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Does Malaysia Need To Declare A Climate Emergency?

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres Wednesday painted a fairly grim picture of the future should countries continue to ignore warnings or delay sustainable climate actions following his recent visit to flood-hit Pakistan[1].

Unless action is taken now, unless funds are disbursed now, these tragedies will simply multiply, with devastating consequences for years to come, including instability and mass migration around the world. – Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary-general[1]

Guterres also noted that the world’s wealthiest nations are responsible for 80% of climate-related emissions, thus calling for the G20 to lead the way in cutting emissions and limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C[1].

G20 countries are also suffering the impact of record droughts, fires and floods – but climate action seems to be flatlining. If one-third of G20 countries were under water today (instead of Pakistan), as it could be tomorrow, perhaps they would find it easier to agree on drastic cuts to emissions. – Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary-general[1]

In Malaysia, climate activists also share a similar sentiment, believing that the country must declare a climate emergency before it becomes too late (defined as “a situation that requires urgent action to halt or reduce climate change and prevent irreversible environmental damage” by Oxford Dictionaries).

Calling For Action

The climate emergency coalition, Gabungan Darurat Iklim Malaysia (GDIMY), had called for local, state and federal governments to declare a nationwide climate emergency[2].

Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) (one of GDIMY’s member organisations) chairman Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar demanded the governments and all sectors keep global warming below 2°C with proactive actions to contain it within 1.5°C[2].

Accordingly, actions must include equitable climate solutions and resilience in all sectors and development plans with a key focus on vulnerable sectors that are at the most risk of harm. – Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, Klima Action Malaysia chairman[2]

Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, Selangor’s Menteri Besar said the climate emergency is one of the Selangor government’s proposals, but it cannot be done without proper data or research by experts on the matter[3].

We have appointed several agencies such as Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to study climate change in Malaysia.

We are hoping the report will be completed by the end of this year or early next year. Once we get the report, we will focus on handling the increase in water level due to flash floods. – Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, Selangor Menteri Besar[3]

At the “Interface for Members of Parliament and Civil Society Organizations on strengthening climate action in Malaysia” event, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi recommended parliamentarians push for the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment in the Constitution of Malaysia[4].

MPs must work together to use our budgetary oversight to ensure that the national budget provides sufficient funding to address the adverse impact of climate change. – Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights  APHR[4]

Not every government official shares this concern. Former Minister of Environment and Water Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said there was no need for the government to declare a climate emergency just yet, claiming that the government will closely monitor all programmes or activities related to mitigation to ensure that there is no significant increase in temperatures[5].

For the information of Yang Berhormat, based on the various programmes and initiatives being carried out by the country, the government is of the view that for now there is no need to declare a climate emergency. – Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, Minister of Environment and Water[5]

Meanwhile, our neighbours in Indonesia are displaying a similar sentiment. Extinction Rebellion Indonesia had called for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to immediately declare a climate emergency, with Extinction Rebellion (XR) Indonesia representative Novita Indri stating that the natural disasters that continue to happen in the country can be attributed to the climate crisis.

She said that it is supported by the statement issued by the national commission on human rights (Komnas HAM) which asserted that disasters driven by the climate crisis are a threat to human rights[6].

With the President declaring a climate crisis, only then will there be inter-ministerial and agency synergy to the handling of the issue… Even President Jokowi has said it on numerous occasions regarding the link between climate crisis and disasters. – Novita Indri, Extinction Rebellion (XR) Indonesia representative[6]

During the G20 climate talks, Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar also told delegates from the world’s leading economies that global environmental problems require global solutions”, otherwise the planet could end up in a situation “where no future will be sustainable”.[7]

We cannot hide from the fact that the world is facing increasingly compounding challenges. We know that climate change could become an amplifier and multiplier of the crises. We cannot solve those global environmental problems on our own. – Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry[7]

It is clear that people want the Malaysian government to declare a climate emergency, but what would lead them to this suggestion?

