An Interview with Malaysian Youth Delegation

Youth & Climate

Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia had a great opportunity to have a conversation with the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD), a group of young, passionate climate activists from Malaysia who are working on climate at the local, national and international level representing Malaysian youth at international climate conferences. MYD also provide information sessions and workshops to educate the public and engage with young people as well as to hold the Malaysian leaders accountable for the promises made at international climate summits.

Malaysian Youth Delegate

Q: Hello guys, could you tell us what is MYD as well as your works and campaign?

A: Established in 2015, Malaysian Youth Delegate (MYD) is the only youth-led organisation in Malaysia, which focuses on climate change policy and negotiations, providing a platform for curious and interested youth to explore the world of climate agreements at the United Nations platform. We strive to educate the public on climate change policy by organizing trainings and talks. We maintain a relationship with the federal government and regularly engage with them.

MYD has been actively sending youth delegations to each UN Climate Change Conference since COP21, where the Paris Agreement was negotiated. In 2018, MYD sent members internationally to Singapore (Asia Pacific Climate Week), Bangkok (SB48.2 Bangkok UN Climate Change Conference), Manilla (6th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum) and several other national conferences. We also had our own Local of Conference of Youth (LCOY). The context and participation was geared towards getting Malaysian youth voices heard during the international Conference of Youth (COY) meet before heading to the Conference of Parties (COP). 50 young Malaysians participated and gave input through the Talanoa Dialogue Preparatory Phase in the LCOY that covered several UNFCCC topics.

MYD at SB48-2 Bangkok Interssesionals
MYD at SB48-2 Bangkok Intersessionals.

Q: Ever since MYD was founded in 2015, do you see a development in the last four years how Climate Change issues are discussed and addressed in politics, media, academia, civil society etc.?

Ever since 2015, we have seen development in terms of accessibility with regards to engaging with the government of the day - specifically with the Ministry of Natural Resources (NRE) in 2017 and the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) in 2018. National level discussion on the Climate Change Act, Climate Change Centre as well as the National Adaptation Plan is good news and reflects the growing concern for climate change within the policy making realm, despite certain quarters arguing that it may be too little too late.

With regards to civil society, grassroot movements have become a growing force in reminding the government of the day to treat climate change as a global crisis, not least influenced by the Fridays for Future movement initiated by Swedish Youth Activist Greta Thunberg. Where MYD takes a more policy-based approach in addressing climate change, often engaging with relevant stakeholders to push the agenda forward, the birth of grassroot movements such as Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) and Bangkit4Iklim have led to a more on-the-ground approach in calling for leaders to treat the issue seriously.

A Merdeka Centre Survey in 2016 found that a whopping 80% of Malaysians are aware of climate change, and are not satisfied with efforts by the Federal Government in curbing the issue. Nonetheless, with a change in government last year, and positive signals from MESTECC, it’s important to note this challenge is one that can only be addressed by the government with the support of the people, as well as the private sector. As YB Yeo Bee Yin, the MESTECC Minister says it, “we are better together.”

MYD with Minister Yeo
MYD with Minister Yeo Bee Yin at the Parliament

Q: Since climate change is a global phenomenon which affects certain regions as a  whole, are you aware of and connected to similar Youth activists in the ASEAN region? Do you think ASEAN as an institution plays an important role within this debate and how does it look like?

A: Yes, we are engaged in regional networks - including those beyond the immediate Southeast Asian region. MYD’s thesis is that civil society plays a unique role in informing government policy, and that youth organisations naturally serve as important intermediaries in such transfers. We are seeing a unique moment now in Malaysia, with civil society playing an increasing role in shaping public opinion and discourse; this is a healthy sign of our stakeholder ecosystem maturing, but there is a lot more room for meaningful government-civil society engagement.

Our relations with peers in the environmental community abroad are very strong, and we benefit from frequent cooperation on various topics. For instance, we often work with the Singapore Youth For Climate Action group on capacity building initiatives. Further afield, we are currently working with the Asian Youth Climate Network on an NDC analysis toolkit for civil society stakeholders. The toolkit is certainly still a work in progress, but we are already seeing the benefits of collaboration with our Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean peers - not least because they have very different political economies from ours, which has been extremely useful in lending us a holistic perspective on subnational NDC implementation frameworks.

