This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 22, 2022 - August 28, 2022
Southeast Asian countries that move faster to achieve their climate targets will gain a competitive edge, observes Ken O’Flaherty, the UK government’s COP26 regional ambassador to Asia-Pacific and South Asia.
Malaysia stands to benefit economically if it follows this path. For instance, it could expand further into green technology and renewable energy (RE).
“Those who do not will probably lose their competitive advantage. In a way, we are in a bit of a race to zero across the region, so I hope very much that Malaysia will be part of the vanguard in this area,” says O’Flaherty, who has been travelling around the region to understand how each country is planning to achieve its climate targets.
COP26 is the United Nation’s climate conference in 2021. It was hosted by the UK in Glasgow, Scotland, last November. The next session, COP27, will be hosted by Egypt later this year.
During COP26, many countries — including Malaysia — submitted more ambitious climate targets and committed to new pledges. Malaysia, for instance, committed to halt deforestation by 2030 and reduce methane emissions. A few months earlier, Malaysia set the goal to reach carbon neutrality as early as 2050.
O’Flaherty has been speaking to government officials about their progress to meet these pledges.
“I was very pleased to meet the Ministry of Environment [and Water] and the Economic Planning [Unit] in Malaysia. I got a very clear message about the continued commitment towards the 2050 net zero target. We discussed the implementation of the target and they described how they are reviewing their existing plans,” says O’Flaherty.
“They are now working on a long-term strategy and looking at a National Adaptation Plan. While we absolutely must cut emissions worldwide, that is not enough because countries around the world, including Malaysia, are already suffering from more frequent extreme weather events. So, it’s good that Malaysia is preparing a National Adaptation Plan.”
He also met with private sector players. To him, sustainability is the growth sector for the next decade.
“We are already seeing international investors demanding access to RE in this region. In Cambodia, a consortium of garment importers wrote to the government saying if they do not have access to 100% RE, they will pull out their investments,” says O’Flaherty.
“I think similar messages are coming from multinational companies because many have signed up to the RE100 initiative.”
RE100 is a global initiative by businesses who commit to use 100% renewable energy.
In the short term, governments can reduce emissions by shifting to RE and ending the use of coal or fossil fuels, adds O’Flaherty. The use of carbon sinks will become more important because there are industries that find it harder to decarbonise.
At the same time, governments must ensure there is a just transition for the people.
“Investing in RE creates three times more jobs than in fossil fuels [according to the UK Energy Research Centre]. But those jobs often involve different skills. Governments have a key role to play in supporting their citizens through this transition, which includes training. We are also very keen for international climate finance and assistance from donors to assist in this just transition,” he says.
The voices of youth must also be taken into consideration, given that the impact of climate change will be most keenly felt by the younger generation, O’Flaherty adds.
“In my meetings with the young people here, I would say they are very keen for their voices to be heard. They want to be engaged in planning processes, whether at the local, regional or national level. I hope that will be integrated into the approach by the Malaysian government.”
The upcoming COP27 will have a huge focus on adaptation, which looks at how countries are managing the impact of climate change. Countries will also be reviewing their nationally determined contribution (NDC) or climate targets to ensure that it is enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial levels.
“Declarations are one thing and implementation is another, so the key thing is for net zero commitments to be reflected in the short-term plans that countries are working up through their NDCs,” says O’Flaherty.
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