change. Today, the youth climate scene is made more energized by the presence of other peer organisations such as KAMY and EcoKnights which have distinctive approaches in the fight against climate change. 

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

KAMY for example, focuses on empowering vulnerable and marginalised groups by conducting bottom-up strategies to empower communities through multi-language advocacy, climate protests, workshops, and community awareness programs. Meanwhile, EcoKnights also works with key stakeholders to empower sustainable actions by focusing on public outreach, education and youth development. By engaging with relevant stakeholders of different levels, these youth organisations emphasize the importance of including the youth’s perspective and agenda in the government’s plans concerning climate change. They act as catalysts for youth empowerment in Malaysia in the effort to urge all levels of society, especially the government, to address more issues related to climate change. This elaborate history of the climate movement edifice in Malaysia reminds today’s youth activists that their movement is a coalition of international origin and that, therefore, they have never been and are not alone in this fight. 

Other than the presence of the aforementioned youth network, there is a bigger than ever impetus for youngsters today to join the climate movement. From the gradual relaxing of restrictive legislations such as AUKU, to post-Malaysia Baru’s more intensive support for free speech, young people nowadays enjoy a sense of empowerment unparalleled to the days of past when youth activism used to be nipped in the bud by more authoritarian laws. The installation of a young, precocious MP to the powerful position of a cabinet minister which had even spurred international interest, became emblematic of this new momentum achieved by the Malaysian youth.

Subsequent to this was Undi18’s phenomenal success which secured the right to vote in the general election for 3.8 million youths aged between 18 to 21, additionally invigorating their agency in determining the nation’s direction. Today, with talks about creating a youth-centred political party, the youth of Malaysia truly are in a more leveraged position, unimaginable even 5 years ago, to push forward the climate narrative. This progress is more than enough reason for young people to be inspired to seize the opportunity and take on the mantle of activists for the climate.  

To get more involved, youngsters should check their local area for climate or environmental organisations such as MYD, KAMY, EcoKnights and many others. These organisations usually hold useful webinars or study sessions and thus, they provide access to those interested to learn about the different aspects of climate action. Even better, young people can play their part in fighting climate change by applying to become members of said climate organisations. On a more personal level, a simple effort would be to sign a pledge or petition supporting relevant progressive causes, whether to fight single-use plastics, or to stop deforestation. Every signature will definitely help. 

Another method is to make use of social media platforms to voice out opinions related to climate initiatives or policy in Malaysia. This helps increase the public’s awareness as the action collectively saturates the nation’s social media traffic with important climate issues. On a daily level, the youth can proactively try to live a sustainable lifestyle. From consuming less energy, using public transportation, refusing single-use plastics to opting for zero waste household goods, every little action counts. More importantly, young people who are eligible to vote should support politicians and parties that have more environmentally focused agendas. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things us youth can do to contribute, but it is a great stepping stone for our climate journey.  

Without a doubt, today’s youth and the climate are inseparable. In this sense, the youth play an integral part not only in the fight against climate change, but also in the fight for their own survival. While Malaysian youth’s climate activism is not yet mainstream, it is gaining traction fast. Ultimately, the participation of more young people in this fight will strengthen national and international climate coalitions and enable them to demand serious commitment across governments and implement more ambitious actions for the climate. 

Study Session #2 – Climate Mitigation and Adaptation in Malaysia

Study Session #2 – Climate Mitigation and Adaptation in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, 27 June 2020 – The Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD) organised its second study session this year on 14 June 2020, discussing climate mitigation and adaptation in Malaysia. To deepen the members’ understanding on the topic, MYD invited Professor Dr Joy Jacqueline Pereira, Principal Fellow at the Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (SEADPRI-UKM) to share her knowledge and expertise. She is also the Vice-Chair of Working Group II (on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report.

Professor Dr Joy Jacqueline Pereira, Principal Fellow at Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (SEADPRI-UKM)

“Despite our increasing capacity to adapt as technology advances, the risk of extreme outcomes is generally expected to increase more than we can adapt, and for some outcomes such as heat-related death, worsening poverty and crop failure, there is no adaptation to a 4 degree world.”

