THE year 2023 will be another important junction in Malaysia’s climate journey. The Minister of Natural Resources, Environment & Climate Change, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, has already stated some of his priorities, which include enacting a Climate Change Act.

The newly formed ministry has also reunified the natural resources and environment portfolios, which is expected to improve the planning and coordination of its various initiatives.

But as the environmental and climate crisis are systemic issues that require policy and institutional-based solutions, it is critical that in 2023 the government start investing more in laying the groundwork for these real changes (hopefully in a bipartisan manner), as opposed to the typical “shovel-ready” initiatives driven by political expediency and ease of implementation.

In recent years, Malaysia’s climate scene has advanced rapidly. As the importance of ESG performance among investors and financial institutions grows, more businesses are pledging net zero targets and disclosing their climate risks, as will be required in the near future. Malaysia, on the other hand, has long focused solely on mitigation or reducing GHG emissions.

It is important to remember, however, that staying below 1.5°C requires a global effort. As a result, even if Malaysia achieves net zero status 30 years from now, or even tomorrow, by halting all emissions, the country will continue to face a slew of climate hazards.

In 2023, Malaysia must prioritise adaptation and climate resilience, particularly at the local level. According to IPCC reports released last year that paint an apocalyptic future, Malaysia is among the most vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia to climate change. The world has already warmed by 1.2°C, and we may have passed the 1.5°C threshold by 2030. To begin with, the government must expedite the development of the National Adaptation Plan, which has been in the works since 2015.

At the local level, it would be ideal if the government could implement a resilient town and city transformation agenda to address climate change impacts and disaster risk more holistically, such as Sponge City and ecosystem-based approaches. To protect vulnerable groups, market-based instruments for adaptation and disaster risk, such as risk transfer and sharing such as climate-risk insurance should be explored together with a disaster risk financing strategy for the country.

That is not to say Malaysia should abandon its efforts at mitigation. As a trading nation, our economy and value chain is vulnerable to the global low-carbon transition. Malaysia must start developing a clear strategy for climate-smart trade and investment, including addressing transition risks such as the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) and other trade barriers. Prospective market-based instruments, such as a carbon tax and an emission trading scheme are being studied by the government, but they need to be linked with clear climate outcomes and a holistic approach to the ecosystem.

This means rationalising preserves incentives such as fossil fuel subsidies. Clear policy targets, such as a peak emission target, sectoral emission reduction targets, and a roadmap on its net zero pledges, are required to send market signals. Some of these will be included in the upcoming Long-Term Low-Emissions and Development Strategies (LT-LEDS).

Finally, any plans and actions taken by Malaysia must institutionalise a participatory, inclusive, and transparent approach that includes all segments of society. Malaysia’s ongoing transition to a low-carbon development must not leave certain groups and sectors discriminated against to ensure a just transition.

Second, there is a need to build adaptive capacity across all segments of society to adapt to climate change by shifting from technical and technological approaches to a rights-based, social, and target-group approach. In a nutshell, Malaysia’s transition to a low-carbon economy and climate-resilient development should put people and the rakyat at its centre.

This article first appeared in The Petri Dish, 7 February 2023

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