City governments need to lead green growth in Malaysia

Strong economic growth is key to this transition. But there is an increasing recognition that any growth that does occur in Malaysia needs to be green growth, taking into account the needs of people and the environment.

An important part of 11MP is the development of four major cities as growth catalysts: Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. One of the main objectives of the First Malaysia Plan, back in 1966, was to improve living conditions in rural areas, where most of the population based. But since that time there has been a rapid urbanisation, with 74% of the population now living in cities. Cities have been the engine of economic growth in Malaysia, so engaging them will be key to ensuring that the country’s future growth is sustainable and resilient.

I recently spoke at the UNDP’s Towards Green Growth in Malaysia Conference in Kuala Lumpur. This involved sharing some of the lessons we have learned through the Carbon Trust’s pilot Low Carbon Cities Malaysia programme, following our first year working with Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), a fast growing municipality next to Kuala Lumpur. This programme is adapted from over a decade of experience of working with public sector bodies in the UK, with support provided by the FCO’s Prosperity Fund. 

This has been demonstrating how city governments can take a leading role in creating the conditions for green growth. The first year of the programme has focused on leading by example. This involves putting in place a carbon management plan to reduce emissions through the city’s own operations, prioritising the cost-effective projects that can achieve this. This helps to create a modern, efficient and future-proof city infrastructure, which can deliver considerable cost savings on energy.

The second year of the programme, which is about to commence, aims to drive cost effective carbon reduction in the wider city. By understanding the footprint of the wider Petaling Jaya city area, it becomes possible to create a strategy for potential carbon reduction projects in community and with businesses. This strategy will allow MBPJ to engage with a wider audience, from utility companies to local schools. Potential areas of focus include transportation and waste management.  

Climate change is a real challenge for Malaysia. Some of its causes are very visible within the country: in the deforestation taking place in rainforests and in the fossil fuel haze that hangs over cities. These activities are leading to biodiversity loss and harming human health.

The country is also vulnerable to direct impacts from extreme weather, which are expected to happen more frequently in a changing climate. An example of the consequences of extreme weather can be seen in the flooding in Malaysia in December and January 2015. The costs of rebuilding affected areas has been estimated to be in excess of US$500 million and displaced more than 200,000 people.

The Carbon Trust’s Low Carbon Cities Malaysia programme is creating a structure for city governments to play their part creating green growth. This will help the country to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, at the same time as adapting to its impacts. We look forward to taking the lessons we have learned during the pilot so far with MBPJ and expanding the programme to new cities in the coming year.