Prof. Joy started the  session by explaining the terminology used in climate change discussion and the importance of clearly defining it. For instance, she stressed that there are both natural and anthropogenic (originating from human activity) contributions to climate change, and that getting this right is crucial for negotiations, as there is an element of compensation involved. Only when climate change is also attributed to human activity, rather than natural variability alone, will this element of attribution  come into place. Terminology is also important because of the multidisciplinary nature of the IPCC; a standardized vocabulary ensures that everyone has the same understanding and can communicate accurately.

Going deeper into the issue, Prof. Joy explored the concepts of climate extremes and attribution of extreme events. While there is evidence that the extremes of some climate variables such as temperature have shifted as a result of human activity, the attribution of single extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change remains challenging. This is an important gap to address since attribution is key in obtaining compensation for damages resulting from extreme events.

She then shared observations of past extreme events and the future projections of climate extremes in Asia and specifically Southeast Asia. One of the highlights from what Prof. Joy shared was that our potential for adaptation could in some cases decrease as global warming and climate change worsens. Despite our increasing capacity to adapt as technology advances, the risk of extreme outcomes is generally expected to increase more than we can adapt, and for some outcomes such as heat-related death, worsening poverty and crop failure, there is no adaptation to a 4 degree world. This brings about a sense of urgency for mitigation and adaptation, as the longer we delay, the lesser is our ability to adapt.

Mitigation and Adaptation in the Local Context

Furthermore Prof. Joy highlighted that the majority of disasters that affect Southeast Asia are climate-driven, such as floods, landslides, storms and drought. According to the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies, climate-related threats account for 30% of total projected gross domestic product (GDP) damage across cities in the region, where total GDP-at-risk can be as high as 5%. She also shared examples of climate-driven disasters in Malaysia and local initiatives in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) such as her experiences from her collaboration with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund (NUOF) on Kuala Lumpur’s susceptibility to landslides and her project with the Selangor State Government promoting social entrepreneurship in DRR. 

Challenges

Throughout the session, Prof. Joy shared a number of challenges for mitigation and adaptation efforts in Malaysia, such as the lack of peer-reviewed literature. Most of the  scientific work that originates from governmental bodies has not undergone a peer review process, which raises doubts on its reliability. For example, how would observers know that rainfall projections are reliable? How can one base policy decisions on them with confidence without any form of independent verification? In contrast, Indonesia in its Third National Communication on Climate Change, used climate models based on information drawn primarily from peer-reviewed scientific literature and conducted participatory action-oriented pilot studies which took into account local-level climate change impact analyses and inputs from a wide range of stakeholders.

Another challenge is the lack of transparency and willingness to make data accessible to the public. For example, in the KL  landslide susceptibility project, DBKL is not prepared to make the findings accessible to the public, apparently due to concerns that the community would not be able to handle the information effectively and that real estate prices could be adversely affected. Prof. Joy believes that open access would be beneficial for the public as the data could enable the community to be better prepared.

Moving Forward

Disaster risk reduction is going to be increasingly challenging with climate change, hence mitigation and adaptation efforts need to be context-specific, as each region has unique vulnerabilities and exposure to hazards. However, such efforts need to also be coherent with other aspects, as they are multidisciplinary and inevitably interlinked. Additionally, transparency and international collaboration are crucial for climate action. Everyone needs to collaborate to bring about cross-sectoral changes on an unprecedented scale, involving innovational, technological, and behavioural changes.

Towards the end of the session, the question and answer session brought in interactive discussions between Prof. Joy and MYD members. Prof. Joy challenged youth groups like MYD to be actively involved in this effort by building synergies and partnerships, communicating the sciences to a wider audience, and engaging with various stakeholders on climate action. Prof. Joy ended the session by reminding the members to be enablers; that is, to be proactive in  bringing about positive change and action.

The Malaysian Youth Delegation and Prof. Joy during the 2nd Study Session over Zoom.

Edited by: Fathi Rayyan

Study Session #1 – UNFCCC 101: Paris Agreement and its relevance to Malaysia

Study Session #1 – UNFCCC 101: Paris Agreement and its relevance to Malaysia

Our 1st Study Session of the year was held by En. Ridzwan from MEWA. It was a fruitful session indeed and some of the members have shared their feedback as a short summary of 2-3 paragraphs on what they have gained during the Study Session. 

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.

– By Alyaa


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.

By Janak


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. 

– By Zhee Qi


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.

– By Alka


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?

