Tackling Climate Change and Malaysia’s Emission Reduction Target

by Rawshan Ara Begum

At a Glance:

Climate change is an unequivocal fact and many of the observed changes are unprecedented. More than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature was caused by the increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations due to human activity. Malaysia is also experiencing a warming trend with an increase of mean surface temperature from 0.6°C to 1.2°C and facing an increase of rainfall intensity and sea level rise. To tackle climate change, Malaysia has voluntarily pledged to cut its emission intensity (per unit of GDP)[1] by up to 40% by 2020 and 45% by 2030 compared to the levels in 2005, with some conditions applied. How is Malaysia doing to achieve this emission reduction target?

[1]  total carbon emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (not an absolute reduction of carbon emission)

Climate change in Malaysia

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea levels have risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased [1]. Almost the entire globe has experienced surface warming based on the observed surface temperature change from 1901 to 2012 as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Observed change in surface temperature 1901–2012 (Credit: IPCC, 2013)

Malaysia has also experienced a warming trend for the past few decades. The Malaysia Second National Communication (NC2) has reported the observed and projected climatic changes (Table 1). The projections are based on the medium range emission scenario. In Malaysia, the mean surface temperatures have increased from 0.6°C to 1.2°C over 50 years (1969-2009) and are projected to increase from 1.5-2 °C by 2050. Although there is no appreciable difference in the rainfall amount from the observed data, it is projected to change in both Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak. Rainfall intensity and sea levels were both projected to increase.  Based on the projections above, climate change would have presumably negative impacts on key economic sectors such as agriculture, water resources, forestry and biodiversity, coastal and marine areas, energy and transport and public health. Some of these impacts include reduced crop yields (especially for economically important crops such as oil palm, rubber and paddy), water consumption and irrigation shortages, floods, land erosion, encroachment on sensitive habitats with resulting impacts on biodiversity, coral bleaching, damage to infrastructure, impacts on equipment efficiency, and increased transmission of diseases like dengue, malaria and cholera. All these impacts of climate change may cause negative socio-economic change, including deterioration in economic growth, livelihood opportunities, actual incomes, workforce capacity and human health.

Observed Projected (by 2050)
Temperature 0.6-1.2 °C per 50 years (1969- 2009) ●      1.5-2 °C increase
Rainfall (Amount) No appreciable difference ●      (-) 5% to (+) 9% change in regions within Peninsular Malaysia

●      (-) 6% to (+) 11% change in regions within Sabah and Sarawak

Rainfall Intensity Increased by 17% for 1 hour duration and 29% for 3 hour duration (2000-2007 compared to 1971–1980) ●      Increase in extremes within wet cycles

●      Increase in frequency of extreme weather

Sea Level Rise (SLR) 1.3 mm/yr (1986-2006, Tanjung Piai, Johor) ●      0.5m rise (Global high worst case at 10mm/yr)

Table 1: Observed and projected climate change [4]

IPCC (2013) reported that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by human activity, resulting from increased GHG levels. The report also stressed that GHG emissions between 2000 and 2010 are the highest inhuman history, growing on average by 1.0 GtCO2eq (2.2%) between 2000 and 2010 compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) between 1970 and 2000. Continued emissions of GHGs will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Thus, limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of GHG emissions.

Malaysia’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement

In relation to the reduction of global emissions, the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in December 1997 and came into force in February 2005.  The Kyoto Protocol is an international climate change agreement that legally binds industrialised countries to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% in comparison to emission levels in 1990. A total of 192 parties including European Union have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol for achieving global agreement to fight climate change. However, the United States of America, one of the world’s leading emitter signed the treaty but did not ratify whereas Canada had withdrew its acceptance to its protocol. The Protocol had two commitment periods, from 2008 to 2012, and 2013 to 2020. The Protocol was amended in 2012 to accommodate the second commitment period but this amendment has not entered into legal force. The Kyoto Protocol was based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” placing the burden on developed countries to cut the global emissions.

Meanwhile, in 2015 during the 21th Conference of Parties (COP21), a new agreement called the Paris Agreement was negotiated and entered into force on 4th November 2016. A total of 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 2030. The Paris Agreement is also a legally binding global climate deal and sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to mitigate the effects of climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C, and, if possible, below 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement identified the following crucial areas as essential to achieve its goals:

  • Mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal.
  • A transparent system and global stock-take – accounting for climate action.
  • Adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts.
  • Loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts.
  • Support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures. Countries need to work to define a clear roadmap on ratcheting up climate finance to USD 100 billion by 2020.

