Malaysians branded 'a wasteful lot' at sustainable development summit

Zakiah described Malaysians as ‘a wasteful lot’ and said their reckless consumption habit was jeopardising efforts to tackle the country’s environmental issues. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Zakiah described Malaysians as ‘a wasteful lot’ and said their reckless consumption habit was jeopardising efforts to tackle the country’s environmental issues. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — Malaysians could do more to abate climate change and help the country’s deteriorating environmental condition by being more prudent in using energy and natural resources, particularly water.

During the Malaysia Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit 2019 recently, it was reported that Malaysians domestic use of water is an average of 210 litre per capita daily — way above the United Nation recommendation of between 50 to 100 litres per capita.

Furthermore, the country’s electrical consumption per capita was over 4,600 kilowatt per hour. This is 33 percent higher than that of upper middle income countries, which consume around 3,500 kilowatts per hour.

In her keynote speech, the Ministry of Economic Affairs deputy secretary-general (macro) Zakiah Jaafar described Malaysians as ‘a wasteful lot’ and said their reckless consumption habit was jeopardising efforts to tackle the country’s environmental issues.

Among the issues highlighted by Zakiah were the shrinking forested areas to form water catchment, river pollution by chemical and poorly treated waste water, as well as the declining numbers of endangered wildlife like the Malayan tiger.

Towards better policy 

She said policy initiatives in the future would have to shift in several dimensions, including to price the country’s natural assets and energy products to better reflect their true values.

“To address these environmental challenges, the government, industries and civil society all need to continue to rethink the way we live, work, produce and consume.

“These transformation requires a refocusing of our action on the determinants of climate change and an integrated and mainstreamed approach across all sectors, supported by adequate governance mechanisms and high-levelled political will tailored to our circumstances,” she said during a plenary session.

Due to persistent environmental concerns, the government will give equal emphasis in drafting policy to the three economic, social and environmental development dimensions in the upcoming 12th Malaysian Plan.

“It is increasingly crucial for us to establish a framework in finding a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability and trade-offs between the two aspects must be ascertained to enable good policy decisions,” she said.

Impact of climate change 

In the same discussion, Vice-Chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Prof Dr Joy Jacqueline Pereira warned that Malaysia, as a tropical South-east Asian country, should brace itself for the impact of climate change on its economy.

She revealed that Southeast Asia is projected to experience the largest impact on economic growth if the world were to increase in temperature by just 1.5 degree Celsius between 2030 and 2052.

However, limiting global warming to even 1.5 degree Celsius would require rapid and bold changes in all aspects of society.

If successful, the world would experience less extreme weather, lower impact on biodiversity, lower risk on fisheries, smaller reduction in yield and 15 percent less water shortage.

“We will have sea level still continuing to rise, but 10 million fewer people will be exposed,” she said.

She said that limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius would require changes on an unprecedented scale which include a deep cut on greenhouse gas emission in all sectors, deployment of more environmentally-friendly technologies, behavioural changes, as well as increased investment in low-carbon options.

 “Every bit of warming matters. Every year that we delay it is going to cause us more and more in terms of economic gain, and in terms of the impact that we will face as the tropical region in this part of the world,” she said.

The two-day inaugural summit, which carries the theme Accelerating Progress on the SDGs: Whole of Nation Approach, discussed ideas and strategies to move the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development forward and energise partnerships through the whole of the nation approach in attaining the SDGs. — Bernama

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