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Addressing climate change

WORLD leaders may continue to defend themselves, but it will not change the fact that they failed to live up to the world’s expectations at the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). Indeed, the Copenhagen Accord — the “deal” that governments agreed to take note of at COP15 — did not spell out the amount of greenhouse gas emissions developed countries would commit to reducing by 2020.

And so, now that COP15 is over and media attention is drawn away from climate change, what happens next? In Malaysia, what are the different stakeholders planning on doing about the accord and despite the failed negotiations in Copenhagen?

Protest in Cophenhagen on 12 Dec 2009

The government perspective

The Malaysian government, for one, has yet to decide if it will support the accord.

“The accord puts a lot of burden on developing countries. We’re also worried it might kill off the Kyoto Protocol, which was not mentioned in the text at all … At this juncture, we’re still weighing the pros and cons and discussing with like-minded countries,” a government negotiator, who could not be named because of bureaucratic protocol, says.

Despite that, he says the government will still strive to reduce Malaysia‘s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are focusing on the roadmap to achieve the target now, but our success will depend on the technology and financial support we receive from developed countries,” he says. At this point, however, it remains unclear whether Malaysia will receive the relevant support.

Negotiators will also have to decide what to do with the accord when they meet again in Bonn, Germany in June or July 2010, and then at COP16 in Mexico at the end of the year.

Former Malaysia Climate Change Group (MCCG) coordinator Gurmit Singh, who attended COP15 as an observer, says he is not optimistic that governments will be able to strike a deal at COP16. He notes that he would only be hopeful if negotiators ignored the accord, and if the US demonstrates necessary leadership.

Gurmit Singh
“At COP15, the world was held hostage by the US,” says Gurmit, who is also Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (Cetdem) founding executive director.

Indeed, despite US president Barack Obama‘s pledge to a 17% emission reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, he did not have the support of domestic policies to bring anything new to the COP15 negotiations. As a result, other developed countries like Australia and Canada conveniently hid behind the low ambitions of the US.

“Even the EU, who has always considered themselves the champion of climate change, was reluctant to step up their target because it would have effectively given the US, the world’s biggest emitter per capita, a free ride,” says current MCCG coordinator Nithi Nesadurai, who was also a COP15 observer.

“Public pressure will intensify [in the lead-up to COP16], especially among the youth. They will create the political will whereby if our political leaders don’t step up, they’re gambling with their political future,” Nithi predicts.

The business perspective

HSBC Bank Malaysia group communications and corporate sustainability chief Elizabeth Wee says the lack of a binding agreement from COP15 may affect the progress of related investments such as in clean technology.

“Going forward, businesses will need to work harder to ensure climate change remains a priority … but we will continue to put in place practices to manage our direct and indirect impacts for long-term business sustainability.

“Some of the measures we have implemented within the bank include eliminating the use of styrofoam cups and containers. We have also stopped serving mineral water in plastic bottles to our guests, and have changed to glass instead,” says Wee.

(Pic by Pixeled / Dreamstime)
In order to reduce its carbon footprint, she says the bank has also put an Environmental Management System in place to monitor its energy and water usage.

DiGi, YTL Corporation, and Sime Darby are among the other corporations that have placed climate change on the top of their corporate responsibility agenda in Malaysia. DiGi aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2012, while YTL Corporation has been organising a yearly Climate Change Week since 2007 in an effort to raise public awareness.

“More companies in Malaysia should come forward to announce their carbon footprint and what are they doing to reduce it,” says Gurmit.

WWF Malaysia climate change coordinator Melissa Chin adds that besides helping the environment, businesses can bring about massive savings by investing in clean technology and green design, and by reducing their resource use and wastage.

What about individuals?

Chin says the easiest way for the Malaysian public to contribute will be in their personal choices. “This could mean taking the public transport whenever possible; buying products that are efficient, have longer lifespans and use less packaging material; practising the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), and so forth.

“Understandably, sometimes our choices are limited by the options and infrastructure available. This is where the government has to step in.

“As voters, Malaysians have the power to push our government to do more to combat climate change and protect our living environment,” says Chin.

(Pic by iprole /
Nithi says MCCG has been pushing the climate change agenda in a concerted manner by providing input at policy level as well as organising talks and campaigns and undertaking research.

Nithi, who is also Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia (EPSM) president, observes that the Malaysian public and businesses have become more aware of climate-related issues. He cites as an example the Green Building Index rating, which the Institute of Architects has been promoting.

Additionally, the Penang and Selangor governments have both launched their own “no plastic bag day” campaigns. On 10 Jan 2010, our Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry also announced its plan to cut Malaysia’s electricity usage by 60%.

“Malaysia may be a late starter [in combating climate change], but there is still hope that we can be a strong finisher,” says Nithi.

Gan Pei Ling was in Copenhagen for COP15 in December 2009. Her trip was made possible by sponsorships from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Selangor government, and the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated in her writings are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsors.

For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change

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3 Responses to “Addressing climate change”

  1. M J Chin says:

    What are your opinions on the government’s commitment towards reducing carbon emission in KL but not putting a stop to its Coal Project in Lahad Datu, Sabah?

    Residue and spillage from the barges that carry coal from the sea to the plant will not only kill living things below sea level, it will erode the area and reduce it to an industrial-like area.

    Electricity can be generated via other means. The government not only supports the coal [lant, they have taken great steps to ensure that this projects shines through. Local-government-owned papers are publishing interesting “facts” that coal can be “clean”. I find it utterly disgusting how far they have come to claim the cleanliness of arang for the sake of a cheaper electricity source.

    The villagers have spoken to WWF Sabah and claimed they do not want to move out of the land which they grew up in, generation through generation. Every interview is documented, hard copy and soft. What the public is told is they will be compensated with new living conditions.

    We know if that happens, it will be like those Orang Asli who lost their settlements to Mustapha Kamal for very badly maintained housing. I attended Sime Darby’s lecture series on making development more sustainable, and was very impressed with Sime’s commitment to green issues after having spoken to some attendees.

    Why, then, can our government not follow the rest of the corporate world and move towards the green? How can I read the Star paper every day during the COP15 about our beloved prime minister’s commitment while he’s in Copenhagen, yet he’s turning a blind eye to the coal plant issue in Lahad Datu?

    Dear Mr Prime Minister,

    Being one of your majority voters from Sabah, I appeal to you -to listen to your people. Listen to the people who voted you into Parliament. We don’t want a coal plant. We want electricity from a sustainable source which will last for generations and generations to come. We do not take from our children, we hold the land in trust for them.

    Please stop harassing the people of Sabah, and give them what you owe them. Prove to us that you mean what you say when you were going to commit to reducing carbon emission.


  2. tzeyeng says:

    Thanks for consistently breaking down what went on at COP15. Did I miss a series on China’s impact on the negotiations from another point of view? The Brits seem to blame the Chinese.

    Keep up the good work 😉

  3. pei ling says:

    Hey tze yeng, indeed the Brits were blaming China, Martin Khor wrote an excellent piece to refute the claims in the Guardian:

    In a nutshell, China wasn’t the best player at the talks, but neither was the UK (or EU in general), so the Brits are not really in a position to blame others. =P

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