Malaysia – Caught between a rock and a hard place at COP21

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 29th of November 2015

Malaysia – Caught between a rock and a hard place at COP21

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP21, will begin in Paris on Monday, 30th of November, 2015. The aims of the conference are ambitious with the most notable goal being to get all the countries represented to agree to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so that global temperatures do not rise more than 2 degree Celsius by 2100. The major point of contention in achieving this target would be how much rich countries are willing to pay poor countries to put in place cleaner technologies and how much pain poor countries are willing to bear to reduce their own GHG emissions. Malaysia sees itself as belonging to and speaking up for the interests of the developing countries but is caught between a rock and a hard place as we transition towards the status of a developed country.

Much political capital has been expended in the lead-up to COP21. Both the United States and China have made climate change a priority area of cooperation.[1] There is also considerable pressure on the other major polluters such as India, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Indonesia to present substantive plans on how they will limit the growth of GHG emissions. Indeed, almost all the countries represented at COP 21 have submitted their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which outlines their respective plans to reduced GHG emissions.[2] Malaysia was a late submitter having only sent in its INDC on Friday, 27th of November, 2015.[3]

Malaysia has put ourselves firmly in the group of developing countries by being one of the leading voices in the group of “Like-Minded Developing Countries” (LMDC) which includes heavyweights such as China and Indian as well as smaller countries such as Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, just to name a few. Indeed, at one of the lead-up conferences top Paris COP 21, which took place in Bonn on the 31st of August, Malaysia was given the honour of making the opening statement on behalf of the LMDCs.[4]

The approach taken by developing countries in facing the COP 21 negotiations is a reasonable one. Put simply, the developed countries have had a disproportionate share of GHG emissions during their developing phase and as such, it would be unfair for developing countries to limit their GHG emissions during their own growth phase. The previous focus mainly on ‘mitigation’ measures put too much of the burden on developing countries. Developed countries was seen as ‘bullying’ developing countries. The LDMCs want to broaden the discussion on climate change to included adaptation (strategies to help vulnerable communities adapt to ongoing climate change), finance, capacity-building, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support, as well as loss and damage.[5] In other words, if developed countries want developing countries to limit the growth of and / or reduce GHG emissions, they have to do their part in terms of financing and technology transfer.

All this is fine and good but we should be aware of the possible consequences for Malaysia in negotiating as part of the LMDCs. Firstly, Malaysia’s transition into a high income nation by 2020 may disqualify us from receiving funding from developed countries for climate change related initiatives. For example, access to the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to receive contributions of US$100 billion a year by 2020 from developed countries, may not be possible for Malaysia if we reach a high income nation status by 2020. There are indications that Malaysia may be interested to be a member of the OECD group of developed countries in the near future. If this is the case, then it is almost certain that Malaysia would not be eligible for climate change funding that is meant for developing countries.

Secondly, the inability of the developed countries to adequately fund the various measures demanded by the LMDCs may be used as a convenient excuse for Malaysia to pay less attention to the domestic agenda of proper environmental management. For example, Malaysia may use the excuse that there is insufficient consideration for adaptation costs in the upcoming COP21 negotiations for countries that are experiencing more severe flooding as a result of global warming and climate change. But there is strong evidence that the serious flooding which occurred in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang at the end of 2014 is at least partly the result of bad forest and land management as well as illegal logging. By focusing on the potential shortcomings of COP 21 from an adaptation standpoint, we are giving ourselves an excuse not to focus on the non-climate change factors which are causing serious environmental damage in Malaysia.

We can already see some of these ‘caveats’ being presented in Malaysia’s INDC which highlights the high costs associated with the adaptation measures which has been and will continue to be put in place in areas such as flooding, water security, food security, protecting coastlines and health. (A more detailed critique of Malaysia’s INDC will be published later.)

To summarize, while the focus at COP 21 will be on the potential divisions between the developed and developing world, the Malaysia government must not lose sight of our nation’s transitional position between the developing and developed countries and also not give excuses to exonerate itself from implementing better policies and ensuring better enforcement to safeguard the environment in Malaysia.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang