During a recent interview with Bloomberg, KEADILAN president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim described Malaysia’s latest bout with the haze as a form of “ecological warfare”.
He also called for outrage on the part of Malaysians, for the companies that were allegedly responsible for the forest fires in Indonesia which caused it to be held accountable – regardless of whether they are from Malaysia, Indonesia or other countries.
At the same time, youth all over the world—including in Malaysia—have taken to the streets as part of the “Global Climate Strike” inspired by the teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
Anwar’s comments and the youthful climate strikers share a common thread.
They are both telling us the same thing: protecting the environment and addressing climate change have become existential, mainstream political issues.
Anyone who still feels that this is an elite, fringe or Western-driven phenomenon is courting disaster. Neither can it be the flavour of the month.
We only need to look at the real suffering that the weeks of haze have caused Malaysians regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status to see how this affects us all.
Let us also not forget the UKM study which showed that the 2013 haze caused our country RM1.57bil in healthcare and loss of income opportunities. We can only imagine what the bill in 2019 will be like.
Sustainability is inextricably linked with economic progress: we cannot have one without the other.
There have been many suggestions of how ordinary Malaysians can do their part to reduce climate change, including everything from using less single-use plastic to taking public transportation more.
These are all worthy ideas that we ought to adopt if we can.
But ultimately, what is needed is for governments to lead the way by their policies and actions.
Malaysian leaders and their counterparts elsewhere cannot demand that their people change their lifestyles without first taking a good, hard look at their own.
There are some things that the Pakatan Harapan administration can consider towards greater sustainability, such as making government buildings energy efficient, whether federal, state or local government.
Malaysia has a decade-old Green Building Index (GBI). All government-owned buildings should strive to be on it by a certain deadline – say end-2024.
Measures to prevent wastage of resources like water and electricity in such facilities should be enforced and stepped up. Rainwater harvesting must be expanded extensively.
The government’s fleet of vehicles – including those used by Ministers should move to energy-efficient vehicles (EEVs). More needs to be done to facilitate the use of electric vehicles.
The Cabinet has reportedly approved an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (EECA) to be tabled at Parliament later this year. This should be done: my Dewan Rakyat colleagues and I look forward to debating and passing it.
Encouraging recycling is also a good measure but we must realise that many people find the process confusing and opaque.
When I was a student in London, households are simply required to sort their waste into recyclables and non-recyclables. But in some local councils in Malaysia, waste separation is complicated and as a result ineffective. Hence, simplifying recycling practices is something authorities should look into.
Next, law enforcement is key. As per Anwar’s call, those who damage our environment must be brought to justice without fear or favour.
Cooperation with our neighbours to fight forest fires and other climate change phenomena must increase. Nations must be willing to coordinate with each other for the common good. We may find arguing about where did rendang originate from to be funny, but the debate about who is responsible for the haze actually cost lives.
Sustainability has to be at the core of Malaysia’s agriculture. But it must be adopted at all levels.
For instance, the bulk of oil palm, not only in our country but globally, is grown by smallholders – some 40% according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Both the public and private sector as well as civil society must work together to ensure that smallholders can adopt sustainable agrarian practices that are both effective as well as affordable. There’s no way we can make our food and basic goods sustainable without this happening.
Also, 20% of Malaysia’s energy mix still comes from coal. An IDEAS Malaysia report has argued that this figure actually grew from 5% in 1996. It’s 2019, and more needs to be done to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewables. That will also help to increase usage of electric vehicles and public transport, resulting in a cleaner environment.
There has been talk of the need to introduce a carbon tax and reduce fuel subsidies.
This is admittedly a contentious issue. The key is to ensure justice prevails.
What is needed is comprehensive and accurate data, so that the implementation of both initiatives when they happen can be properly targeted.
There is also a big difference between Klang Valley which has a fast improving public transportation system and the rest of Malaysia where people still depend on private vehicles.
Care must be taken that the changes do not become a burden on the B40s in our society. It can be done.
Indeed, a carbon tax and cutting fuel subsidies will be of little use to the environment if the burden falls disproportionately on the poor and underprivileged.
Anwar and the climate strikers are both calling for not only individuals and companies, but also nation-states, to act for the future.
Their voices must be heard as the future of our planet is at stake.
NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the Chief Organising Secretary of KEADILAN and MP for Setiawangsa. He has written several books in Malay and English. His latest books are a new edition of Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century and 9 May 2019: Notes from the Frontline.