Low Carbon Cities – Malaysia’s Response to Global Climate Emergency

Photograph by Melissa Bradley, Unsplash

 

The 2019 UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 25, is currently underway in the Spanish capital of Madrid. Within the halls of the negotiations, as negotiators discuss more ambitious action on climate change, the phrase “climate emergency” has been used generously. From children skipping school for climate strikes, to protests which put city centres to a standstill – 2019 is the year in which the climate emergency has been dragged to the mainstream by people all around the world.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

 

Cities at the frontline of climate change

Cities offer a solution to the climate emergency. Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which produce 80% of GDP and are responsible for a whopping three quarters of carbon emissions. This share of population, economic activity and emissions is set to grow rapidly.

By 2050, two-thirds of our global population will live in urban areas. Nearly 90% of the growth in urban population will occur in Asia and Africa. As urban populations in these regions continue to grow and have greater material prosperity, there will be a corresponding rise in the consumption of resources and energy, and generation of waste. It is becoming increasingly real that the battle for the planet will be won or lost in cities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Over time, cities and its inhabitants will also be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, ranging from heat waves, to droughts, floods and hurricanes. 70% of cities around the world are already dealing with climate impacts, while nearly all cities are at risk.

A 2018 report by C40 forecasts that 1.6 billion people would be regularly exposed to extreme high temperatures by 2050. Food supplies would also be under threat, with one in four people (2.5 billion people) living in over 1,600 cities facing food insecurity due to climate change. Richer cities such as Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul and Los Angeles are not excluded from this list.

Malaysia’s recent climate change report to the UNFCCC, an output of a UNDP- Global Environment Facility Project shows that the country’s temperature, rainfall and sea levels have been on the rise in the last 40 years, and are projected to continue rising to 2050. Average temperatures are projected to hike between 1.2 to 1.6oC by 2050. This brings about an added vulnerability to a large proportion of our urban population who live in low-elevation coastal areas.

 

Low Carbon Cities

Low carbon cities are an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions while offering tremendous economic opportunities. A new report from the Coalition for Urban Transition show that by using existing low-carbon technologies and practices, we could cut 90% of emissions globally. These would require an investment of USD 1.8 trillion (approximately 2% of global GDP) a year but will generate annual returns worth USD2.8 trillion in 2030 from the energy and material cost savings alone.

Malaysia’s recent climate change report to the UNFCCC, an output of a UNDP- Global Environment Facility Project shows that the country’s temperature, rainfall and sea levels have been on the rise in the last 40 years, and are projected to continue rising to 2050. 

Carbon emissions in Malaysia mainly relate to urban settings, where the energy sector (including electricity and transportation) makes up 80% of total emissions. This means that there is enormous potential to reduce emissions from the energy sector to obtain both carbon and cost savings. A joint study by UNDP and the Economic Planning Unit (now known as the Ministry of Economic Affairs) estimated that just by improving energy efficiency in the buildings and transport sectors, RM46.9 billion (USD 11.2 billion) in energy spending could be saved between 2016 and 2030.

Average temperatures are projected to hike between 1.2 to 1.6oC by 2050. This brings about an added vulnerability to a large proportion of our urban population who live in low-elevation coastal areas.

Low carbon city measures such clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport and integrated waste management can help cities to leapfrog to a sustainable and green development pathway. Investments in low carbon cities also create opportunities for decent work in these new emerging sectors.

Many cities in Malaysia have already set a low-carbon vision or developed a low carbon action plan, and the preparation of greenhouse gas inventories that can help to track low-carbon actions are also underway. Urban areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar Malaysia, Seberang Perai and Melaka have signed up to be members of city alliances such as the C40 and ICLEI, making a commitment to minimise their carbon footprints. A total of 52 local authorities are now part of the Low Carbon City Framework Programme which encourages strategies and actions to reduce carbon emissions at the local level.

Cities are engines of growth, innovation and prosperity. It is possible and realistic to realise net-zero emissions by 2050. But to get there we will need the full engagement of city governments combined with national action and support.” -Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

These cities are part of a group of almost 10,000 cities that are stepping up and committing to inspirational action to reduce carbon emissions.

