Malaysia's Environmental Performance Index


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Case Study: The Malaysia Environmental Protection Index

Scope: National

First Released: 2013

Intended Audience: Government, Civil Society

Potential Application: National policymaking

Developer: The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)

Description: Pointing to observed economic gains from high environmental performance, particularly with respect to eco-tourism or adventure tourism, an industry that in 2009 was estimated to be worth$89 million worldwide, Malaysia is adapting the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) to better manage results locally. The 2012 Environmental Performance Index for Malaysia follows similar efforts in China to create a sub-national composite index to assess the efficacy of environmental policy implementation.

Malaysia’s fluctuating EPI rankings throughout the past versions of the EPI were one impetus for the government’s decision to develop a sub-national EPI. In the 2006 EPI, the country ranked ninth, followed by 26th in 2008, 54th in 2010, 25th in 2012, and 51st in the most recent 2014 EPI. While the government readily recognized that the nation was performing better on environmental health than ecosystem vitality objectives, officials realized that more granular data were needed to determine what might be causing performance to oscillate so drastically in the past 10 years.

Additionally, as stated in the Environmental Performance Index for Malaysia 2012 report, the national government recognized that, “The introduction of various legal and non-legal environmental protection measures has so far failed to prevent further environmental degradation, partly due to constraints that exist within the legal and institutional frameworks and the conflicting demands between economic growth and environmental protection.” (Report at page 13)

Malaysia’s EPI represents a more comprehensive reporting approach on environmental indicators performance and complements the Environmental Qualities Indicators (EQI) previously launched by Malaysia’s Department of the Environment. EQI included an Air Pollution Index (API) and a River Water Quality Index (WQI) with a stated goal to “help ensure sustainable development through a process of nation building.”

“Prior to [Malaysia’s EPI], the Air Pollution Index (API) and Water Quality Index (WQI) were the only indicators established to provide decision making tools for immediate and medium term response to environmental concerns. Since both API and WQI are limited in scope, the EPI represents a more comprehensive reporting system that provides decision making tool for medium and long term policy implementation at federal, state and local government levels in improving environmental governance,” said Rahmalan bin Ahamad, a professor at UTM and one of the authors of the Malaysia EPI.

Completed in early 2013, Malaysia’s national EPI is the product of a multi-year effort to create a domestic index of pollution issues and natural resource management. Modeled after the global EPI, the Malaysia EPI ranks each Malaysian state based on its environmental performance and thereby enables the government to target which states to prioritize for intervention (i.e., to identify leaders and laggards) and what environmental issues to prioritize within each state. Targeted goals of the EPI include encouraging sharing of best practice between states, ensuring data consistency, and identifying information gaps.

One key revelation of the Malaysia EPI was a lack of coordination between the various federal agencies that work on environmental issues in different ways. For example, as described in the report, data on sanitation and water access in Malaysia is regularly published in different formats by a number of different agencies including the National Water Services Commissions, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Regional and Rural Development. Data collection for the Malaysia EPI has helped to catalyze communication and information sharing between these governmental agencies.

Malaysia’s first EPI adopts the environmental health and ecosystem vitality objectives that comprise the global EPI but adds a third, socioeconomic sustainability objective. The inclusion of this third objective is based on the New Economic Model which seeks to balance economic growth with environmental sustainability. According to the report’s authors, the third objective was added to reflect the need for better economic efficiency, environmental awareness, and environmental governance.

In terms of methodology, the Malaysia EPI uses the same proximity-to-target method used in the global EPI. The Malaysia EPI also similarly normalizes data so as not to penalize states based on their natural endowment or geographic size. Just as in the global EPI, indicators and their corresponding policy categories are weighted based on expert opinion of their contribution to overall environmental performance as well as their importance to the health and economic vitality of the country. Before any data was included in the Malaysia EPI, it was rigorously evaluated to ensure accuracy, that it is verifiable, and that it will continue to be available for future iterations of the index to enable benchmarking and quantification of progress achieved.

The Malaysia EPI includes four policy categories under the Environmental Health objective, seven categories under Ecosystem Vitality, and three policy categories under the Socioeconomic Sustainability objective. Underlying the three objectives and 14 policy categories are a total of 33 indicators. Notably, the efforts to create Malaysia’s first EPI reveals an important data gap that made it impossible to include an environmental burden of disease indicator based on disability adjusted life years (DALYs). Instead this policy category is approximated through two indicators: dengue fever cases and child mortality.

One interesting policy category unique to the Malaysia EPI is the inclusion of Waste. Recognizing not only that waste can cause human health problems but also that waste can reflect inefficiency and that decomposition of waste contributes to climate change, the authors of the Malaysia EPI realized that waste generation and treatment were important environmental metrics to track and evaluate. Two indicators make up this category within the Malaysia EPI: Municipal Waste Generation per capita and Industrial Hazardous Waste Generation per industrial GDP.

As a state-level environmental index, the Malaysia EPI is able to quantify certain aspects of environmental quality that the global EPI is unable to capture because of its global scope and therefore, necessarily coarser resolution of data. In contrast, the finer spatial scale of the Malaysia EPI enables the index to incorporate a Water Effects on Ecosystems policy category which measures water pollution both in rivers through the River Water Quality indicator and off of the Malaysian coast through the Marine Water Quality indicator. These data, which the global EPI hopes to find ways to collect and incorporate on a global scale in future iterations, comes from the Department of Environment Malaysia (DOE). While the Marine Water Quality Standard is still being developed, DOE has been collecting data on river quality in Malaysia since 1978. The Malaysia EPI is similarly able to break down its Climate Change policy category at a finer spatial scale, examining emissions from different sectors such as transportation and solid waste.

Through its national EPI, the Malaysian government hopes to begin to consistently improve its score on the global EPI. It is important to note that while Malaysia’s EPI was published at the beginning of 2013, there has been insufficient time for subsequent policy or behavioral changes made in any of the Malaysian states to be reflected in the global EPI. The initial iteration of the Malaysia EPI has already enabled the government to start targeting specific states and prioritizing issue areas for environmental policy enhancement.



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