Environmentalists: Malaysia’s latest climate change action plan on greenhouse gas emissions may be too ambitious, unrealistic

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Environmentalists say Malaysia must ensure conservation of its forest and peatland ecosystem from unchecked development. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Environmentalists say Malaysia must ensure conservation of its forest and peatland ecosystem from unchecked development. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — Malaysia’s aspiration to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its economy by 45 per cent based on the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 has been met with criticism from some unexpected quarters: environmental advocacy groups.

While generally welcoming Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s recent statement on Malaysia’s commitment to the climate change agenda, they were concerned that the goals were too ambitious and unrealistic.

The environmentalists further added that a lack of detail and limited technological capacity could be hurdles to transformative climate action.

In fact, groups like Greenpeace Malaysia and Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) voiced absolute disapproval to the usage of carbon offsetting schemes to achieve net-zero emissions targets.

“Net-zero is not zero. Carbon offsetting is the opposite of proven concrete actions to reduce

emissions and a dangerous game to play, it’s a licence to keep polluting,” said Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun.

By definition, carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their own carbon footprints.

“It incentivises the commodification of nature by undermining land rights to allow powerful corporations and governments to take over the lands of the vulnerable, such as indigenous peoples and communities affected by forest destruction, to offset the emissions of wealthy people thousands of miles away.

“These schemes have led to land-grabbing, biodiversity destruction, and human rights abuses,” Heng told Malay Mail.

Malaysia, as one of the parties to the Paris Agreement, is scheduled to enter climate change talks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12.

KAMY chairman Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar was even more outspoken in her criticism of net-zero pledges.

“I think the net-zero pledge is not radical enough, not transformative enough.”

In particular, she singled out the UNFCCC COP 26 agenda as promoting inequality among Global North and Global South nations to the Paris Agreement by committing them to pledge net-zero emission by 2050.

She said the ultimate issue at hand is to put a stop to carbon emissions and not seek mitigating alternatives to circumvent existing emissions.

“If they go on with this pledge, all these developed nations are ignoring historical emission because you're asking the smallest countries who don’t contribute the most (emission) to do as much as you, whereas you have been polluting the atmosphere with emission since the Industrial Revolution,” she added.

Furthermore, Ili Nadiah said the aforementioned net-zero pledge also relied on negative emission technologies which are not scalable and financially feasible in the current circumstances where Malaysia is still far behind in terms of climate change mitigation rollouts.

“For me it's just a delaying tactic and for net-zero to be achieved by 2050, to be done here personally I do not think it's even possible.

“It's not feasible. Basically we’re using greenwashing initiatives, delaying tactics to allow companies to pollute in this timeframe (until 2050).”

Similar to whitewashing, greenwashing refers to the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound.

She emphasised on systemic changes and people-driven solutions instead in addressing social inequalities.

Referring to the country’s hydroelectric development policies, Ili Nadiah said the construction of mega dams — touted as a form of renewable energy source — on indigenous lands served as the most telling signs of inequality and injustice.

“When we talk about transformative policies, we should talk about social justice. What is the point of talking about reducing carbon when the lives around you are not improved?

“We have to do more not just in terms of reducing carbon emission but move beyond that by also creating a resilient society,” she said.

Road to a greener and cleaner future

Other environmentalists say Malaysia must also ensure conservation of its forest and peatland ecosystem from unchecked development.

“One key sector for action is to stop conversion of forests and peatlands. There are significant opportunities for Malaysia to reduce emissions from peatlands through better management of oil palm and agriculture on peat as well as the development of peatland restoration projects,” Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said.

Peatlands are the largest natural carbon store in Malaysia but increasing clearance, drainage and fires are leading to massive GHG emissions into the atmosphere contributing to global climate change.

Malaysia’s 2.56 million hectares of tropical peatlands form a critical buffer against flooding during the wet season and insurance against drought in the dry season as well as being critical habitat for diverse and endangered flora and fauna.

Greenpeace also shared a similar sentiment, pointing out that natural solutions such as protecting forests and peatlands and restoring ecosystems that cut emissions directly should still be among the key priorities and strategies in reducing GHG emissions for Malaysia, further emphasising it should not be substituted with unproven and untested carbon capture and storage technologies.

As the climate change impact is already being felt in Malaysia, Malaysian environmental NGO EcoKnights said the time for the government to make good on its bold promises and ambitious targets is now.

“In the past, we have set many ambitious targets and bold promises to fight global warming, but it's really time to keep these promises,” they said in an email reply to Malay Mail.

Realistically speaking, the group said Malaysia’s climate change action plan should adopt the integrated approach, such as tackling the root-causing factors from the legal, technical, economic, and public participation spheres.

The group also emphasised the importance of public active participation as society can play a very effective role in influencing government and corporation policy-making.

“There is a need to hold industrial stakeholders accountable for the GHG emissions produced as well as the carbon pollution.

“If the government were to achieve its promised achievements optimally in the eyes of the world, it has to begin motivating the public towards the right direction and upgrade its cooperation and consultation with the CSOs and NGOs.

“Unfortunately, this has been an ignored part of Malaysia when it comes to this environmental crisis,” the group added, referring to civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.

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