Smart cities: realising Malaysia's potential for leadership in low carbon urban development. Viewpoint by Richard Rugg, Managing Director of Programmes at the Carbon Trust, on improving energy and resource efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of cities.
The biggest and best opportunities are most often found in cities. This is the view that is driving increasing levels of urbanisation around the world, especially in Asia where the fastest rates of growth are occurring. In fact 1.4 billion more people are expected to be living in Asian cities by 2050 compared with today. To put this into context, that additional number is greater than the entire world population in 1850.
When considering the challenges of climate change and the need to cut carbon around the world, cities are currently responsible for 70 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption. But there is enormous potential to reduce these emissions through cost-effective energy efficiency measures delivering immediate cost and carbon savings, at the same time as strengthening the local economy and creating a better place to live.
As urban populations in Asia have continued to grow and become more economically prosperous, then this has led to a significant corresponding increase in their consumption of energy and key resources. That means that when it comes to sustainability, it is certainly true that the biggest and best opportunities are most often found in cities.
Cities provide the ideal environment for transformative change and innovation to take place rapidly and at a significant scale. This is something the Carbon Trust is hoping to prove in Malaysia as we launch a new low carbon cities programme, working alongside Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia) and KeTTHA, the Malaysian Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water.
In 1970 barely a quarter of Malaysia’s population lived in cities. Today three out of four Malaysians live in an urban environment, and the proportion continues to increase. Alongside this urbanisation there has been a period of remarkable economic growth, leading to an explosion in energy demand and carbon emissions. Perhaps more importantly this has massively increased the levels of air pollution, harming the health of those that live in cities with thick hazes of fossil fuel fumes.
Looking at the impact that Malaysians are having on climate change when compared with neighbouring countries, the average per capita carbon footprint is around twice that of Thailand, four times higher than Indonesia or Vietnam, eight times that of the Philippines, and twenty-four times greater than in Cambodia (although it is just half of Singapore).
But the size of the opportunity to improve both energy efficiency and air quality is exciting. Recent research from the Centre for Low Carbon Futures, looking at the city of Johor Bahru and nearby town Pasir Gudang, both in Iskandar Malaysia, uncovered the potential to reduce energy bills by more than RM 2.5 billion – and carbon emissions by nearly a quarter – through investments that would pay for themselves little more than a year.
Innovative technology is playing its part too. Malacca has a stated ambition to become a carbon-free city, and is currently taking the first steps towards creating a smart electricity grid. This is being done as part of an initiative to create a Green Special Economic Zone where it is intended that as many as 20 research and development centres will be built focusing on renewable energy and clean technology, creating as many as 300,000 new green jobs.
The Carbon Trust’s low carbon cities work in Malaysia builds on more than a decade of experience running major energy efficiency programmes for businesses and public sector organisations around the world, including in the UK, China, Mexico and South Africa. The estimated impact of these Carbon Trust programmes is a saving of over 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, as well as delivering cost reductions of more than US$9 billion for participating organisations.
This programme is beginning with a two year pilot working with one Malaysian city, made possible with funding from the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In the first year this will involve identifying detailed opportunities, developing a robust carbon management strategy for the city, and implementing energy efficiency measures within the city’s own administrative estate.
The second year will see the city lead the way in driving area-wide carbon reduction. This will involve co-ordinating large projects, and collaborating with local stakeholders, businesses and other organisations to create inspiring examples for other cities to follow.
We believe that this programme has the potential to help the Malaysian public sector become a low carbon leader in Asia, at the same time as building stronger relationships between Malaysia and the UK. Most importantly it will ensure that as Malaysia’s cities expand, that growth will be both greener and cleaner for Malaysia’s population and the planet.
The Carbon Trust is delighted to be working in partnership with the local government of the City of Petaling Jaya in developing its five year carbon reduction strategy. Other city government bodies in Malaysia that would like to get involved, either in the pilot phase or the wider roll-out of the low carbon cities programme, should contact us.