Malaysia shares lessons in sustainability

17 October 2021
At Expo 2020 Dubai, Malaysia is partnering with nations and organisations that share its vision of a cleaner, greener future

The recent UN 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has confirmed that human activities have driven climate change, and Shamsul Bahar Mohd Nor, CEO of Malaysian Green Technology & Climate Change Centre (MGTC), the implementing agency for Malaysia’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, agrees that “we are to be blamed”.

“We are the ones that caused climate change, deforestation and a host of other problems for nature," he says. "And we are the ones who have to fix it.”

The theme of the Malaysian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is "Energising Sustainability". Through a net-zero carbon pavilion inspired by a rainforest canopy, Malaysia is focusing on ways to tackle climate change and improve awareness.

Malaysia signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, in 2016, along with 196 other entities. The agreement requires every country to plan, regularly report, and demonstrate progress towards reducing emissions.

Malaysia has set a target of cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, above the baseline target of 35 per cent set in 2015.

“Every country has an obligation [to make a difference], and this is our contribution,” says Nor. “But how do we actually make this happen?”

National-level change

Under the aegis of MGTC, which is part of Malaysia's Environment & Water Ministry, climate change mitigation projects and programmes have been implemented across the country.

Nor says that the energy and transportation sectors are the biggest emissions culprits, and have to be effectively tackled to reduce GHG.

“We monitor 154 municipalities across Malaysia, tracking programmes that are contributing to a low-carbon future – from bicycle lanes to limiting vehicles in certain city areas. Even the smallest effort counts.”

MGTC hosts two meetings a year with state representatives to monitor progress.

The agency is also pushing to reduce emissions from the transport sector, urging citizens to switch to public transport solutions or carpooling, to avoid both pollution and traffic congestion.

“We are also talking about the benefits of switching from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. I drive an electric car myself – I understand that not everyone may be able to do it, but as MGTC, we are trying to set the example for others to follow.”

After conducting studies for two years, MGTC has designed a low-carbon mobility blueprint. It is introducing 10,000 buses to the roads of Malaysia, as well as electric motorbikes and bicycles.

“We pay you to ride your bicycle to the office,” says Nor. “But if you drive a car, you pay a penalty – it is an approach to change the mindset.”

Working with the government, MGTC aims to make 100 per cent of its public vehicle fleet electric by 2030.

To meet infrastructure demand for electric charging, MGTC has installed almost 300 charging stations country-wide. The agency is planning to raise this to 10,000 by 2030.

“We are introducing charging stations that allow you to charge your car in 15 minutes and drive 400 kilometres. [It is expensive], but we are pulling in investors. We are convincing them that this is the way forwards.”

The agency is also working with corporate franchisees such as McDonalds, encouraging them to trial electric bikes for delivery, and pushing down the cost of electric bikes for the public.

Malaysia is advancing towards renewable energy sources. Nor says that the country is targeting 31 per cent of installed capacity by 2025.

Hydrogen is also of interest. Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas is growing its nascent green (no carbon emissions) and blue (low carbon) hydrogen business using carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

In August, a delegation from MGTC met with Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa) to discuss opportunities for bilateral collaboration and to learn more about Dewa’s activities in the renewables space.

“Malaysia is the third largest solar panel producer in the world,” says Nor. “Through discussions such as these, we can help bring down costs for clients such as Dewa.

“We are bridging with technology providers; we are engaging with foreign investors. These are some of the things we are doing – not just policies, but also incentivising.”

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Nor says it is easier to engage with the millennial generation than to reach an older audience.

“Our focus is on young people. At MGTC, our workforce largely consists of millennials, so they can bring in relevant ideas.”

MGTC is also encouraging positive change among its staff, including meatless days, growing plants at home, recycling and public transport.

“In November, we are hosting an international active mobility experience, where we will be cycling around Kuala Lumpur. We will stream this in Dubai, and we want you to cycle with us. We want cities around the world, Sydney, Tokyo, and so on, to join us.”

Initiatives such as biodegradable packaging, limiting the use of single-use drinking straws, and kiosks that give public transport credit in exchange for plastic bottles, are all helping to create change.

In 2018, Malaysia launched a roadmap to achieve zero single-use plastics by 2030.

MGTC has also introduced a certificate to verify the carbon footprint of public places and brands, and the recyclability of products.

“We hope these certifications will help people make better decisions about what brands they engage with,” says Nor.

Expo opportunity

“We look at Expo 2020 as an event that allows countries to convene, discuss trade and talk about how to improve things beyond the financial aspect,” says Nor.

MGTC has identified key countries and organisations that it will sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with during the event. Twenty-two ministries and 26 agencies from Malaysia will visit the site over the next six months, focusing on areas such as science and technology, education and tourism.

In November, we are hosting an international active mobility experience, where we will be cycling around Kuala Lumpur. We will stream this in Dubai, and we want you to cycle with us.

“What we are looking at is the connection with other countries,” says Nor. “We have already set up all the meetings, in our dedicated business spaces.”

On 5 October, the Malaysia International Technology Summit was held in Dubai, marking the signing of the first MoUs. One of the MoUs signed was between Malaysia Innovation Foundation and Gujarat Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network to co-operate in exploring grassroots innovations. Another was signed between Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre, Asean Centre of Entrepreneurship and District 2020 (Scale2Dubai) to scale up and unlock the Middle East and North African and Asian markets.

Malaysia has launched an e-platform to ensure that people who are unable to visit Expo 2020 in person are still able to enjoy the country's exhibits and business programmes.

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