National Low Carbon Cities Master Plan launched by Malaysia

The modern world is growing at an unprecedented pace. Cities form the soul of the modern era. With the digital era and smart services cutting manpower based works at a faster pace, the over-crowding of the cities can be effectively reversed. The need for a good quality life is felt by the current generations and it has driven radical changes in how technology has worked to ease life.

The problem of climate change and greenhouse gases causing global warming is perceived as the greatest collective threat to humankind. Cities, the backbone of the 20th Century, have been the worst emitters of carbon forms and an urgent need is felt to promote green sustainable living. The Kyoto Protocol mandates the promotion of cleaner green societies and cleaner cities for the future.

Malaysia is one of the most urbanized countries in the world with 70% of the population living in urban settings. The country is also a significant polluter whose energy sector, mostly reliant on unsustainable energy, emits around 3/4th of the net emissions.

In August 2021, Malaysia launched a National Low carbon Cities Master Plan (NLCCM) under the Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) initiative. The GTALCC is a 5-year programme to implement “low-carbon initiatives in Malaysian cities.” Its purpose is to remove barriers in the projects related to low-carbon planning and development. The programme targets to achieve carbon reduction by 346,442-ton CO2 eq within five years.

The policy document for the programme defines Low carbon cities as “cities that have specific strategies, plans and targets on how to reduce GHG emissions, covering all potential emission sectors within the city boundary.” It highlights the 3M approach to lead the low-carbon initiative: Measurement of Green-House Gasses (GHG) emissions from various sectors, Management of planning cum strategy, and Mitigation of GHG gasses through design, implementation of the projects. NLCCM focuses on policy-making, energy, transportation and waste as key sectors for the initiative. Just like other climate action programmes, NLCCM will face challenges like planning, data availability, feasibility, cost, financing, community participation, etc. The vision document addresses 7 such challenges in detail. It enlists 3 key drivers namely governance and implementation framework, urban planning and community participation as important for the success of the low-carbon cities.

NLCCM recognizes 33 target cities that will be implementing in short and medium-long term projects as the first steps towards cleaner greener cities. The next group of cities will be after five-year term. Excluded Cities can also participate by following the mandates. The group-1 cities will be embarking on emission cuts and achieves a 33 per cent reduction of GHG emissions by 2030. Similarly, the next group of cities will achieve their targets in 2035. The estimated timeline suggests absolute carbon neutrality for the first group of 33 cities by 2050 at the earliest. To implement the challenging yet urgent initiative, Malaysia will form the National Action Council and State Action Councils under the Ministry of Environment and Water, which is the nodal ministry in the NLCCM project.

The Malaysian initiative to transform its massive urban landscape into low-carbon cities is a significant step with broader learning for other countries looking to curtail their GHJ emissions. The focus on planning within the government structure and community planning is a very positive step. The 5-year step-by-step cutting of the emissions will have significant data for analysis and access the successes and failures in the policies. This will be extremely beneficial for developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America who will start their emission reduction plans by the end of the decade.

Malaysia is a leader in urban planning and development given 76% of its total population or 25 million people settled in urban areas. Implementation by the richer countries like Japan and European nations are technically very unsuitable for the developing countries that have many constraints like space, fund crunch, high density population, poverty, political challenges, etc. Malaysia is more relevant as a role model in low-carbon urban development.

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