Rising to the challenge: Malaysia’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals

by Dr Lee Khai Ern

Thanks to the proposal of Planetary Boundary[1] concept (Figure 1) by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University in 2009, we understand that our environment is indeed a limited resource. The concept of sustainable development emerges to link the connections between economic, environmental and social factors regarding quality of the life issues. The concept has gained widespread acceptance globally and locally and has been adapted on national, state, regional and city levels, in both governmental and non-governmental sectors. It has become a model and philosophy for guiding community in decision-making related to growth, economic development, environmental preservation, social equity, education reform and many other aspects. According to Ban Ki Moon, the Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, “Both science and economics tell us our current path is unsustainable. Ecosystems are under stress. Economies are faltering. The human appetite for resources keeps growing. We need to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet.” A strategic collaboration between relevant stakeholders, i.e. government agencies, private sector, organisations, universities and local communities is therefore vital if we are to uphold the sustainable development pledge.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[2]  was launched by the United Nations in September 2015. It is a set of 17 goals agreed by the international community and articulates the means to achieve sustainability for the betterment of society by 2030. The predecessor of the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), focused mostly on the social dimensions of development projects and lacked in the integration of economic, social and environmental factors, thus providing no incentives to promote synergies among the three dimensions. Unlike MDGs, SDGs is an overarching goal that embraces concepts of human rights, inclusive social development, equitable economic development and sustainability. The goals emphasise sustainable development, poverty eradication and human well-being without sacrificing the planet’s well-being. It is a global inspirational goal which can be adapted into national development plans.

Figure 1 Planetary boundary

In Malaysia, we urgently need to address the development challenges associated with the Bottom-40% (B40) household income group, which involves the betterment of social inclusion while sustaining the environment. These efforts must be supported by smart partnerships. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Malaysia Chapter was launched on 10th October 2013, and is chaired by Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia. The network enables a large number of leaders from all regions and a diverse set of backgrounds to participate in the running of the network while at the same time ensuring effective structures for decision making and accountability. There are many sustainable development initiatives taking place in Malaysia. With the SDGs and Post 2015 Development Agenda now in place, there is an urgent need to map the sustainable development best practices that have been taking place in Malaysia in order to mainstream, institutionalise and up-scale existing sustainable development trends.

As an active member of Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Malaysia Chapter, the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) of the National University of Malaysia (UKM) takes up the challenge to collate best practices in sustainable development taking place in Malaysia. The aim is to provide an overview of the various initiatives to achieve the SDGs through the publication of a coffee table book. LESTARI UKM works under SDSN Malaysia Chapter in collaboration with Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group For High Technology (MIGHT) and one of its function is to gauge the extent to which these best practices are in tandem with the country’s development priority, i.e. Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) and whether they contribute towards accelerating Malaysia’s implementation of the SDGs.

Figure 2 Sustainable Development Goals.

The LESTARI team has received a huge number of best practices sharing from various stakeholders, including government agencies, academia, private sectors, NGOs as well as the community. The team has selected around 60 or so best practices to be published in this coffee table book based on their impact, scalability and transferability, as well as their contribution to the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) and the 17 SDGs. These cases include green campus initiatives, various projects that involve government agencies and industries participation to support sustainability efforts in communities, as well as partnerships with international networks. A holistic approach in achieving the SDGs involves the participation of many actors in which government and local authority play an important role in promoting inclusive partnerships and financing sustainability initiatives. They also enforce regulations to ensure accountability and transparency, implement monitoring and evaluation mechanism while promoting a human rights-based approach to development. Academia plays the role of identifying appropriate sustainability targets for the country, promoting integral efforts, engaging with stakeholders, and influencing the government’s position as well as international discourse around SDG implementation. The Private sector plays a role in providing services that help cultivate a healthy climate for society to operate, and in ensuring that the SDGs will help deliver this. Companies should build awareness of the SDGs at the board level, embed the SDGs into their core values, operate the SDGs along their business value chain, and formulate the business case for SDGs implementation. Regulators create a level playing field for companies to undertake less popular sustainability initiatives. And last but not least, communities and NGOs play the crucial role of championing their local-level best practices and promoting it to other communities.

This coffee table book, entitled “Rising to the challenge: Malaysia’s contribution to the SDGs”, is expected to be launched in 2017. The Editor-in-Chief of this coffee table book, Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mazlin bin Mokhtar, who is also the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation Affairs) hopes that these best practices sharing can teach Malaysian about sustainable development concepts and encourage research on sustainable development issues through integrated as well as multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary approach. The coffee table book is also expected to be used for capacity building to arm our younger generation with the necessary knowledge and skills to face sustainability challenges. The book will also raise awareness of the roles played by the respective stakeholders in sustainable development and highlight effective, knowledge-based implementation of the SDGs.

Stay tuned!

[1] Planetary Boundaries is designed to define a “safe operating space for humanity” for the international community, including governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, the scientific community and the private sector, as a precondition for sustainable development. More info: http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html

[2] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – More info: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

The Coffee Table Book editorial team

About the Author

Dr. Lee Khai Ern is currently Deputy Director of the Center for Research and Instrumentation Management (CRIM) (Infrastructure & Instrumentation); he is also a Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI) of the National University of Malaysia (UKM).  Find out more about Dr. Lee at http://www.scientificmalaysian.com/members/khaiernlee/