 

What is UNDP Malaysia doing?

With funding support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP is working together with our partners the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) and the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) to implement a low carbon cities project titled the Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) project.

The GTALCC project promotes integrated solutions covering a few focus areas: (1) integrated planning for climate action, (2) crowding in private investment and supporting city-level climate finance instruments, (3) driving the zero-carbon transition with a focus on integrated urban energy, building, transport and waste systems.

A snapshot of the project’s key activities in 2019 is below:

 

It is crucial for both cities and the national government to play their respective roles in this low-carbon transition. The GTALCC project is supporting this by working with five pilot cities (Putrajaya, Iskandar Malaysia, Cyberjaya, Petaling Jaya and Hang Tuah Jaya) to roll out sustainable city solutions. At the same time, the project is leveraging national support through the development of the National Low Carbon Cities Masterplan, which outlines the direction and plans for the transition towards low carbon cities in Malaysia. The Masterplan which will be launched in 2020 establishes a common definition of what low carbon cities are, while identifying the key actions and targets for cities. The GTALCC project builds upon the work that UNDP Malaysia is doing on localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and making the SDGs real to communities, households and cities.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General once said that “Cities are engines of growth, innovation and prosperity. It is possible and realistic to realise net-zero emissions by 2050. But to get there we will need the full engagement of city governments combined with national action and support.” The threat of climate change has never been greater, but ambitious action from cities has the potential for transformative change worthy to turnaround the climate emergency.

Source

Malaysian cities – a powerful vehicle in reducing emissions

By Gan Pek Chuan & Nasha Lee, UNDP

Saloma Link Cyclist bridge, Kuala Lumpur. Photograph by Amar Syazwan Rosman via Unsplash.

 

Today, more than 70% of the Malaysian population live in cities or urban areas. People go about their daily lives, travelling from their homes to work or school, cooling their homes and offices, eating, and more.

These daily activities use energy and contribute to the carbon footprint of cities. Data shows that cities consume 78% of the world’s primary energy and generate more than two-thirds of all carbon emissions. By these numbers, cities are no doubt the biggest contributors to climate change. Yet, they are also our best bet for tackling climate change.

The Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Water together with UNDP and the Sustainable Energy Development Authority. The project started in 2016, with the aim of addressing climate change through cities. It champions climate action at the city level by demonstrating mitigation options with systemic impacts, and mainstreaming climate change concerns into sustainable development strategies.

Cities are a powerful driver for solutions that simultaneously address climate change and advance development. Such has been witnessed by the GTALCC project, who has worked with crucial government and private sector partners in nine localities (cities/ municipalities) in Malaysia to drive the low carbon cities agenda. As of 2020, the suite of solutions has achieved 331,714.17 tCO2eq emissions reduction. 

Currently in its penultimate year, the suite of solutions implemented by the project together with its partners at the national government, its nine partner local authorities and private sector partners have reduced carbon emissions by 331,714.17 tCO2eq1, within reach of its end of project target of 346,442 tCO2eq.

Among other interventions, three main areas of focus by the GTALCC project have contributed to reducing emissions both directly and indirectly, within selected cities in Malaysia: mobility, sustainable energy & waste management, and national policy support.

 

Moving people, not cars

Cars have occupied the bulk of road space in Malaysian cities, causing congestion, air and noise pollution, and accidents. Given the percentage of time that cars are left idle (95%) and the high cost of car ownership, private vehicles as a mode of transport are often a waste of resources.

GTALCC is changing the narrative of transportation by advocating for transportation infrastructure that moves people instead of vehicles. A centerpiece in this approach is the focus on public transport to reduce the carbon footprint of cities.