The Paris Agreement proposes a global response to the threat of climate change through nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The Paris Agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2020.

As a participant of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Malaysia ratified its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in September 2002. The Kyoto Protocol is not legally binding for Malaysia as it is one of the Non-Annex 1 parties (which includes mostly developing countries). Nevertheless, during the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) Copenhagen in 2009, the Government of Malaysia committed to a voluntary reduction of up to 40% in terms of emissions intensity per unit of GDP by the year 2020 compared to emission levels in 2005, conditional on its receiving technology transfer and adequate financing from developed countries. Ahead of the negotiations in COP 21 in Paris, all countries were asked to put forward a target for emission reduction in the period after 2020, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). According to Malaysia’s INDC, the country intends to reduce its GHG emissions intensity (per unit of GDP) by 45% by 2030 relative to the emissions intensity in 2005. This reduction consists of 35% on an unconditional basis and a further 10% conditional upon receipt of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed countries [2]. Furthermore, Malaysia is in the process of ratifying the Paris Agreement, which would allow Malaysia to participate in the reduction of global carbon emissions.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of sectoral sources of GHG emissions in Malaysia and Table 2 presents the GHG inventory for 2011 [3]. The GHG inventory describes the national emissions and sink (anything that removes or absorbs GHGs from the atmosphere) in terms of million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq). Energy sector was the highest sources of GHG emissions followed by waste, industrial processes and agricultural sectors. Within the energy sector, the largest GHG emissions came from the energy industries, transport and manufacturing and construction sectors.

Figure 2: Malaysia’s GHG Emissions by Sector in 2011 [3]

Sector Emissions (Mt CO2eq) Sink (Mt CO2eq)
Energy 218.914
Industrial Processes 18.166
Agriculture 15.775
Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) 2.490 -262.946
Waste 34.885
Total 290.230 -262.946
Net Total (after subtracting sink) 27.284

Table 2: GHG Inventory for 2011 [3]

Greenhouse gas emissions in Malaysia

In 2011, Malaysia’s total GHG emission was 290.23 Mt CO2eq (Table 2). Taking into consideration emissions sink from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), the net GHG emissions were 27.28 Mt CO2eq. It is notable that there was huge CO2 removal, amounting to 262.946 Mt CO2eq, by the LULUCF sector. Within the LULUCF sector, the largest emission sink came from our country’s remaining forest land and the sole emission was from forest land converted to other land use.

Malaysia has undertaken a number of mitigation (emission reduction) and adaptation (to reduce the impacts and risks or exploit beneficial opportunities) strategies to tackle climate change. As per the Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC, Malaysia has achieved about 33% reduction of carbon emission intensity per unit of GDP by considering the LULUCF approach in terms of both emissions and removals [3]. Major mitigation actions include implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts, green technologies, sustainable forest management and sustainable waste management through recycling and effluent treatment.  Based on these strategies, Malaysia aims to achieve its emission reduction targets through a mix of mitigation actions, the removal of carbon emissions by forestry and implementation of various national policies including the National Policy on Climate Change and National Green Technology Policy. However, balancing mitigation and adaptation actions is necessary for Malaysia to start the transition towards a climate-resilient development and low carbon economy.


[1] IPCC, 2013. Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] INDC Malaysia, 2015. Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) of the Government of Malaysia. Submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015. Available at https://goo.gl/Vh0caO

[3] MNRE, 2015. Malaysia Biennial Update Report (BUR) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE).   Available at nre.gov.my.

[4] MNRE, 2011. Malaysia Second National Communication (NC2) – a report submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Conservation and Environmental Management Division (CEMD), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE). Available at http://nc2.nre.gov.my [accessed 25. 11. 13].

About the Author

Dr. Rawshan Ara Begum is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Climate Change (IPI) in the National University of Malaysia (UKM). Her research interests are in the areas of environmental and natural resource economics, economics of sustainable development, economics of climate change, energy economics and environmental valuation. Dr. Rawshan served as Contributing Author (CA) for Chapter 24: Asia, of the Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment (2011-2014). She has published more than 120 articles in refereed international and national journals, chapters in book as well as conference proceedings. To find out more about Dr. Rawshan visit her Scientific Malaysian profile at http://www.scientificmalaysian.com/members/rawshan/