As an institution, ASEAN could definitely play a bigger coordinating role in regional environmental management; its full potential as a bloc has arguably yet to be realised. Nonetheless, we feel that the consensus-based initiatives which come with the ‘ASEAN way’ should not be underestimated, as it is somewhat well-suited to a regional environment like ours which has vastly different institutional features. Other transnational institutions, like the Mekong River Commission, only demonstrate the instrumentality of regional institutions in coordinating resource use in Southeast Asia. Institutions like the MRC are a beacon light for cooperation as, unlike the European Union, Southeast Asia remains very fragmented in terms of regulatory regimes for environmental management and resource use.

Youth Solidarity
Solidarity of Youth Around the World in Closing Plenary Intervention. MYD member Syaqil (in coat) is seated in front

Q: Why should youth be involved in climate change? How do you describe the youth in Malaysia and what is the best way to attract them in joining the climate movement?

Climate change is recognized by many intellectuals and think tanks as a near to midterm existential threat to human civilization and functions as a threat multiplier, escalating humanitarian crises, conflict and forced migration due to rising sea levels or prolonged droughts causing crop failures and water scarcity. The youth of today were brought up to think that the system that they grew up in was invulnerable and that their lives would be better than that of their parents by performing largely the same economic activities their predecessors did but at a grander scale. With the global financial crisis of 2008 stunting economic growth and the effects of climate change beginning to be felt worldwide, this myth of progress is beginning to unravel.

Gallup reports less than half of millennials view capitalism positively whereas 51% favor socialism. This can be taken as a leading indicator of the fallout between public interests and the goals of late stage capitalism to perpetuate a broken economic system that puts profits before people and the planet.

Faced with the prospect of living in a nightmarish future, the youth are at a crossroads: practice the axiom “ignorance is bliss” and enjoy the ephemeral present or agitate for change within the window of time we have before Earth crosses a tipping point.

Fortunately, the internet enables easy communication and provides many tools for organizing. Malaysian youths are extremely clued in to social media platforms, and this connectivity has birthed grassroots coalitions such as Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) which has held three rallies over the course of three months and are calling for the Malaysian government to declare a climate emergency.

The space for Malaysian environmental NGOs has also become more active with groups calling out the government on various environmental issues such as opposing a proposed land reclamation project in Penang Island, stopping monoculture plantations on indigenous lands. Other groups such as Malaysian Vegans engage the public regularly to promote adopting a plant-based diet.

Jasmin and Azam
Jasmin and Azam from MYD holding the Malaysian at the 13th Conference of Youth in Bonn, Germany

With the lowering of the voting age to 18 from 21, a new segment of the electorate, will be empowered to demand increased climate action. However, not much is known about this segment’s perceptions towards climate change, or their awareness of the issues as climate change education is not emphasized in schools. As such, the Malaysian Youth Delegation proposes the creation of a National Youth Climate Survey to track the sentiment of this group - which could be a powerful tool in lobbying the government to increase its climate adaptation efforts.

The best way to attract youths to join the climate movement is for existing groups to regularly engage the public through events such as rallies, picnics, talks and screenings. Participants also need to be empowered to perform their own outreach and activism after attending these events to create a cascading effect. However, with open protests being a relatively new phenomenon in Malaysia, youths may not feel secure being seen as publicly supporting organizations which hold positions contrary to that promoted by the Federal Government.

However, with most of these organizations being volunteer-run, there are serious capacity constraints both financially and in terms of manpower which prevent them from being more active. International organizations championing increasing climate action could support this budding youth-led ecosystem.

Q: The attention and preferences of young people keep changing, how to keep the youth movement to stay focused and interested?

The development is moving fast, especially in developing countries like Malaysia. Young people often have different areas to focus on, eg, finance, education and social. Very often young people divert their attention after experiencing direct impact. Hence, continuously engaging the youth with opportunities is important to keep them focused in this area. Other than that, the youth are also very interested in job opportunities and career progression. Increasing the exposure of climate-related issues in education will help them see its importance of it and create more climate-related or green collar jobs which will keep the enthusiasm of youth in climate change.

Mike (MYD) presenting on the effects on climate change at the Local Conference of Youth

Q: Are young people in Malaysia aware of the Fridays for Future movement and somehow influenced?

Yes, young people in Malaysia are very much aware of the Fridays for Future movement. The first Fridays for Future event on March 15th, 2019 mobilized considerable support especially from youths in Penang and Kuala Lumpur. In Penang about 60 people turned up while in Kuala Lumpur about 40 youths gathered on that day to call for greater awareness and action against climate change. Ever since this first event on March 15th, a few youth climate action groups both national and regional have emerged across the country and more young people have been drawn into publicly urging action to curb climate change. The most recent peaceful protest, #MYClimateRally happened on the 7th of July in Kuala Lumpur, where young participants rallied to calls for climate justice and to stop logging.