Our Current Climate Situation

Climate change is already causing problems for our country. The devastating flash floods in early 2022 were a clear indicator of this; heavier rainfall has been regarded as one of the primary culprits behind the floods, and it is feared that the warming climate will worsen it. A study conducted by C40 Cities predicts that if we fail to reverse the current climate trends, KL will be at an even greater risk of devastating floods by 2050[8].

To say that this (flood) is one in 100 years is something I doubt … with climate change the rains will be more frequent and torrential. – Mr Salleh Mohd Nor, former president and senior advisor at the Malaysian Nature Society[9]

The floods of mid-December and early January have caused an estimated RM6.1 billion (S$1.97 billion) in overall losses, according to a government report on Friday (Jan 28th). The Department of Statistics has further stated damage to public assets and infrastructure caused losses of RM2 billion, followed by RM1.6 billion in damage to homes[10].

Living in KL is not relevant anymore. It floods after rain, I am wasting my life in traffic. Living costs are high. It is causing so much stress that it may turn into burnout. We want a long life. – Syamil Yusri, Twitter user[11]

The situation is far worse for “Malaysia’s Rice Bowl” Kedah which is projected to be below sea level by 2030[12]. Local rice farmers are already finding it difficult to plant and grow their crops as changing weather patterns have thrown off their predictive abilities. And sea level rise caused by climate change will only worsen their current situation by destroying their rice paddies and thus livelihoods.

Weather conditions are now somehow peculiar and hard to predict. – Yusof Awang Kechik, retired rice farmer[13]

Elsewhere in Johor, long dry periods followed by heavy rains causing flash floods have been troubling vegetable farmers like Naviin Thiagarajan, who recounted losing 2,000 of his cucumber plants to intense heat[14].

The floods have of course destroyed many crops. But the last two weeks of no rain and high temperatures have been just as bad. I planted 2,000 cucumbers and all of them died because of the heat. – Naviin Thiagarajan, a vegetable farmer[14]

As a result of these weather-related vegetable die-offs, there was a dip in the supply of vegetables by around 20 to 30%, in turn leading to price hikes for vegetables such as spinach, okra, long bean and chilli[15].

Overall, the non-stop rain has depleted the supply. It seems like supply overall has dipped between 20 and 30 per cent, especially for farms that are unsheltered and out in the open. This means that output for vegetables such as spinach, bok choy, long beans and okra will be hit. – Mr Steven Lee, president of the Malaysian wholesaler vegetable association[15]

Meanwhile, the tourism hotspot Cameron Highlands is becoming a literal hotspot. The over-development of Cameron Highlands, together with ongoing climate change, has led to the region losing its characteristically cool climate, with minimum temperatures increasing by 7.5°C over the past three decades[16], much to the detriment of both the residents and visitors.

In the summer of 2022, the Meteorological Department recorded temperatures between 16°C and 23°C, far higher than what people expected[16].

Tour guide Angela Marine Hoon, 65, was among those who noticed the change in temperature, recounting that in her 38 years of experience, people had never needed fans or any other cooling system[16].

It used to be so cold here that going to Cameron Highlands was like visiting any cold European country. Nowadays, some visitors even ask if the hotel has fans installed in the rooms. – Angela Marina Hoon, a tour guide[16]

The rising temperatures have also spelt trouble for the Highlands’ famed strawberries, with the temperate-growing fruit having a far more difficult time in hotter climates.

People have noted that strawberries from Cameron Highlands are smaller and sour, compared with the imported ones. – K. Kaliyannan, a tour guide[16]

Are We Really Prepared For A Climate Emergency?

Declaring a climate emergency will necessitate some changes to everything, from our industries to our economies to our lifestyles.

During the virtual Malaysia Climate Change Action Council (MyCAC) on June 21st 2022, then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said three actions were needed in order to improve Malaysia’s climate resilience, as well as strengthen the public health sector[17].

Developing the National Adaptation Plan (MyNAP), which encompasses action and long-term plans, as well as a national development strategy for the public health sector, infrastructure, security and water resources, agriculture, forestry and biodiversity, are among the actions that will be executed.

State governments will be encouraged to use the Malaysia Climate Change Adaptation Index to boost response towards the impact of climate change.

