Nation finds it difficult to balance climate goals and economic progress

Government leaders in Malaysia tend to send conflicting signals when it comes to combating climate change as they have to balance ecological sustainability and economic progress.

Prof Abdul Rashid Abdul Aziz from WOU’s School of Technology and Engineering Science (STE), was speaking on “From Rio Earth Summit to COP26: Malaysia’s Pledges, Political Leadership, Policies, Administrative Apparatus and Performance” at the Symposium on ‘Technologies for Sustainable Urban Development (TechSUD 2023)’ at the main campus on 14 May 2023.

Prof Rashid shares on Malaysia’s pledges to climate change.

He highlighted the nation’s climate change commitments at the global stage, beginning with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where Malaysia pledged to maintain at least 50% of its land mass under forest and tree cover. Malaysia also ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994.

He said that at COP26 (Conference of Parties 26) in 2021, the government ambitiously committed to reduce carbon intensity by 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and a month before the meeting, the then prime minister pledged to make Malaysia a carbon neutral country by 2050.

“In the span of 30 years, Malaysia’s commitment to combat climate change has become increasingly ambitious,” he noted. “Making pledges is easy but fulfilling them is no easy feat as the country balances climate change goals and socio-economic progress.”

Prof Rashid is from the School of Technology and Engineering Science.

Prof Rashid underlined three factors that influence the success of pledges – political leadership; policies and other related documents; and the administrative apparatus.

He said all the prime ministers subscribed to the same green agenda, such as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1992 and Ismail Sabri Yaakob pledging net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He said their actions upon taking power are conflicting, including reneging on their promises, e.g. the approval of the Penang South Reclamation project. “Government leaders have been sending conflicting signals because they have to constantly juggle economic progress and economic sustainability,” he stressed.

The challenges in fulfilling Malaysia’s pledges.

He quoted Tun Mahathir as saying that they must weigh environmental loss prevention against growing socio-economic development needs from an increasing population, namely the demand for food, water and other infrastructures which put pressure on the natural resources and environment. He reiterated, “Malaysia’s need to balance climate goals and economic progress is affecting the government’s ability to fulfil its promises.”

Prof Rashid said the government has constructed many policies, action plans, blueprints and master plans to fulfil its climate change commitment, such as the ‘Low Carbon Mobility Blueprint 2021-2030’ and the ‘Strategic Plan 2020-2030: Environmental Sustainability in Malaysia’. He questioned how these policies interact in unison to meet Malaysia’s pledges.

He also addressed the administrative apparatus involved in fulfilling the government’s climate pledges, noting that Malaysia is not short of government documents. Multiple ministries crafted the documents unveiled over the last 30 years. He found the documents disconnected and a lack of inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation.

Prof Rashid with WOU and Technological Association Malaysia (TAM) organising committee members.

On Malaysia’s performance in meeting its pledges, he said the Washington Post accused Malaysia – and other countries – of under-reporting its greenhouse emissions in the submission to UNFCCC in 2020.  The government denied the claim and defended its figures.

He concluded: “Malaysia is not the only country that has to juggle ecological sustainability and economic progress. Some climate scientists warn that we are standing on the cliff-edge. If some countries including Malaysia are under-reporting their greenhouse emissions to UNFCCC, then we are closer to the cliff-edge than we think.”

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