Work on concrete measures to improve our environment

Oleh Mohd Noor Musa

MALAYSIA’S current population stands at 33.5 million, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$430.895 billion in 2023.
Over the last two decades, it has transformed structurally as Malaysia transitions from agricultural output to manufacturing. However, its environmental performance is direly lacking, posing a fundamental tension between economic growth and ecological services that support the social economy.
An economy is the wealth and resources that a country or region possesses, particularly in terms of production and consumption of products and services. According to the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, economic growth happens when the multiplied products of the population, real GDP and the per capita consumption, rise. In other words, when the production and consumption of products and services increases, the economy expands.
Since ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, Malaysia has implemented several steps to reduce carbon emissions. Malaysia’s rating in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which is updated every two years, has steadily declined since 2014.
EPI is a comprehensive set of measures to track environmental performance over time. It measures a nation’s environmental performance through its policies. This index examines environmental health, protecting humans from harm and ecosystem vitality, including resource management and protection as the main components.
These two components address nine issues – health impacts, air pollution, water and sanitation, water resources, agriculture, forests, fisheries, biodiversity and energy. Malaysia dropped from a score of 35.0 and ranked 130 out of 180 countries in 2022, against the year 2020 where it was ranked 68 (47.9).
Economic and societal disruptions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic continue to add to the challenge of meeting the sustainability imperative. Although remarkable improvements in air quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, followed by early lockdowns and fundamental shifts in economic activities, these gains came at a terrible cost in terms of human health and economic well-being.
According to the index, pollution in Malaysia is still very bad. We still rely heavily on pesticides in our agricultural activities, perform badly in our eco-system services and species habitats index as well as protected areas.
Under one of the EPI’s protected areas representativeness indexes, Malaysia was ranked 138 of 180 countries. This index measures how well the terrestrial protected areas represent the ecological diversity of a country. We are far behind Surinam, Trinadad and Tobago, Tanzania, Norway and Dominica.
Take water for example. Water is the basic unit of life and the nature of its cycle implies that pollution control, water supply and effective sewerage system in a country, consist of closely knitted elements of water resources management. In Malaysia, about 95 per cent of water sources come from the inland river systems.
Due to rapid urbanisation and modernisation, river water pollution has turned into a severe problem in Malaysia, harming sustainability of water resources.
Data released by the Department of Environment (DoE) in 2017 stated that there were 579 rivers in 2008, but there are now just 477. According to the Malaysian Environmental Quality Report 2016, just 47 per cent of the 477 monitored rivers were categorized as clean, with the remainder being slightly contaminated (43 per cent) or polluted (10 per cent). A recent report by the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry stated that a total of 29 (four per cent) of rivers in Malaysia were found to be heavily polluted. The major causes of river pollutions are related to anthropogenic activities, caused by industrial areas, sewages, workshops, residential areas, animal husbandry activities, agricultural activities, landfills and plantation activities.
Through the implementation of our national policy agenda for heavy industrialisation, infrastructure and urban expansion, the water demands increase steeply and there is greater pressure to preserve the current water resources as well as to find alternative course of actions to improve the water quality.
Malaysia has almost a complete structure in controlling, enforcing, designing and formulating policies related to river water management. This includes governmental and non-governmental bodies, commissions and committees at the federal and state-level such as the National Water Services Commission, and National Water Resources Council, supported by regulations and laws regarding river water such as Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127), Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 2007 (Act A1315), Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 2012 (Act A1441) and the Environmental Quality (Compounding of Offences) (Amendment) Rules 1999 – P.U.(A) 12/99.
To ensure the sustainable use and development of water resources in Malaysia, the National Water Resources Policy 2010–2050 was officially launched on March 2012. The policy is based on three essential principles – water resources security, water resources sustainability and collaborative governance.
The government has also introduced Water Sector Transformation 2040 (WST 2040) – a 20-year agenda outlined in the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP). Through this roadmap, the water sector will be restructured to enable it to be a significant contributor to national growth and wealth creation.
On top of that, this year, the present government has introduced a new ministry – Ministry of Energy Transition and Water Transformation (PETRA) to better reflect its role and responsibilities in the country’s energy and water transformation efforts.
All these serve as a great opportunity for us to improve our ranking in the EPI and translate our Conference of Parties (COP) pledges into concrete actions on the ground.
We have two more years to improve our environmental performance ranking. With the introduction of the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR), WST2040, and the formation of a new ministry focused on energy transition and water transformation, it is hoped that Malaysia will improve its ranking and set a good example among the global community vis-a-vis net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while continuing its commitment to elevate initiatives and climate ambitions towards a better Malaysia, an inclusive economic growth, good governance and a healthier planet.
Mohd Noor Musa is a Research Analyst of independent think-tank, Institut Masa Depan Malaysia (MASA)

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