There will also be the integration of climate change factors at planning stages, design as well as implementing water sector and infrastructure projects to reduce the risk of floods. – Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, then Prime Minister of Malaysia[17]

Others believe that we should be ambitious with our climate preparation plans, however.

Using the saying – ‘shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars, Dr Renard Siew, a sustainability and climate change specialist, explained that goals should be ambitious as it keeps people striving and inspired to do better. 

He adds that the Malaysian economy needs an urgent “economic reset” that will deliver an inclusive, lasting recovery through action towards a just and sustainable future[1].

Therefore, the government should also develop a New Green Deal that pays special attention to industry transformation, renewable energy, transportation and forests. – Dr Renard Siew, a sustainability and climate change specialist[1]

Associate Professor Dr Matthew Ashfold, head of the school of environmental and geographical sciences, University of Nottingham, Malaysia, also weighed in his thoughts, stressing the need for more urgent action, as in most countries, as attention towards climate action increases in Malaysia[1].

As an illustration, Malaysia’s current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commits to a 45 per cent reduction in emission intensity of GDP by 2030, relative to 2005.

With an anticipated tripling of GDP over this 25-year period, the reduction in intensity can be achieved even if actual emissions continue to grow considerably up to 2030.

By contrast, the (GDIMY) climate emergency declaration cites research indicating Malaysia’s emissions should be falling by 2030 to contribute to achieving the Paris Agreement goals in a way considered to be ‘fair’. – Associate Professor Dr Matthew Ashfold, head of the school of environmental and geographical sciences, University of Nottingham, Malaysia[1]

Already Prepared For The Worst

For the people of Klang, climate change is an unfortunate reality that caused much grief. The fear of another disastrous flood has led many Klang residents to create their own flood preparations, even going so far as to avoid sleeping whenever it rains during a high tide. Shamala Devi, 53, had spent much of their money on improving their home’s flood protection. And still, during the December 2021 floods, water gushed into her home and over steps and bunds like a mini waterfall[18].

Every time we have extra money, we use it to build something for the house to make sure flood water doesn’t come in. – Shamala Devi, Taman Bunga Ros resident[18]

Meanwhile, in Teluk Gong on the Klang coast (one of the places projected to be submerged by 2100) Musminah Saiman, 53, and her sister who lives next door spent more than RM1,000 to buy the soil, in hopes of raising the grounds to stop floodwaters[18].

When I think of the damage we endured in December, I can’t believe we managed to clean out everything and that we’re still living here. At the time, I felt like taking a tractor and demolishing the entire home. – Musminah Saiman, Teluk Gong resident[18]

Adaptation And Consequences

Researchers have pointed out that many climate emergency declarations around the world are focused too much on mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, with a mere 12% of climate declarations talking about climate adaptation[1].

Ashfold stated that questions about the practical impact of climate emergency declarations sometimes concern a narrow focus on reducing emissions, which could come at the expense of other important goals, such as reducing poverty and improving health[1].

Another practical question is whether we could conceive of an end to a climate emergency? – Associate Professor Dr Matthew Ashfold, head of the school of environmental and geographical sciences, University of Nottingham, Malaysia[1]

Even in the most optimistic scenario, Ashfold said it will take decades to address climate change fully, reach zero emissions globally, and ensure global resilience to climatic hazards[1].

Professor Dr Yeah Kim Leng, director of the economic studies programme of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia also pointed out that this collective cry for radical climate action and climate emergency declaration could have unintended consequences such as scaring away investors, stalling development activities and diverting resources away from another equally critical spending such as healthcare and education[1].

Therefore, he said, it is imperative to outline the scope and limits of the emergency declaration and to ascertain beforehand the costs, benefits, and potential effects on social and economic activities[1].

Taking Action Towards Climate Change

A Monash University Malaysia survey led by Dr Azliyana Azhari from the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub (MCCCRH) shows that 8 in 10 Malaysians are either alarmed or concerned about climate change. According to the survey (which garnered 1,000 respondents), 97% of Malaysians are aware of climate change and understand it is happening. 82% know that human activities cause climate change. 32% believe climate change is presently causing harm to our daily lives, and 35% believe that climate change will cause harm to the Malaysian population within the next decade[19].