Q: Conferences on Climate Change always appear on a high political level, which makes it sometimes difficult to connect average people on climate issues. How do you try to sensitize Malaysians to this topic and what could each individual in your country do and contribute to tackle climate change?

MYD’s role is not just empowering young people on climate change policy but also dissecting information from high level political forums and negotiations to an easily understood message, that's one of MYD's objectives when we were established.

Dissecting information is just one part, the other part is to engage the masses with this information. Engagement is important to make sure the word gets to the people. We do this through our MYD Training Series, Post-COP forums, roundtable discussions and social media engagement.

These two elements, dissecting information and engaging, allows us to reach out to people so that they would understand and empower themselves with knowledge that would make them more ‘climate conscious’.

Q: What are the main climate issues in Malaysia and is it possible to address them?

Malaysia will likely face the adverse effects of climate change by the middle of this century. In a new study from ETH Zurich that analyzed the potential impact of climate change on global cities using an optimistic projection of global temperature rise of 1.4 degrees Celcius, tropical cities such as Kuala Lumpur are expected to experience unprecedented climate conditions resulting in extreme weather events and intense droughts by 2050. Current global emissions reduction pledges are however insufficient to limit global temperature rises to under 2°C, so climate change will affect Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia even more severely than what has been forecasted in the ETH Zurich paper.

Malaysia, like other countries, faces mitigation and adaptation challenges with regards to climate change. Malaysia has pledged a 35% - 45% emission intensity reduction based on 2005 GDP in 2030 as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement with the more ambitious target conditional on climate finance. Since the energy sector is a primary contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, Malaysia has set a goal of increasing its share of energy from renewable sources from 2% to 20% by 2030. While costs of renewables have decreased, a significant shift in Malaysia's energy sector will still require major investment in renewable energy generation and storage. As a developing country that also has other development priorities besides energy transition, Malaysia will require international climate finance to be able to achieve its energy transition goal. Technology transfer from advanced countries who are leaders in renewable energy generation and storage would also help Malaysia to successfully increase the share of renewables in Malaysia's energy mix.

MYD in UN Bangkok
MYD at the end of the UN Bangkok Climate Change Conference

Deforestation and land use change also contributes to Malaysia's greenhouse gas emissions. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Malaysia pledged to preserve forest cover over 50% of its land area. However, forest and land management are the responsibilities of state governments, who may have different priorities from the federal government of Malaysia. Logging is an important source of revenue for some states in Malaysia. This institutional and political reality complicates Malaysia's efforts to meet its goal of forest preservation. Furthermore, plantations in Malaysia are also classified as forests even though they do not store carbon for as long and as effectively as natural forests. Plantations also tend to be monocultures and lack biodiversity. A forest map developed in partnership with Google revealed that Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012 at a staggering 14.4%. An effective mechanism and institutional framework to ensure coordination and cooperation between the various state governments and the federal government needs to be developed to ensure coherent and sustainable forest and land use management policies in Malaysia.

As aforementioned, Kuala Lumpur and other tropical cities will experience extreme weather events and intense droughts by 2050 even in an optimistic global warming scenario. As Malaysia continues to urbanize, an increasing proportion of the Malaysian population will therefore experience extreme weather events that affect cities. Significant adaptation efforts are required for Malaysia to adapt to the new reality of a world disrupted by climate change. Such adaptation will require significant investment. Malaysia would need the support of international climate finance to successfully achieve its adaptation goals.

Malaysia would also need to ensure that no one is left behind in adaptation efforts. People living in rural areas will also be affected by climate change. Coastal communities for example will be disrupted by rising sea levels. Effective adaptation measures will need to be implemented across Malaysia. Doing so will be a significant challenge.

Q: Has the climate crisis been addressed by Malaysian politics/politicians? Are you able to monitor how the Malaysian Government implements outcomes and recommendations resulting from these international conferences?

Before May 2018, there was an absence of political will to drive the climate policies into implementation. Many organizations would tell you the same thing, our climate policies look amazing on paper but the implementation is sorely lacking. After the new government was voted to power in May 2018, MESTECC was set up. Currently, there is progress with ambitious targets set, but we believe things need to move faster.

MYD is constantly monitoring our government’s decisions when it comes to addressing climate issues both locally and internationally. We voice out when we see decisions that are not in the right direction; through factual articles on our website or via print and social media. This is our way of subtle advocacy, making our voice as climate conscious youth heard so that the government of the day would act on it.

Malaysian Youth Delegate
MYD Core Team


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