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Malaysia pledges to go carbon neutral but there’s a catch

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Malaysia pledges to go carbon neutral but there’s a catch

Malaysia’s newly minted prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob surprised the region in a parliamentary speech on the 12th
Malaysia Plan last month. His government moved the needle on a key climate target – to go carbon neutral by 2050.

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Malaysia signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, promising that it would join the world in taking action to curb
carbon emissions.

It tentatively put forward the first promise to cut emissions intensity of gross domestic product by 45 per cent by
2030; 35 per cent was unconditional while 10 per cent depended on the availability of climate finance, technology
transfer and capacity building from developed countries.

Malaysia’s second iteration of this target keeps the same level of cuts but all the 45 per cent is now unconditional.

These changes occurred in the midst of political uncertainties, including the implosion of the 1MDB scandal during
the administration of former prime minister Najib Razak in 2015 and the removal of Muhyiddin Yassin a couple of
months ago.

Do ambitious pledges during such strange times hold water?

Signatories set and update their targets and measures in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to keep
the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celcius. But the targets and baselines across countries are not
readily comparable.

Set in 2015, Malaysia’s target was 45 per cent while Indonesia’s was 41 per cent. Both countries have specified
the proportion and nature of their conditional commitments. At face value, Malaysia appears to be more ambitious
than Indonesia.

However, Malaysia has opted to measure its emissions in terms of intensity relative to its GDP. As GDP increases,
a country is allowed a higher emissions quota for the same percentage of reduction.

Indonesia committed to an absolute emission reduction, which is more challenging given that its faster economic
growth would demand a higher emissions reduction for the same percentage.

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