The survey also shows that many Malaysians are already taking steps to change towards a more sustainable lifestyle:

  • 65% bring their own shopping bags when buying groceries. 
  • 63% have switched to environmentally friendly products. 
  • 79% turn off electrical appliances and lights when not in use to reduce home energy.
  • The most common waste management behaviours are recycling (67%) and not openly burning trash (68%).

Still, we can do more.

When it comes to taking action on the issues of climate change and the environment, the Malaysian government should consider collaborating with various parties, including marginalised groups such as youth groups and the Orang Asli community and taking their views into account so that more inclusive and comprehensive decisions can be made[20].

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Additionally, policymaking alone is not sufficient as long as the Malaysian community lacks the knowledge and awareness of the need to give priority to the issue of climate change and environmental sustainability, and that they also have a critical role to play in supporting the government’s goals[20].

As such, it is imperative that the Malaysian government works on improving environmental literacy via the strengthening of knowledge transfer strategies. This can be done by maximising the capacity of educational institutions to play an active role in producing a young generation who are knowledgeable and concerned about the environment, as well as becoming agents of spreading awareness within their own communities. At the same time, the government should also step up efforts to encourage these centres through financial incentives and facilities to increase research, innovation and community projects that are more focused on environmental management and climate change[20].

Explore our sources

  1. T. Arumugam. (2022). Calling it what it is: Climate Emergency. New Straits Times. Link.
  2. A. Mardhiah. (2022). Govt urged to declare climate emergency. The Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  3. S. Kasinathan. (2022). Selangor govt considering climate emergency declaration. The Star. Link.
  4. APHR. (2022). Parliamentarians and civil society demand political unity to tackle the impact of the climate emergency in Malaysia. Link.
  5. R. Razak. (2022). No need to declare climate emergency in Malaysia just yet, says environment minister. Malay Mail. Link.
  6. R.M. Nugraha. (2022). XR Indonesia Urges Jokowi to Declare Climate Emergency. Temp.Co. Link.
  7. AFP. (2022). Indonesia calls for more G20 action on climate change. New Straits Times. Link.
  8. Water Safe Cities. (n.d.). C40 Cities. Link.
  9. Reuters. (2022). ‘Surprise’ urban Malaysia floods drive pleas for climate action. The Straits Times. Link.
  10. Reuters. (2022). Malaysia floods caused nearly $2 billion in losses. The Straits Time. Link.
  11. M. Kaur. (2022). Social media users rage over another flash flood in KL. Sinar Daily. Link.
  12. A. Dorall. (2019). 9 M’sian Cities Will Be Underwater By 2050 Due To Rising Sea Levels. The Rakyat Post. Link.
  13. S.L. Leoi, I. Hilmy & H. Sivanandam. (n.d.). The Sea Also Rises. The Star Shorthand. Link.
  14. A. Yusof. (2022). ‘All 2,000 cucumbers died’: Shortage of vegetables, durians from Johor as crops destroyed by floods and heat. Channel News Asia. Link.
  15. A. Yusof. (2022). Vegetable prices likely to go up in Malaysia as prolonged heavy rain affects crop yields, say farmers. Channel News Asia. Link.
  16. N. Daim. (2022). Cameron Highland folk warn of lower strawberry harvests as temperatures rise. New Straits Times. Link.
  17. D. Chan. (2022). Ismail Sabri: Govt has identified three actions to prepare for climate change, boost public health. New Straits Times. Link.
  18. A. Razak & A. Sinnappan. (2022). When the water rises: A Malaysian climate change story. Malaysiakini. Link.
  19. C. Ignatius. (2022). 8 in 10 Malaysians are Alarmed & Concerned About Climate Change in Malaysia. Business Today. Link.
  20. M. Sababathy. (2022). Are we losing in the battle against climate change? The Malaysian Reserve. Link.

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