Saturday 13 Apr 2024
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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on July 24, 2023 - July 30, 2023

I have been extremely privileged to have seen some of the wildlife of this mega­diverse country up close, and I have many memories to take with me back to the UK: a nesting hornbill in Terengganu; a fleeting glimpse of a clouded leopard in the Danum Valley; and the wonder of the bats of the Mulu caves.

As I conclude my four years as British High Commissioner to Malaysia, I want to reflect on how climate action has been a central theme of my service here.

Nature and the environment are not new parts of the relationship between the UK and Malaysia. The coronation of His Majesty King Charles III in May will have recalled memories in Malaysia of his visits to Sarawak and Royal Belum State Park in Perak, experiencing some of Malaysia’s unique flora and fauna, and meeting the people working hard to protect them.

Climate action is also a central feature of the UK’s modern partnership with Malaysia. It will continue to be so in the years and decades to come, as we urgently work together on our shared goal to keep global warming to 1.5°C and to halt and reverse nature loss.

I am delighted that Malaysia has contributed to these global goals. At the 2021 COP26 conference in Glasgow, we saw over 90% of the world economy — including Malaysia — make commitments to net zero goals. Over 140 countries, including Malaysia, endorsed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Last month’s Global Forest Watch report highlights Malaysia among the countries that have seen the most progress in reducing tree cover loss over the past three years.

To support implementation of these goals, British and Malaysian ministers signed a Climate Partnership in June 2022. This set out a shared commitment to work together on climate, and we have certainly been busy in the year since: the UK has supported technical work by the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change ministry (NRECC) to inform its decision-making on carbon markets, developing land-use data and climate legislation — all meant to contribute to a stronger Malaysian climate policy framework. The UK has been one of the largest contributors to the Green Climate Fund, and I’m pleased that Malaysia is tapping into the GCF to develop its national adaptation plan.

The energy transition has been at the centre of our conversation. In May this year, we welcomed NRECC Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad to the UK, working together in areas such as how to increase grid capacity to distribute renewables and reshaping incentives for investment in the transition. Every country faces these challenges and we will continue to cooperate with others in addressing them.

The energy transition is not a luxury; it is now an integral part of the economic relationship between our two countries. When British companies look to invest internationally, how they will meet their environmental, social and governance (ESG) and net zero requirements is a core concern, especially access to clean energy to power their products and services. British companies such as Shell and Storegga are developing partnerships on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Malaysia, while Malaysian companies such as Tenaga Nasional Bhd are investing in UK solar and both onshore and offshore wind. Minister Nik Nazmi visited one such floating offshore wind array off the Northumberland coast. These themes were further vividly illustrated in the UK-Malaysia Clean Growth Handbook, newly launched in May by Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli and me; to present further prospects for collaboration in clean growth sectors between our two countries. Last month’s EnergyAsia conference organised by Petroliam Nasional Bhd demonstrated that the oil and gas sector’s transition will create opportunities for new technologies such as CCS and hydrogen to decarbonise both our economies.

Our climate relationship extends to Malaysia’s territories, states and cities. On my visits across Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, I have had the opportunity to see projects that UK technical assistance has catalysed, contributing to a just transition and addressing gender inclusion — from micro-hydro that can bring energy access to rural Sabah to integrating sustainable mobility options into urban areas such as Melaka’s historic core and the Iskandar Malaysia region in Johor. Our international climate finance has supported both Sarawak and Johor to develop their own green growth strategies.

Acting on climate and the environment has also been a recurring subject in my conversations with young Malaysians. I have seen this trend among the dozens of talented Malaysians who travel to the UK each year for postgraduate study as Chevening Scholars. Many have shared how their desire to pursue subjects as varied as public policy, engineering, finance and management are motivated by a passion for responding to climate change. Indeed, the inaugural Malaysia Climate Finance Summit this month was co-hosted by the Perdana Fellows Alumni Association and Chevening.

In my final weeks in Malaysia, this activity has continued apace. Experts from the independent UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) have visited NRECC officials to share their experience with the UK Climate Change Act. A strong legal commitment has been the driving force behind the UK’s own decarbonisation progress, seeing us cut emissions while growing our economy. Equally important has been establishing institutions that provide independent scrutiny and monitoring of climate progress, in the form of the CCC, as its recent report robustly demonstrates. This will inform the ministry’s development of Malaysia’s own climate legislation, which successive governments have identified as a critical component of Malaysia’s climate governance. I will keenly observe its progress from afar.

I leave Malaysia encouraged by this growing momentum for climate action. While I sadly will not be able to directly witness the ambitions to be unveiled in the forthcoming National Energy Transition Road Map and New Industrial Master Plan or what Malaysia will bring to COP28, I know my successor will be equally keen to maintain and build upon this partnership between the UK and Malaysia for a clean, climate-resilient world.

Charles Hay is the British High Commissioner to Malaysia. This column is part of a series coordinated by Climate Governance Malaysia, the national chapter of the World Economic Forum’s Climate Governance Initiative (CGI). The CGI is an effort to support boards of directors in discharging their duty of care as long-term stewards of the companies they oversee, specifically to ensure that climate risks and opportunities are adequately addressed.

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