These notes accompany the Autumn semester 2022 class of my NAA module Climate Action in Malaysia. In this module students engage with content at the Bite-size Climate Action (BSCA) website, and post related reflections on social media as a form of their own climate action. There is a different topic in each of six weeks, and I link to these topics in the notes below which represent a snapshot of thoughts in late 2022.
Change - 24 October 2022
Over the last week it was a pleasure to contribute to BMCC's Climate Action Week with UNM supporting the event as Education Partner. My highlight was the Youth Action Video Competition, eventually won by two 17-year olds from Penang. The winning video illustrates well the quality of the fantastic submissions, and underlines the power of social media in raising awareness on climate action, especially among younger generations (see also UNICEF Malaysia's youth survey findings).
The BSCA Change content emphasizes the social side of climate action, and elections provide one of the most important opportunities for society-wide discussion of climate policy and action. The risk of climate-related disruption to the upcoming elections in Malaysia has been highlighted, but it will now be interesting to see whether climate action and wider environmental demands become more prominent in manifestos and in voter priorities. Certainly this has been the case in recent elections elsewhere, including in Australia.
Electricity - 31 October 2022
Within the past week the International Energy Agency (IEA) published their World Energy Outlook 2022. The IEA report highlights increasing global costs of coal and gas, which provide the majority of Malaysia's electricity generation, and argues for the cost-effectiveness and urgency of investment and growth in lower-carbon electricity generation. Also recently released is Malaysia's National Energy Policy 2022-2040, which sets out aspirations to gradually reduce reliance on coal and increase the share of renewable electricity. See the BSCA Electricity content for more on this topic.
National-scale electricity generation is a key feature of the climate action system in which we study, work and live. Especially when generation leads to carbon emissions, organisations and individuals can act to reduce consumption and waste of electricity. At UNM we are now embarking on a project to improve the quantity and quality of data we collect on our electricity usage, and to design interventions to reduce consumption, all aligned with the Environmental Sustainability pillar of our Strategic Plan.
Transport - 11 November 2022
The current disruption to public transport in Greater Kuala Lumpur reminds us our daily travel decisions are influenced and constrained by the systems around us. Of course this is greatly relevant to climate action, where reducing our reliance on vehicles burning petrol, and thus emitting carbon dioxide, is recognised as crucial. The BSCA Transport content explains options for lower-carbon transport include widespread, efficient and reliable public transport systems as well as safe "active" (cycling, walking) transport systems.
Transport also provides an obvious opportunity to address multiple problems coherently. In cities, petrol vehicles are often the leading source of both carbon dioxide and air pollutants which directly damage our health and lead to huge, often unaccounted for, costs to society.
Beyond availability of low-carbon transport options, incentives are important. One specific example for Malaysia is ongoing debate over our blanket petrol subsidy, which keeps prices down, but incentivises private vehicle use over lower-emitting options. The finance minister stated this subsidy could cost RM30 billion (around RM1000 per person living in Malaysia) in 2022, largely benefitting the most well-off. There are multiple alternative transport incentives, which can be framed as "carrots" (like subsidies) or "sticks" (like taxes and charges), and can also include non-financial interventions like car-free zones.
Food - 20 November 2022
Through student surveys during this NAA module I have typically found 1) at the start of the module, changing diets is among the least obvious personal climate actions and 2) at the end of the module, the BSCA Food content is voted "Most Interesting". This indicates a great potential to strengthen discourse on the link from food and diets to climate action within Malaysia's vibrant food culture.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our food systems is fundamental to climate action, with ongoing debate at the recent COP27. Our World in Data presents a summary of published work emphasising food systems contribute 25-30% of global emissions, with contributions from land use (e.g. loss of forest), production (e.g. from excess fertilizer, or from livestock), supply chains (e.g. transport, packaging) and from food waste. Other summaries at the same site explore broader sustainability challenges related to impacts of agriculture on land and biodiversity and opportunities to reduce food-related emissions by avoiding waste, improving agricultural practices and shifting to healthier diets.
Trash - 27 November 2022
Plastic waste is a visible environmental concern in Malaysia, with frequent reports of land, water and air pollution linked to both home-grown and imported plastic waste. The BSCA Trash content highlights broader connections between waste and climate change: consuming a plastic product, for example, will likely have led to greenhouse gas emissions through the chain of resource extraction and processing, through to product manufacture, transport and disposal. Viewed through this consumption lens there are wide-ranging opportunities for action to address both pollution and climate change coherently via more conscious corporate and individual decisions focussed on avoiding waste and a more "circular economy".
Indeed, the concept of circularity is increasingly connected to climate action. While scientific evidence is still developing, its potential to reduce emissions in many sectors is recognised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is central to a number of new national climate pledges, including the NDC of Chile (at a similar development level to Malaysia). It was a prominent framing for events at the recent COP27. For an overview, an annual Circularity Gap Report assesses current performance as well as opportunities for progress towards climate goals.
Forests - 7 December 2022
The latest iteration of the UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15, is starting today with arresting declines in forest health high on the agenda. The most recent UN Climate Conference, COP27, finished just a couple of weeks ago - also with outcomes highly relevant to forests. So while these two streams of international negotiations run in parallel, the connections between biodiversity and climate - and the central importance of forests - are increasingly emphasized.
Malaysia's iconic tropical forests are home to magnificent biodiversity, store carbon, and even absorb (acting as a "carbon sink") a fraction of the carbon dioxide emitted through burning fossil fuels. And unsurprisingly, Malaysia's forests are increasingly gaining attention within plans, pledges and policy on climate action. For example, their role as a carbon sink features in "net zero" pathways presented by Shell Malaysia and by WWF Malaysia. Further, forest carbon may be valued in developing carbon markets. Quantification of the forest carbon sink will thus face increasing scrutiny. Forests are also likely to be prominent in Malaysia's climate adaptation planning, given their importance for water security and for sustainable livelihoods.
I am excited to be involved in a new research project which seeks to untangle some of these complexities in the context of peatlands in Malaysia in Indonesia.
I am interested in various aspects of atmospheric and climate science, often in the context of tropical Asia. My research mainly involves analysis of a combination of modelled and observational datasets. Current priorities include:
Interactions between climate change and air pollution. A grant from the Ministry of Education is supporting research on how climate change might modify the likelihood of meteorological conditions that promote poor air quality in Malaysia. Other current projects focus on methane emissions in Malaysia (see commentary) and on new approaches to mitigating emissions, of both "haze" pollution and greenhouse gases, from Southeast Asian peatlands.
Long-range transport of atmospheric pollution from East Asia towards the tropics. A key focus has been pollutants transported by so-called "cold surges", which appear to have an important influence on Southeast Asian air quality and on the stratospheric ozone layer.
Interdisciplinary research on air pollution. Recent examples explored public views and responses to "haze" episodes and urban air pollution. A recent grant from the Toyota Foundation has supported collaboration and new data collection related to the "haze" - early results from this project are reported in a policy brief regarding government communications over haze, and in three blog posts focussed on Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Past research considered emissions of biogenic trace gases from the oceans in Southeast Asia and their subsequent transport towards the stratosphere where they can influence ozone layer chemistry.
Links to my Google Scholar, Publons and ORCID pages.