Rail transportation is among the most efficient mode of transportation – transporting 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of cargo transportation but using only 2% of energy from the entire transportation sector. GTALCC has collaborated with MRT Corporation on a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) study to calculate carbon emission reductions based on mode share estimates and average distance travelled by passengers using the MRT Kajang Line. The study provided a reference for establishing GHG inventories and mode share surveys on other public transportation modes in Malaysia such as the Iskandar Malaysia Bus Rapid Transit (IMBRT). An estimated 54,605 ktCO2eq carbon emissions were reduced for the year 2019 from MRT Kajang Line’s operations, which is based on an average ridership of 175,205 passengers per day.

Rail transportation is among the most efficient mode of transportation – transporting 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of cargo transportation but using only 2% of energy from the entire transportation sector.

In cities where rail networks are not financially viable, Bus Rapid Transits (BRT) offers the same services of light rapid transit services – the only difference is that they share the same stretch of road as other vehicles. GTALCC has supported the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) to conduct an independent review of the planned major new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the Iskandar Malaysia BRT or IMBRT in Johor Bahru. The peer review was conducted based on the internationally accepted BRT Standard evaluation tool, lessons learnt and best practices. It provided important system-wide design recommendations for BRT stations and policy proposals on key related urban transport policy areas for the IMBRT including on zoning, parking, service planning, and non-motorized transport improvements to be carried out within the BRT corridor. Recommendations on design enhancements have been adopted for incorporation within the IMBRT. GTALCC is also supporting IRDA and IMBRT in an awareness programme to promote IMBRT to the public through a design competition that will be held in 2021 in conjunction with IMBRT Bus Technologies Pilot that has launched in April 2021.

The launch of the IMBRT Bus Technologies Pilot (April 2021). The pilot phase will test electric and biodiesel buses to determine the buses capabilities and demonstrate the use of green technology.

 

GTALCC is also working with private sector partners to embark on a pilot programme for low carbon public transport buses involving ten buses under MRT Corporation operated by Prasarana’s Rapid Bus. The pilot will explore the feasibility of a clean and renewable substitute for diesel in public buses in the form of 100% biodiesel blend (B100) and analyze the carbon emissions reduction from the trial period.

While public transit remains the most efficient means of moving large numbers of people, very often the challenge is to get people to and from transit. In Putrajaya, GTALCC is addressing this through a design study for a dedicated bike lane in Putrajaya which will assist to solve first-mile/ last-mile challenges between Putrajaya Sentral, the housing areas and Precinct 4 by identifying the best route for a dedicated bike lane. In support of cycling as a zero-carbon mode of transport, GTALCC has also installed bike access ramps at the stairways of two bridges in Putrajaya, which is currently being used to provide easy access for cyclists and their bikes up and down the stairways, ensuring connectivity between the promenade and housing areas along the lake to Precinct 4, Putrajaya.

A cyclist utilizing the bike access ramp to make her way up stairway of the Putrajaya bridge.

 

Revolutions in transportation such as shared mobility and electrification are already fundamentally changing the future of transportation around the world, while decarbonizing travel and making it more efficient. GTALCC is guiding decision making by the government and industry to better understand the impacts and action points of the electrification of buses in Malaysia, through the formation of a National Electric Bus Roadmap for the National Transport Policy 2019-2030.

 

Sustainable energy and waste management

 

The potential for renewable energy in Malaysian cities is abundant, especially when the number of buildings within cities with solar rooftop potential is taken into consideration. GTALCC has conducted feasibility studies for three solar photovoltaic (PV) proof-of-concepts, to test out innovative approaches to utilize urban spaces such as public car parks and walkways for the installation of PV systems to generate power for self-consumption or supply to neighboring buildings, while providing shade and shelter.

The GTALCC project also supported the development of the Putrajaya Waste Management and Minimization Study together with the local authority in Putrajaya, which proposed suitable solutions and actions to help Putrajaya for the next two decades from 2020 to 2040 to reduce 50% of the solid waste sent to landfill.

 

National policy support

 

Fully unlocking the benefits of low carbon urban development requires coherent policy-making and governance at multiple levels. National policy support plays an important role in complementing the low carbon initiatives by cities, in support of climate goals.

