Climate and Environmental Governance: To avert the climate crisis, enable businesses to take action

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 21, 2022 - November 27, 2022.
Climate and Environmental Governance: To avert the climate crisis, enable businesses to take action
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Human civilisation has been thriving for thousands of years within a narrow envelope of a stable climate. However, the extreme weather we are beginning to face exacerbates the already severe threats to our ability to survive and thrive.

Just as earthquake planning is acculturated in certain countries, so too climate education needs to be acculturated, especially in this region, which is disproportionately affected by climate change. The analogy would be putting your child on a boat for the rest of its life without teaching it to swim or fish.

So, a statement that resonates with us is this: “I care about climate change because I care about the person next to me. We will not be able to ‘buy’ well-being during the climate crisis.”

It will be almost impossible for any board of directors or business to claim ignorance about the destructive carbon and environmental footprint of their business activities, including emissions within its sphere of control and influence [emissions classified as Scope 3 by the standards organisation Greenhouse Gas Protocol]. These game-changing new frameworks for reporting and disclosure are the precursor to establishing responsibilities and, thence, accountability and, eventually, liability.

Let us be clear: Causality has been clearly established by science.

We recognise that: 

(i) The earth’s atmosphere has already warmed by 1.15°C in 2021, with a more than 50% chance of hitting 1.5°C of warming in the next few years, despite the rare triple-dip La Niña;

(ii)  There is a strong causal relationship between population growth, economic activity [as measured by gross domestic product] and rapid growth in greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions;

(iii) The Earth cannot support both population growth and economic growth, as human activities, powered by fossil fuels, are exceeding planetary boundaries;

(iv) On a cumulative basis, 75% of global GHG emissions were emitted by just five countries and, on an annual basis, 55% of emissions are generated by the top five global emitters; while, (v) 15% of annual GHG emissions are generated by the richest 1% of the world’s population and 52% of annual GHG emissions are generated by the richest 10% of world’s population.

We also acknowledge the need for reparation, that:

Commitments by developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol [1997] to reduce emissions and provide financing, build capacity and transfer technology have not been completely fulfilled:

(i) Commitments to provide financial assistance for loss and damage under the Paris Agreement [2015] and subsequent conferences of the parties [COPs] have been discussed but not agreed upon or implemented;

(ii) There is an acute sense of helplessness and outrage among youth at the lack of intergenerational equity; and

(iii) We are arguably the first generation that has sufficient knowledge and access to funding and solutions, such as technologies and know-how, to significantly alter the inevitable destructive arc of the Anthropocene, but we are also very likely the last generation that can do so to prevent needless and widespread human suffering.

However, there is a tremendous opportunity to be part of the ecosystem of solutions.

We need to reaffirm that the existential climate crisis, as informed by science, is providing mankind in general and businesses in particular with a tremendous “wall of opportunity” to use the resources at their disposal to shift from the current, GHG emissions-driven development trajectory, marked by environmental degradation and social and economic injustice, to a sustainable development trajectory marked by environmental and ecological conservation, sustainable jobs and livelihoods and a just transition to a low-emissions economy.

Call to action

Businesses need an environment in which grants, incentives and policies are implemented to facilitate a smooth and just transition. And they need it now.

Only government can do this.

Businesses large and small must adapt to the soon-to-be-warmer world. They must learn to adapt if they are to minimise losses and ultimately recover.

The “All of Government, Whole of Society” approach needs to be a reality, not just a slogan. It is the only way for our nation to achieve climate resilience.


Sunita Rajakumar is the chairman and Dr Gary W Theseira is a council member of Climate Governance Malaysia. This column is part of a series coordinated by Climate Governance Malaysia, the national chapter of the World Economic Forum’s Climate Governance Initiative. The CGI is an effort to support boards of directors in discharging their duty of care as long-term stewards of the companies they oversee, specifically to ensure that climate risks and opportunities are adequately addressed.

 

Here are some of the questions we need to seriously consider and crowdsource among ourselves for solutions. 

     What would it take:

Carbon pricing

•    For shadow carbon pricing to be mandatory for businesses above a certain level of emissions or energy-use thresholds?

Energy

•    To set a time-bound target for the use of biofuels (including biomass, bio-gas and drop-in liquid biofuels) in the electricity grid fuel mix?

•    For rooftop solar PV to be economically viable across all government installations, followed closely by businesses and households?

•    To establish a peer-to-peer energy market to take advantage of and encourage localised excess capacity?

•    To finance the mandated retrofitting of existing buildings to be energy-efficient?

•    To familiarise the public with Small Modular Reactors, Molten Salt Reactors and Thorium Fuelled Reactors?

Mobility

•    To increase the modal share of public transport above 30%?

•    To establish a cost-effective electric vehicle retrofitting industry for the most popular small cars in Malaysia?

Water management

•    For harvested rainwater to be the primary water source for toilet flushing, landscape maintenance and urban farming?

•    To significantly reduce flash flooding in urban parts of the country?

•    To establish an effective off-river impoundment system to divert floodwater and store water for dry periods?

•    To reduce and, as far as possible, eliminate the loss and damage caused by the expected annual monsoon floods?

•    To keep all liquid waste effluent from entering surface drainage?

Food security

•    To slow and halt deforestation immediately and reverse deforestation by 2025?

•    To strengthen food security by increasing the level of national self-sufficiency to at least 70%?

•    To make Malaysia a food production and export hub?

Circular economy

•    For all of government, households and businesses to be zero waste, where all waste is separated at source or composted and channelled to appropriate recycling or upcycling streams?

•    To align interests of solid waste concessionaires and landfill operators so the recycling rate can be increased to above 95% by 2025?

•    To limit single-use plastics to essential roles only (for example, medical use, sterile packaging)?

•    To establish a green industrial park to bring together carbon capture, microalgae and plantation waste to produce sustainable fuels?

 

Actions should include:

•    Appointing a key minister/ministry to meet with industry representatives to agree on coordinated action;

•    Setting a target for the reduction of absolute emissions (by 2030, 2050 and the date for the peaking of absolute emissions);

•    Mandating rooftop solar on all government buildings, federal and state, allowing for peer-to-peer sale of power to nearby customers;

•    Setting targets for almost all of government procurement to be green and sustainable;

•    Setting a timeline for the phased implementation of the pricing and/or taxing of carbon of targeted sectors, for example, large emitters;

•    Doubling corporate tax rates on profits where businesses generate methane emissions above tolerable levels;

•    Phasing out coal-fired power generation;

•    Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and phasing in targeted subsidies in the next 12 to 24 months;

•    Mandating the use of agricultural by-products to generate power (subject to soil fertility tests), incentivised through punitive corporate tax (for example, 40%) rates for those plantations/mills that use less than, say, 90% of available agricultural by-products;

•    Mandating green building energy-efficiency levels;

•    Buildings to be cooled to 24°C only;

•    Establishing minimum blending rates for sustainable aviation fuel;

•    Zero deforestation with immediate and heavy criminal penalties for any illegal deforestation;

•    Incentives for long-term reforestation projects, for example, initial investments are tax deductible;

•    Setting expectations of minimum yields for the agricultural use of arable land;

•    Targets for zero waste, including incentives for reductions in solid waste collection, extended producer responsibility and zero single-use plastic;

•    Imposing landfill taxes; and

•    Providing access to local data for informed decisions regarding exposure to extreme weather events (for example, land areas at risk of flooding, extreme heat days) and mandate the adoption of climate resilience plans.

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