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Sarawak Becomes The First State To Regulate Climate Change – How Is This Pivotal?

Malaysia aims for carbon neutrality by 2050 under the Twelfth Malaysia Plan, committing to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement. Despite revealing the National Energy Policy (DTN) 2022-2040, which includes strategies for carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS), along with substantial investments and support from different stakeholders[1], the government hasn’t enacted laws to effectively address climate change and control carbon emissions.

This may potentially change with the Sarawak government passing the landmark Environment (Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Emission) Bill on November 20th, 2023. 

With this new environmental Bill, Sarawak has become the first Malaysian state to pass legislation addressing climate change, well ahead of what the federal government tried but failed to do[2].

This article will explain what these bills are and the pivotal role they’ll play in the future of mitigating climate change in the country.

The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly unanimously passed an Environment (Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emission) Bill, 2023, making it the first state to pass such law in the country. Source: The Borneo Post

Sarawak’s Landmark Climate Change Bill

Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department (Law, MA63 and Federal-State Relations) Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali in her winding-up speech said the bill on greenhouse gas emission reduction is a testament to Sarawak’s dedication to responsible development and betterment of the state under the visionary leadership of Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg[3].

Our aim is clear, that is to reduce carbon emissions by at least 45%, increase green job opportunities, empower small and medium enterprises, and equip Sarawak with sustainable infrastructure by 2030.

The new bill on greenhouse gas emission reduction is not just a legislative measure; it is a testament to our commitment to responsible development, environmental sustainability, and the well-being of our people. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[3]

Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali. Source: New Sarawak Tribune

Sharifah clarified that the Bill’s goal was to protect Sarawak’s environment. It aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reach net zero carbon emissions in the state by 2050. This aligns with the 12MP’s target to decrease the country’s GHG emissions by 45% and contributes to Malaysia’s larger plans outlined in the NEP 2022-2040[4].

She said that the measures provided in the Bill included requiring registered businesses in scheduled economic sectors to submit annual carbon emission reports and setting carbon emission thresholds.

Where any registered business entity is unable or unwilling to bring their carbon emissions down to the emission threshold levels, a carbon levy at a rate to be determined by the state Cabinet will be imposed. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[4]

She added that the law will also help the country’s emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

The law should also help control flaring and venting of petroleum and greenhouse gases by the oil and gas sectors and also promote forest carbon activities, carbon capture, and storage projects, validated according to Carbon Standards Rules for issuing Sarawak carbon credit units. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[5]

Sharifah said the Bill would institute a robust system for project verification and validation by appointed carbon standard administrators to ensure integrity and credibility for carbon credits issued in Sarawak. 

This, according to her, will allow Sarawak to earn revenue by trading or selling carbon credits,[4] promote carbon capture and storage and mitigate climate change effects, while providing opportunities for Sarawakians to participate in global warming effect mitigation projects and to earn carbon credits for their efforts[6].

These activities will enable the state to have a new source of revenue which would enhance the state’s capacity towards developing the state in an economically sustainable manner. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[6]

When answering Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong’s question about how carbon projects in the forest will affect the rights and interests of indigenous communities, Sharifah cited Sarawak’s laws such as the Forest Carbon Activity Rules 2022, saying that the rule regulates all carbon projects undertaken in Sarawak’s forests, which is in line with the clean development mechanism prescribed under the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

The Forest Carbon Activity Rules 2022 includes activity related to afforestation and reforestation that is the planting of trees and the rehabilitation of degraded forests. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[5]

Upon the Bill’s passing, she explained that the state government planned to set up an advisory panel on climate change, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, carbon credits and pricing, emission thresholds, energy transition strategies, the net zero target and related matters[4].

The carbon emission reduction and carbon credits issued for projects in Sarawak which contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change will be reported to the federal government. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[6]

Sharifah also hoped that the Bill would also pave the way for Sarawak to have its own regulatory framework on clean and renewable energy underlining its status as one of the global clean energy leaders.

With this (Bill), perhaps Sarawak will be on par with other developed countries such as Australia with their own new Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act 2023. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[6]

Sharifah Hasidah said explained that the law provides for measures and steps to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Source: The Borneo Post

Will Other States Follow Sarawak’s Lead?

Sarawak’s new Bill should hopefully inspire the rest of the country to follow suit and pass their own laws and regulations for mitigating climate change.

On the federal level, Malaysia’s national climate change Bill is expected to take another two to three years to develop, according to the Malay Mail quoting remarks by Malaysia’s Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad earlier this year in parliament. He told the house on Feb 23rd that the ministry is in the early stages of developing the Bill and will need a whole-of-nation approach which includes engaging with relevant stakeholders[2].

Despite these statements, Sharifah criticised Parliament’s apparent lack of effort in pursuing these Bills while explaining that such treaty obligations should be governed by the country’s laws, particularly by the Federal Constitution.

Parliament has not in pursuance of Article 76 passed any law to implement obligations entered into by Malaysia under the Paris Agreement. The state government has not been informed nor consulted with regard to any Bill being introduced in Parliament to bring into force any provisions of the Paris Agreement in the Federation too. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[5]

She further explained that the environment is a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional concept and includes matters such as climate change, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and capture and storage of carbon dioxide, all of which affect the environment.

The subject of ‘Environment’ is not explicitly listed in any of the legislative schedules in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution. As a result, it falls under the residual legislative power of the state legislature, as outlined in Article 77 and this means that the state may make laws on the environment. – Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department[3]

Deputy Minister in the Sarawak Premier’s Department Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali. Source: The Star

Channel News Asia (CNA) spoke to analysts who expressed doubt over other Malaysian states following Sarawak’s footsteps, bringing up various factors including a greater prioritisation of racial and religious issues in these states.

UNIMAS’ Dr Puyok told CNA that Sarawak, unlike the other states in the peninsular, “is different as it is a multiracial and multireligious state” and is thus not preoccupied with racial and religious issues. 

Echoing this, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, commented that other states, particularly those led by the opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN), have other issues to focus on. 

Other states typically follow the federal government’s lead. And the PN states are concerned with religious rather than socioeconomic enactments. –Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs[2]

Regardless of these doubts, Sarawak’s new bill will set the stage for our country’s mission to reduce GHG emissions going forward. If successful, other Malaysian states may become more willing to pass their anti-climate change laws.

Explore our sources:

  2. R.Y. Alis Haizan. (2023). Analysis: How Sarawak manages to pass two landmark laws in Malaysia, even ahead of the federal government. Channel News Asia. Link.
  3. N. Jee. (2023). Sarawak passes Environment Bill, 2023. New Sarawak Tribune. Link.
  4. S. Ling. (2023). Sarawak first in the country to enact anti-climate change law. The Star. Link.
  5. M. Umpang. (2023). Sh Hasidah: S’wak’s own climate change law needed as M’sia yet to have own law despite ratifying international treaties. The Borneo Post. Link.
  6. Bernama. (2023). Sarawak first state to pass law on carbon emissions. The Borneo Post. Link.

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