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Written by: Mark Rao
Malaysia’s commitment to substantially slash its carbon emissions intensity and up its investments in renewables, while praiseworthy, fall short of contributing to meaningful climate action.
South Korea made headlines recently when it announced plans to deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – the first East Asian country to set a deadline to end its contribution to climate change (Eco-Business, 2020).
In February this year, Singapore announced that it intends to commit to an absolute peak emission level of 65 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent around the year 2030, with the view of then halving emissions by 2050 (The Business Times, 2020).
Malaysia, on its part, has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity of gross domestic product (GDP) by 45% by the year 2030, and is further targeting a renewable energy capacity mix of 20% by 2025.
These are ambitious goals for a country still in the midst of rapid development and just shy of high-income status, but it is important to distinguish between emission intensity and absolute emissions.
Carbon emissions intensity is emissions produced per unit of GDP. In other words, reducing the intensity in carbon emissions means less pollution is created for every unit of GDP produced.
However, total emissions can come in higher if a country’s GDP grows, as was the case in 2018 when Malaysia’s economy – as measured by GDP – grew 4.7% and its CO2 emissions rose 3.6% year-on-year to 250.3 million tons (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2019).
An absolute emissions reduction target, on the other hand, refers to lowering net total emissions – the most relevant measure to combat climate change.
Malaysia committing to an absolute reduction in emissions would prove its biggest step yet in addressing climate woes, but obstacles remain in its transition into a sustainable energy future.
Firstly, the country is contending with a high level of built-up power infrastructure reliant on fossil fuels – thus necessitating substantial investments to transition to green energy.
It is estimated that Malaysia will need approximately RM33 billion worth of investments, especially from the private sector, to meet its 20% renewable energy mix target by the 2025 deadline (The Edge Financial Daily, 2019).
Legislation is integral in facilitating this transition by creating a regulatory framework and price-support mechanism to allow renewable energy to be cost-competitive compared to fossil fuels, but this is currently absent in Malaysia.
The former Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change was pushing for new legislations and amendments to make concrete what was once only a framework under the National Policy on Climate Change.
This includes plans to table the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act in Parliament this year, drafting a new environment act and making amendments to the Environment Quality Act 1974 (The Malaysian Reserve, 2019).
The Cabinet shake-up in March this year now sees Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man in the role of Environment Minister.
He indicated that the Environment Ministry will continue effective initiatives and policies introduced by the previous administration, including cutting down on single-use plastics and returning illegal plastic waste (New Straits Times, 2020).
It remains unclear if legislation on renewable energy and green investments remains on the agenda of the new ministry.
What we do know is that transitioning into a sustainable energy future is vital in addressing the very real threat of climate change.
Global sea-level rise, unprecedented heatwaves, compromised food security and the displacement of populations prove that climate change is no longer the material of thought-provoking science fiction – it is the reality of today.
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