Why pursuing renewables is the most effective climate change-mitigation effort in Malaysia.

GHG emissions are making Malaysia warmer and the primary culprit is our energy industry

Mean daily temperatures in various Malaysian cities have increased by 0.25°C per decade since the 1960s[1] and will continue to do so unless we curtail further release of Greenhouse Gasses (“GHGs”).

By far the largest emitter of GHGs in Malaysia are fuels burned for electricity and fuels burned for transport; 62% of our total emissions in 2015. As we move towards electric vehicles and draw transport energy from the electricity grid, transforming the grid itself should be our highest priority.

No matter how many Malaysians adopt a climate-conscious lifestyle, unless we stop burning fuels for electricity, we will not produce a significant reduction in local GHG emissions.

Breakdown of GHG emissions in Malaysia, excluding land use changes[2]

Malaysia should aggressively pursue renewable energy

All power plants produce GHG emissions whether during initial construction, fuels consumed, land-use change or transmission. However, renewables such as solar & wind emit significantly less GHGs compared to coal or natural gas per unit of electricity produced.

Nuclear is superior but is out of reach for developing countries without the requisite technology and human capital (such as Malaysia). For us, pursuing renewables is the most pragmatic option.

To fully enjoy the benefit of renewables, they must be pursued at significant scale within an aggressive timeline. Climate change is a systemic phenomenon that will not be abated with token projects.

While the conversion to renewables presents significant economic, regulatory and technical challenges, it is achievable with stakeholder support. The UK for example, have managed to transform its grind in less than 10 years[4].

Comparison of lifetime GHG emissions of various powerplants[3]

What is at stake?

While catastrophic earthquakes, hurricanes & blizzards are virtually unheard of in Malaysia, we do have to deal with floods, particularly in the east coast.

Climate change is expected to make floods in Malaysia more severe and more widespread. Between 2010-2100, climate change will cost Malaysia up to ~MYR 40b in direct damages. Even within this narrow perspective, our financial incentive is clear; if we are successful in mitigating climate change, we can drop potential direct damages down to ~MYR 5b[6].

There are of course, further risks that are very real but impossible to quantify such as food security, coral deaths and climate refugees. No country, whether rich or poor, open or insular will be immune to these effects. It is important that Malaysia step up and meaningfully contribute to global efforts.

Flood-prone areas_of Peninsular Malaysia[5]

Population density of Peninsular Malaysia