– By Naufal

Speaker Biography 

Name – Muhammad Ridzwan Ali

Professional career –  Administrative  Diplomatic Officer, Govt of Malaysia (10 years in service and counting).

Current position – Senior Assistance Secretary, Climate Change Policy & Negoiation Unit, Climate Change Division, KASA.


Years involved in Climate Change Policy &
 Negotiations – 7 years

Higher education – BSC (HONS) Conservation Biology, UMS (2008)

Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Time of a Climate Crisis

Authors: Eira Khanum and Tan Cai May

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.

De-patronizing Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development

De-patronizing Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development

Panelists Professor Joyashree Roy (Coordinating Lead Author), Mr Amjad Abdulla (Vice-Chair, IPCC Working Group III), Professor Valerie Masson-Delmotte (Co-Chair, IPCC Working Group I), Professor Jim Skea (Co-Chair, IPCC Working Group III), Jonathan Lynn, (Head of Communications, IPCC) and CEO of Akademi Sains Malaysia Dr Hazami Habib (left to right).

Academy of Sciences Malaysia recently hosted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for an outreach event to communicate the IPCC’s role, activities and findings to the general public. The role of the IPCC is to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its effects and risks, as well as to suggest adaptation and mitigation measures. Although the reports target policy makers, they do not prescribe any policies. It is still up to the individual governments to implement the necessary climate policies. Nonetheless, the reports significantly contribute to international negotiation processes as stipulated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The IPCC  reports are incredibly useful for negotiators and the drafting of international commitments, yet they seem underutilized in Malaysia. It is apparent that the environment is still not a development priority for Malaysia. According to Mr Alizan Mahadi from the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, the environmental sector comprises a mere 0.7% of the 2020 Budget. This signals that education, health, transportation, and housing are bigger priorities for Malaysia. While these sectors can contribute significantly to sustainable development, sustainability can only be achieved when the environment impact is considered in their implementation plans. Otherwise, these sectors will solely be useful for greenwashing and prolonging the rhetoric of sustainability. 

During the event, a handful of curious youth asked questions actively. Among these questions were: How can we transform knowledge into action? How can we engage with stakeholders and utilize the findings of the reports? How can youths and young professionals be further involved in the science-policy interface? As a youth myself, I was alarmed by these questions because it reflected on the lack of our agency and empowerment to make change, as well as the lack of space for us to experiment with the possible options to promote ways to protect our environment.

The 1970s in Malaysia was a historical period during which student activists fought to raise their concerns about pertinent issues. Their movement was highly effective such that it resulted in the enactment of the oppressive University and University Colleges Act 1971, otherwise known as AUKU. With the birth of Malaysia Baru, the Act was amended and Section 15(2)(c) was abolished, thus encouraging students to voice their opinions on current issues and partake in political activities. Consequently, the voting age in Malaysia was reduced to 18 years, thus also encouraging youth to participate in political activities.

However, despite these institutional changes, Malaysia’s social fabric continues to be restrictive and patronizing, leaving youth with little mental and physical space for growth. When Wong Yan Ke protested at his graduation ceremony, many Malaysians took on the role of the moral police and quoted the Rukun Negara, stating that he was rude and ungrateful to the university. The response to Yan Ke’s protest shows that any form of dissent in public spaces are readily investigated by the authorities and is negatively received by the public. From the latter’s perspective, upholding the respect of authorities and public order seems to be a sensible justification to stifle any form of expression inciting critical discussion.

Specific to environmental advocacy, there are three types of seasoned advocates that I have encountered. The first type are those who in a pessimistic tone, would remind me to develop resilience and endurance because the fight for sustainable development is burdensome; the second type are those who keep on repeating that “we need the youths because you are the leaders of tomorrow” but proceed with ignoring our presence when we request for support; and the third are those who claim that they are experienced, and thus only engage with us at the bare-minimum, tokenizing our participation.

Although our society is unsupportive, we should shift our perspective and see this as a liberty to strengthen youth movements. During the forum Professor Valerie Masson-Delmotte emphasized: “Your voice matters and it is powerful.” She gave an example of the effectiveness of a written manifesto by students in France who demanded climate action by the relevant decision makers. This demonstrates that we have a responsibility to foster collaboration and cooperation to create a stronger collective narrative on sustainable development.

Furthermore, we must be more critical and reflective on how we can promote climate solutions and, concurrently, pursue sustainable development effectively. We must acknowledge the fact that the discussion on sustainable development first emerged in the 1980s when the Brundtland report was published. Yet, efforts in sustainable development have been futile because its main mission in alleviating poverty and providing basic education and healthcare alienates the environment, which is crucial in achieving sustainability. At this critical juncture, we must look into the underlying political and economic systems that allow for unsustainable growth and redefine our notion of shared prosperity.

For Malaysian youths, there are present entry points for us to effect change. At the forum, Mr Ridzwan Ali from the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change (MESTECC), highlighted that the ministry has an open-door policy and cited their engagement with the Malaysian Youth Delegation as an example. We have hosted MESTECC at our training series and Post-COP Forum, as well as engaged with them to discuss climate change priority areas. While we continue to expand awareness of the climate crisis among our circles, we need to keep our leaders accountable to their commitments and ensure that our environment is a priority for the decision makers.

Given the limited space we have in the present, we need to start developing our collective priorities instead of having the elders tell us what is important and how we should do things. We must seize, if not create, our own vision and opportunities for prosperity. I call on my fellow Malaysian youth to strengthen our own sense of agency and to start experimenting with how to effect change. There is no denying that there will be failures through experimentation, but this is our only chance to explore and realize our fullest potential for a sustainable future. 

    Author Eira with CEO of Akademi Sains Malaysia Dr Hazami Habib and Professor Emerita Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, International Science Council.

      Written by: Eira Khanum

      Edited by: Afra Alatas, Tan Cai May

      Malaysian Youth Awarded United Nations’ “Green Ticket” to Attend the Youth Climate Summit in New York

      Malaysian Youth Awarded United Nations’ “Green Ticket” to Attend the Youth Climate Summit in New York

      United Nations, New York, 21 September 2019 The United Nations announced that it is providing 100 “Green Tickets” to 100 young climate activists from 100 countries to the Youth Climate Summit. These green tickets will bring a group of gender-balanced and diverse youth to the youth summit, including our very own climate advocate Liyana Yamin from Malaysian Youth Delegation. 

      The UN Youth Climate Summit is a “platform for young leaders who are driving climate action to showcase their solutions at the United Nations, and to meaningfully engage with decision-makers on the defining issue of our time”. The “Green Tickets” will fund the trip of the participants, ensuring that their journey is as carbon-neutral as possible. Participants were selected based on “their demonstrated commitment in addressing the climate crisis and advancing solution”, according to the UN website.


      Liyana is the only Malaysian to participate in the New York Youth Climate Summit under this program. She will be joining a Dominican leader and women’s health advocate, a renewable-energy entrepreneur from Rwanda, a plastics activist from Serbia, a founder of an environmental NGO from El Salvador, and many of the lead organizers of the international School Strikes for Climate launched by Thunberg. 


      She is currently pursuing her PhD in Taiwan on Ocean Resources and Environmental Changes. Regardless, at the summit, she is invited to attend the weekend coalition meeting on energy transition convening people with diverse and fresh perspectives tackling the one issue – climate change.  “I am looking forward to learning directly from youths all around the world in the frontlines of the climate emergency, and those who are coming up with new and innovative ways to combat the climate crisis”, Liyana said. 


      She expects to immerse herself fully in the experience at the summit. Particularly she aims to refresh her knowledge on the key topics leading up to COP25, and to understand other climate issues that is happening in other regions through her engagement with other climate champions. 


      She also hopes that these engagements will open up more opportunities for her to continue her advocacy in Taiwan or Malaysia, and she is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and experience on platforms such as the Malaysian Youth Delegation.


      Malaysian Youth Delegation is a youth-led non-governmental organisation who represent the local youth climate movement at international climate conferences, such as the annual Conference of the Parties, part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Dedicated to raising awareness of climate policies amongst Malaysians, the youth are mentored and trained to translate technical policies into more relevant and relatable information for the public. MYD holds speaking engagements with various climate organisations to better understand the current landscape of local and international climate policy. With that, MYD endeavours to hold Malaysian leaders accountable for the promises made at international climate summits. 

      Liyana (center) at the UN headquarters in New York with Malaysian student Reena, and MYD’s own, Jasmin.