How well has Malaysia addressed adaptation issues?
CANSEA CONFERENCE 2011
Hotel Armada, Petaling Jaya, MALAYSIA
In 1994, Malaysia ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2002, Malaysia ratified the Kyoto Protocol. As a Party to the UNFCCC, Malaysia is obliged to prepare and submit reports, or national communications on national GHG emissions and measures taken to address climate change. The Initial National Communication (INC) was submitted in 2000 and the 2nd National Communication (NC2) was sent in 2011.
The National Climate Change Policy was completed and approved at the end of 2009. The policy is supposed to serve as “the framework to mobilize and guide government agencies, industry, community as well as other stakeholders and major groups in addressing the challenges of climate change in a concerted and holistic manner”1and is built on 5 Principles, 10 Strategic Thrusts and 43 Action points covering both mitigation and adaptation aspects. Most notably, the action points in the policy that are relevant to adaptation include the rehabilitation of sensitive and degraded ecosystems, establishment and implementation of a national R&D agenda on climate change, integration of climate change into policies and plans on development and natural resources, mobilisation of financing and technical assistance, education and awareness, and incorporation of the value of ecosystem services into the development planning process.
The NC2 has reported on some advances in the government’s efforts to adapt to climate change since the INC was published. These include efforts to incorporate integrated approaches to water management through the introduction of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), infrastructure improvements to address urban flooding such as the ‘Storm Water Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) in Kuala Lumpur and the structural upgrades of Timah Tasoh Dam in Perlis to increase storage capacity to mitigate water shortages during the dry months. Research on several drought tolerant varieties of rice, rubber, oil palm and cocoa is also ongoing. In the forestry sector, protected forest areas and forest state parks are said to have expanded and the National Seed Bank collections have been enhanced to ensure the survival of genetic stock. Integrated Shoreline Management Plans (ISMP) are reportedly implemented in selected coastal areas of the country to ensure sustainable development and management of coastal areas.
However, it is highly debatable as to how many of the measures listed can actually be considered as climate adaptation initiatives as compared to business as usual development activities or even conventional good practices in land use and natural resource management (for example, in the cases of the ISMP and IWRM). On the whole, one can argue that Malaysia has not been progressive in addressing adaptation issues. This paper seeks to generally list some of the challenges (non-exhaustive) that have also been identified in the NC2 as to why this is so. In fact, these are problems and issues not just specific to Malaysia but common across many countries grappling with climate change adaptation.
Policy gap and coherence
While there are many good policies and plans in Malaysia, implementation remains a challenge. There also appears to be a disjoint between certain policies and development plans. For example, the much publicized Economic Transformation Programme is so focused on economic development without much consideration for environmental sustainability and climate risks in most of its projects. This is certainly not in line with the intentions laid down in the National Climate Change Policy. There is a need to reduce this type of conflicts and integrate climate change adaptation into policies and development plans at various levels (national, state, district).
In December 2010, the Prime Minister chaired the first meeting of the National Green Technology and Climate Change Council which is made up of Ministers from all the ministries with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) and the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water as joint secretariats. The Council is then supported by several working groups with representatives from relevant ministries and agencies that focus on various issues, adaptation being one of them. So there are formal mechanisms in place to promote collaboration in addressing climate change but coordination among the various ministries and departments still needs improvement. Due to the complexity and the cross-sectoral nature of climate change, the roles and mandates of respective agencies (which can be quite fragmented) in addressing climate change need to be clearly expressed. Climate change issues should not be viewed as just an ‘Environment Ministry’ problem.
Data availability and research
There is still much to be understood about the impacts of climate change on all sectors. There is generally a lack of scientific research on natural ecosystems and biodiversity in the country making it difficult to assess the possible climate impacts. There is also a scarcity in vulnerability assessments in the country due in part to the lack of baseline and historical data for weather, hydrology and tidal records. Proposing adaptation measures without adequate data would not garner adequate support from decision makers and financiers. Furthermore, such measures, if adopted could also be costly, erroneous and may lead to mal-adaptation.
Majority of the international funds available for climate change adaptation will be channeled to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the most vulnerable. Therefore, it is likely that most of the funds for adaptation would most likely have to be generated locally through both public and private means. In Malaysia, there is still no specific government fund for adaptation or even climate change for that matter. It is unclear how government funds are allocated to the various ministries for climate change projects. Overall, there is insufficient funding allocation to support climate research especially on natural ecosystems and species. There is a need to look beyond conventional financing means to more innovative sources of funds as a supplement (e.g. micro-financing, climate insurance)
Adaptation is not an exact science and requires multi-disciplinary skills, research and input. Nationally, there is still a lack of technical capacity, scientific information and research and development efforts to carry out vulnerability assessments and also implementing climate adaptation measures. There are also gaps in the level of technical understanding between the different agencies and also among the various levels within an agency which may result in a time lag in decision making and also the risk of mal-adaptation as a result of decision making based on poor information.
In summary, how well has local NGOs progressed on climate adaptation?
Overall, in the local NGO scene, the focus is still very much on climate change mitigation rather than adaptation. This is likely due to several reasons. There is perhaps a limited capacity and understanding of adaptation compared to mitigation. There is also a tendency to treat business-as-usual conservation activities as adaptation work. Although, there are areas for parallels to be drawn but there is still a gap where planning and implementation do not adequately consider the vulnerabilities and risks brought on by climate change. The adaptation field is relatively new (compared to mitigation) and quite complex, requiring multidisciplinary skills. It also requires long term planning and investment, the results of which can only be seen far into the future and not without a degree of uncertainty, making it difficult to secure the necessary funding in the present.