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Malaysia is ranked 132nd in the Global Sustainability Index. What can we do to make Malaysia a greener nation?

While the concept of sustainability in Malaysia is by no means a new one, it certainly is one that needs and has yet to be implemented on a national scale, especially at community and individual level.

According to Earth.Org, Malaysia is ranked 132nd in the Global Sustainability Index1. In 2018 alone, Malaysia’s emissions amounted to 250.3 million tons, up from 241.6 million tons in 2017.The main sources of the emissions were energy, mobility (burning of fossil fuels for transportation) and waste ending up in landfills1.

What is environmental sustainability all about? 

While the ‘S’ word is not new, it is also easily overlooked as everything and anything. Environmental sustainability is defined as responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. The practice of environmental sustainability helps to ensure that the needs of today’s population are met without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their needs6.

What are the main environmental issues we’re facing today?

In the top 10 environmental health concerns listed in the Health Ministry’s National Environment Health Action Plan5 was water pollution, alongside children’s environmental health, built environment (human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity) and climate change.

One other issue is the concern of land use. There is much room for improvement in terms of forestry and handling of peatlands, as the excessive draining of these massive carbon sources leave these areas extremely vulnerable to fires. Re-swamping the areas is very costly and currently beyond the government’s ability1.

Water pollution and the lack of ecological services, which emerged due to weak policies on nature conservation, industrial and domestic pollution as well as the unsustainable use of natural resources, are some of the country’s biggest problems today4

Water pollution causes aquatic life to die. Image source: Malay Mail

Ecological services include purification of air and water, biodiversity maintenance, waste decomposition, soil and vegetation generation and renewal, and greenhouse gas mitigation4.

Sustainability plans have been made in an effort to tackle these problems

The 12th Malaysian Plan (12MP) committed to Malaysia being a carbon neutral country by 2050 at the earliest3, and is working towards reducing Malaysia’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity of GDP by 45 percent by 2030. 

The government is currently working with green technology corporation GreenTech Malaysia to establish carbon cities1, and the company is developing a framework that aims to reduce carbon emissions through the energy use and water consumption of buildings and common areas and to increase carbon sequestration by adding green spaces. Using 2018 as a baseline, the cities’ data will be checked annually. The company hopes to establish and designate 200 low carbon zones across the country.

However, there is still much work to be done

While the government has taken early action in promoting biofuel use (mainly palm), along with pro-renewable policies, these measures are still insufficient1

According to climate change activist Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar, the 2050 carbon neutral timeline was an issue in itself, and that based on the warning by the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) that net zero targets were no longer sufficient to avoid climate disaster, 2050 might be too late for us to be carbon neutral3.

Climate activist Ili Nadiah Dzulfaka at a demonstration to rally Malaysians and the government on the climate crisis. Image Source: Channel News Asia

Adding on to that, she opines that several sub-sector policies of 12MP such as the country’s plan for energy generation contradict the aim to reduce carbon emissions, resulting in a pledge to stop building new coal power plants3.

Instead of spending money going towards renewable energy sources, the money is being spent towards natural gas to transition out of coal.

Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar3

So, what does Malaysia actually need to achieve sustainability? 

What Malaysia needs is a green policy framework that covers all sectors and industries to address the existing unsustainable practices that are harmful to both the planet and its people4.

Sustainability protects our ecosystem and preserves natural resources for future generations. When approached holistically, going green and sustainable maximises the benefits from an environmental focus in the long-term.

UPM and oneFM’s Go Green Campaign supporting Earth Hour in 2015. Image Source: UPM

Academy of Sciences Malaysia senior fellow Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid said the key components of Malaysia’s Green New Deal (should we decide to carry out this policy), should mirror the SDGs, for example, incorporating adequate healthcare, affordable and adequate housing, economic security, enough and healthy food, and vibrant nature4.

Stressing the country’s dependence on fossil fuel and emphasising the need for Malaysians to focus on renewable energy and respecting the environment, he mentioned that if policies were well-formulated and judiciously implemented, a Green New Deal would mitigate Malaysia’s environmental woes and sustainability issues4.

We are pushing past the limits of what the planet can sustain. The United Nations Environment Programme says the new, green economy will provide a new engine of growth, putting the world on the road to recovery.

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid4

Why is Malaysia being green important for me (as a regular Malaysian)?

You might be reading all this and thinking: “Okay, so? Why should I care?” Malaysia being sustainable is something that affects all of us. Not just us, but also our children, their children and all the generations of Malaysians to come.

Environmental protection is so important because it helps to ensure that vital natural resources are available to us in the long term, so that our future generation’s livelihoods are ensured. It affects all aspects of our lives, including our economy and society. After all, you can’t build a sustainable economy on the crumbling pillars of environmentally damaging activity.

Increase in floods, temperatures rising, droughts, food shortage – these are all issues that can and will seriously affect us in the future if we do not take action now.

I’m just one person. How can I make a difference?

>> Undertake green initiatives

Take into consideration the impact your actions have on the environment and society, and integrate green habits into your everyday life. Things like buying less plastic products, using energy-efficient light bulbs, or refusing products that endanger the wildlife are simple but significant.

>>Be a part of the voices speaking out

Though it sometimes may not seem like it, many Malaysians care and are passionate about saving the environment and our planet. Participate in activist groups and help advocate against issues like climate change, pollution and waste and wildlife loss, so that the collective voice grows stronger each day.


God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. He specifically commanded mankind to take care of both the living and the non-living creation, and so while we must all do our part, we must also pray for His healing to come upon His creation.


  1. Sustainability: How Malaysia can identify gaps and solutions, 2021, The New Straits Times
  2. Malaysia – Ranked 132nd in the Global Sustainability Index, 2020, Earth.Org
  3. Sustainability, economic goals in 12th Malaysia Plan require further consideration and planning: Experts, 2021, Channel News Asia
  4. Malaysia needs green new deal, say experts, 2020, The New Straits Times
  5. National Environmental Health Action Plan (NEHAP) Malaysia, 2020, Ministry of Health
  6. Environmental Sustainability: Definition and Application, Study.Com
  7. Cover Image: Aniq Danial on Unsplash
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