COMMENT | We, the inhabitants of Planet Earth, are already having to deal with unprecedented and alarming events, from floods to forest fires, in what is clearly a Global Climate Emergency. In the face of this challenging scenario, millions of concerned citizens across all seven continents are going on Climate Strike today (Sept 20) to demand that our respective governments take urgent significant action to address this crisis.
First of all, we need an urgent response and clear strategies from the Malaysian government that demonstrate a commitment to addressing these universal demands:
1. Champion the urgency for change. Declare a climate and ecological emergency, collaborating with institutions to communicate the urgency for change;
2. Reverse greenhouse gas emissions. Enact laws and implement policies to protect and extend biodiverse tree cover, halt biodiversity loss and reverse greenhouse gas emissions within a specified short timeframe; and
3. Collectively co-create a sustainable future. Harness the wisdom and expertise of all sectors beyond the narrow interests of the political and business elite. Create a representative Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
1. Declare a climate emergency
A government that puts people before profits does not accept business as usual. It is clear that the inhabitants of Sarawak, Penang and Johor reject so-called “development” projects that focus on profits before people and sacrifice our forests, our water and thus our health. The haze is killing us and is the most urgent reminder that we must declare a climate emergency.
For decades, Indonesian and Malaysian plantation interests have been burning valuable forests as a cheap option to open up land for their plantations. We want stern urgent action and effective deterrents against those responsible for any deforestation now! This is not the time to “mull” over what measures to take against these rogue plantation interests and illegal loggers.
Activities that adversely affect the people are crimes against humanity. The Malaysian government must act now to impose punitive actions against these anti-social capitalist interests, including taking away their operating licence, stiff fines and jail time. Asean needs to urgently call a climate emergency to deal likewise against these environmental destroyers, among other so-called “development” policies that:
- Disregard the rights of communities and the democratic process;
- Engender growing disparities between rich and poor, East and West Malaysia, rural and urban sectors, men and women; and
- Engage in environmental degradation and victimisation of marginalised communities.
No more 'Special Corridors of Repulsive Enterprises', please!
We want the government to focus instead on the health and well-being of our people, which means taking urgent and effective action on the issues that adversely affect the people, namely, the climate crisis, the toxic pollution of our environment, the continuing destruction of our parks, forests and waters for reclamation, the displacement of our indigenous peoples and marginalised communities for mega-dams and other so-called “development” projects. We do not want plastic waste, rare earth waste, “Special Corridors of Repulsive Enterprises” that other countries do not want but our own government has accepted.
Unfettered capitalism and unaccountable privatisation projects must give way to an alternative sustainable path of development. The prevalent ideology of economic growth has dictated that development is geared toward ever-increasing growth in production, construction and consumption. The growing income inequality shows there is no evidence of any “trickle-down” effect to benefit those at the bottom of the social heap.
2. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
By signing the Kyoto Protocol, Malaysia committed to adopting an urgent approach to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The government is expected to keep the people updated on the targets set to control and measure the production of greenhouse gases within the country and our progress on meeting these emission targets. We want a law that requires the government to execute methods that will reduce the production of both carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases and that is accountable to the people periodically.
A Carbon Budget 2020, green deal, climate crisis levy
A good time to start is our Budget 2020. We expect the finance minister to introduce a carbon budget to restrict the total amount of greenhouse gases that Malaysia can emit over a five-year period in order to meet the 2050 target.
The Malaysian government must ensure that it develops policies to meet carbon budgets, such as implementing a ‘green deal’ to provide assistance to businesses and homeowners in the employment of green technologies; incentives for public and private sector organisations to adopt energy-efficient technologies; a climate crisis levy, a business tax applied to the different sectors of the economy; to encourage energy efficiency in all buildings and to move towards a ‘zero waste circular economy’.
The government can reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced through encouraging the use of public transport instead of focusing on yet another wasteful “national car” and the irresponsible ramification of highways which destroy forests and clog towns and cities even more.
In agriculture, the Malaysian government can assist farmers to increase their self-efficiency while continuing to make cost savings instead of proposing large-scale “plantation farming” which require large machinery and other inputs that produce more greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through working efficiently and through the generation of renewable energy and storing of carbon in the soil.
Thus, Budget 2020 must give incentives for enterprises to invest in low carbon technologies through the creation of an industry for carbon capture and storage. The federal, state and local authorities must start promoting the public reporting of carbon emissions from businesses and the public sector in order to encourage energy efficiency. The environmental impacts of all such activities should be measured and reported by elected local authorities so that there is all-round accountability.
3. A Citizens’ Assembly on ecological justice
Our once-in-five-years electoral system discourages the government from tackling long-term issues like climate change and dealing effectively with the climate and ecological emergency. Political parties and MPs are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage and calculate their policies based on potential media and public reactions, as measured by opinion polls.
This means politicians often feel unable to propose the bold changes necessary to address the emergency. Some are induced by developers to pass environmentally destructive projects through corrupt methods. It is clear that politicians and political parties are in the pockets of the big developers when we see how many of these socially disruptive, environmentally destructive and economically dubious projects are passed by the respective authorities.
The proposed Citizens' Assembly on climate and ecological justice, made up of a broad spectrum of the population, including the marginalised, provides more objective public judgments on public projects that have been reached in a fair and informed way. Such an assembly promotes transparency through sharing information regarding experts, stakeholders and the materials given to assembly members. This can only result in informed and democratically legitimate judgments. Thus, the current controversies over the Penang Transport Master Plan, the third national car, ECRL, Lynas, etc, can be arbitrated by the Citizen’s Assembly.
People before profits
It is vital for Malaysian democracy and sustainable development that communities are empowered in their struggle against the misconceived projects and the accompanying oppressive methods used to push them through. Communities throughout Malaysia have carried on the fight for a safe living environment free from radioactive and toxic contamination.
Their commitment to the struggle, leadership and community solidarity should be emulated by all Malaysian communities. They have shown us that direct action is about empowering people to unite as individuals with a common aim, to change things directly by our own actions. More importantly, it is time for people in communities to form a solidarity and activist network for a people's and green movement in Malaysia.
It is time for the people to say “No” to irresponsible destruction of the environment; the victimisation of the Orang Asli and other indigenous peoples in senseless projects; blatant pollution by factory owners; mindless proliferation of highways and land reclamation of our seas; forcible evictions of communities for questionable property development projects; the sacrifice of irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage. It is time to say “Yes” to co-creating a sustainable future for our children via a high level of participation in civil society.
KUA KIA SOONG is the adviser of Suaram.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.