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Copenhagen Talks Create Hardly a Ripple in Malaysia

Inter Press Service, News Report, Anil Netto Posted: Dec 18, 2009

PENANG, Malaysia, (IPS) - Even if Prime Minister Najib Razak is in Copenhagen for the high-level segment of the U.N. conference on climate change, there has been precious little meaningful debate on the subject here in Malaysia.

Few Malaysians really understand the issues at stake, in part due to the lack of much meaningful analysis in the media apart from the odd commentary.

Not many politicians, whether from the ruling coalition or opposition ranks, have also really discussed climate change and its impact on this South-east Asian country, and put it in the public domain.

Government-controlled television and newspapers have in the main relied on video clips and press reports from the foreign media and western news agencies. These are usually tucked away in world news sections, unless something dramatic happens like the mass arrests of demonstrators in Copenhagen.

The Malaysian public has largely remained in the dark or unconcerned over the issues involved. Only 35 percent -- down from 52 percent in 2008 -- of Malaysians agreed that ''climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues they worry about today", according to a Climate Confidence Monitor 2009 survey conducted by Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp. Two thirds, however, think a new global deal is important.

But the major factor behind the lack of focus of climate change issues in the country is its geographical position, since Malaysia lies in an area thus far spared from extreme weather events, suggests Anthony Tan, executive director of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development (Cetdem).

''The weather is a bit more unpredictable now, but we haven't been shocked into the reality of climate change. There is no extreme drought though there are floods, but those seem to be on a yearly basis. This is unlike the situation in the Pacific islands, where they are worried about rising sea levels."

Cetdem is an independent non-profit group committed to improving environmental quality by promoting the appropriate use of technology and sustainable development. It is part of a Malaysian climate change steering committee comprising government departments and agencies. The committee, set up by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, meets twice a year.

From Copenhagen, the state news agency Bernama quoted Najib as saying that Malaysia believes that having developed countries do more to keep their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions is an issue of fairness. "This is based on the principle of fairness because they (developed countries) are the biggest contributors of carbon emissions," he told Malaysian journalists there Friday after addressing the climate change conference.

As a developing nation, Malaysia has no quantitative commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Through the clean development mechanism under the Protocol, Malaysia can trade certified emission reductions in the international market.

Developing countries have insisted that the Kyoto Protocol should continue and that developed countries should slash their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020.

But the developed nations do not want this without the United States on board. They also want developing nations to commit to cuts.

Developed nations have rejected this, wanting a second period of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 and a so-called two-track approach. This would that see to it that the developed nations commit themselves to more cuts, the United States comes on board through a second track of similar commitments and developing nations agree to voluntary action supported by financial and technological aid.

Najib said Malaysia would have to do its part in addressing climate change. But he also said that the 10 billion U.S. dollar fast-track funding for developing nations to control their emissions, as discussed in the Copenhagen talks, is small compared to the accountability of developed nations.

Whether Malaysia indeed keeps to its own commitments remains to be seen.

Oil and gas, manufacturing, and oil palm products are major revenue earners at a time when Malaysia is expected to post its largest budget deficit in two decades at 7.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product. In eastern Sarawak state alone, Malaysia's auditor-general noted in his 2008 report that close to a million hectares of permanent forest reserve had been lost between 1990 and 2008.

Malaysia recorded 187 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2006, according to U. N. Millennium Development Goal indicators. That puts it in third place in the South-east Asian region behind Indonesia (333 million tonnes) and Thailand (273 million tonnes), with Vietnam (106 million tonnes) in fourth place.

On a per capita basis, a different picture emerges. With 7.2 tonne of CO2 per capita, Malaysia is still the third highest emitter in South-east Asia. Brunei tops the list at 15.5 tonnes per capita, followed by Singapore with 12.8 tonnes. Thailand (4.3 tonnes) and Indonesia (1.5 tonnes) occupy fourth and fifth places respectively.

Malaysia's rhetoric on climate change has to be seen against what actually takes place locally, given the balancing act the government needs to do between its eagerness to boost economic growth and also cater to investors' interests as it drives the economy forward.

On Monday this week, as the Copenhagen summit moved into high gear before its scheduled end on Friday, Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Wee Jeck Seng, representing the Prime Minister, unveiled the drivers for Malaysia's new Team Lotus F1 that will debut in the coming season of high- octane, fuel-guzzling Formula One racing.

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