Together with the Ministry of Environment and Water, GTALCC has worked with the relevant government ministries and authorities, in consultation with stakeholders, to develop a National Low Carbon Cities Masterplan which will be launched in 2021. The Masterplan puts in place and overarching strategy and plans for the transition towards low carbon cities in Malaysia, while coordinating implementation actions required by the Federal, State and Local Governments to promote low carbon cities agenda. Importantly, the Masterplan outlines targets for selected cities to meet a net-zero emissions target by 2050, in line with the global call for emission to reach net-zero by mid-century to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius or below.

Initiatives under GTALCC hold great promise but cannot deliver the necessary change alone. Rather, GTALCC acts as a catalyst for a holistic approach towards low carbon development and planning in cities.

Cities are our secret weapons to meet our climate goals. We must rethink and transform the physical places where we live and work, with people’s experience, the planet’s health and sustainability objectives at their core.

 

Ready for Low Carbon Living?

Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, Chief Executive of Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), during IMELC 2021’s opening.  

ISKANDAR PUTERI – The use of the Iskandar Malaysia Ecolife Challenge (IMELC) 2021 website, which has been developed with sponsorship from UNDP Malaysia Accelerator Lab, will increase understanding among 100,000 primary school students across Johor on low carbon living when the competition begins today.

The IMELC programme has been implemented for the past 8 years starting with 23 schools and has now grown to involve 906 schools throughout the state of Johor.

Starting this year, the implementation of IMELC has been adjusted to the new norm by adopting the use of digital platforms that enable wider access and participation from students, teachers and parents throughout Johor.

Even the www.imelc.my website which has the concept of interactive learning and the injection of gamification elements is able to attract students to understand the need to cultivate a low carbon lifestyle dynamically. Through this specially designed website, the system of counting marks and uploading IMELC reports from teachers can be implemented more easily, thus enabling the determination of winners to be done more efficiently.

Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, Chief Executive of Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), said, “This programme is carried out in line with the low carbon agenda in Iskandar Malaysia which expects its community to continue to enjoy life in a ‘green’ environment in line with the rapid development that is taking place”.

“Therefore, on this day which is also the 15th anniversary of Iskandar Malaysia, I, together with my strategic partners and support, are very pleased to launch the Iskandar Malaysia Ecolife Challenge (IMELC) 2021 programme.”

“This programme is carried out in line with the low carbon agenda in Iskandar Malaysia which expects its community to continue to enjoy life in a ‘green’ environment in line with the rapid development that is taking place”. – Y.Bhg. Datuk Ismail Ibrahim

Prof. Datuk Ts. Dr Ahmad Fauzi Ismail, Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia is confident that the five challenges of a low carbon society in www.imelc.my provided by the UTM research team will be a platform for the prosperity of the community. The five challenges are a review of lifestyle, water and electricity consumption, vehicle use and 3R practices. Hopefully, the IMELC consortium comprising government agencies, non-governmental agencies, companies and schools can step up efforts to combat Climate Action and ensure a more sustainable life for future generations.

The continuity and successful implementation of the IMELC 2021 programme is the result of the cooperation of strategic partners, namely IRDA, Johor State Education Department (JPNJ), UTM and SWM Environment Sdn Bhd. This year, the IMELC programme was also supported by the Green Technology Applications for Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) project managed by SEDA Malaysia, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia and the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Education and Sustainable Development, United Nations University.

Meanwhile, Ho De Leong, Chief Executive Officer of SWM Environment, described the IMELC programme as a platform to achieve the strategy and aspirations of the National Hygiene Policy and the National Low Carbon City Master Plan, thus able to move efforts to achieve the target of 40% national recycling rate by 2025.

“In line with the implementation of the digital platform in IMELC this time, the use of the KITARecycle application developed by SWM Environment with the provision of reward points and detailed records for each recycling activity is very timely. The move will be able to avoid the risk of a pandemic and in turn, make it easier for the schools involved to monitor and earn reward points that can be redeemed for cash through online transfers,” he explained.

The IMELC 2021 competition will run from August to December 2021.

Source