Written by: Norhafiza Shafie, Development Economist, Inclusive Development and Growth (IDG) and Ange Tan, Environment Analyst, Sustainable and Resilient Development (SRD)
Advancing Sustainability is one of the three themes in the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) towards guaranteeing continuous economic growth while protecting the environment and continuing Malaysia’s commitments to global targets. This theme builds on two game changers namely circular economy and integrated water resources management, critical in fulfilling the goal of building better, greener and fairer Malaysia in the post-COVID era. In building momentum towards the start of implementation in 2022, Economic Planning Unit Malaysia (EPU) in partnership with UNDP, organised an interactive dialogue and exchange session on 12December 2021 with prominent academician, policymaker, members of civil society and private sector. This dialogue aimed to contribute concrete ideas and gather strong support from the members of the public in assisting the Government in moving forward with the sustainability agenda.
Attended by 130 participants at KL Convention Centre and over 100 live online viewers, the event was opened by Mr. Niloy Banerjee, Resident Representative of UNDP Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam highlighting the need for the Government in prioritizing relevant enabling drivers, addressing fragmented institutional framework, capitalizing technologies as well as addressing societal norms as part of the solutions in advancing sustainability agenda. The event was officiated by Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri Mustapa bin Mohamed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) who emphasized on maintaining momentum from the launch of the 12th Malaysia Plan by instilling awareness and upholding values on sustainability in the Malaysian public and continuous engagement with relevant experts and stakeholders during implementation including civil society organizations. The session continued with an in-depth overview of 12MP focusing on Advancing Sustainability and priority areas namely green growth, clean and resilient development, which was presented by Mr. Che Kodir bin Baharom, Director, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister’s Department.
Moderated by Dr. Hezri Adnan, the dialogue was packed with vibrant discussions by distinguished panellists: Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr. Zakri Bin Abdul Hamid, Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Binti Mahmood, Dr Nagulendran A/L Kangayatkarasu and Datin Seri Sunita Rajakumar. Dr. Hezri started the dialogue highlighting the strong emphasis on the adoption of the circular economy within 12 MP which was echoed by all panellists before delving into aspects ranging from raising awareness through education for behavioural change, policy implementation and strengthening financing mechanisms, addressing governance, roles of academic institutions, multilateral agencies, NGOs/CSOs and private sector’s in advancing the sustainability agenda among others.
Key take away messages are as below:
1. Translating sustainability agenda into practice is the challenge.
In line with the Minister’s speech (where policies will remain rhetoric until action is taken) and although the concept of sustainable development was first mooted in 1970s, panellists took cognizant of the awareness and actions have not transcended across to various demographics particularly within the rural communities. Implementing sustainability concepts and frameworks requires a combination of individual-level behaviour and structural incentives. According to Tan Sri Zakri, the whole-of-Government approach must be strengthened with clear implementable actions including social innovation to further drive change, along with injection of capital investment.
2. Harnessing knowledge and data
Managing data and information as well as making them available in the public domain would enhance coherence and coordination between government agencies. Specifically, the 12MP needs to focus on the 4Cs – clarity, coherence, communication and compelling in terms of data collection and management to enhance its communication. In addition, to achieve coherence, the published information will be useful to map out key strategies and actions to be implemented and assigned to specific ministries and agencies. As the pandemic has taught the world, having access to data (especially at disaggregated level) will empower decision making not only for the government but for the public and private sectors as well. For example, Datin Sri Sunita chimed in on climate-related statistics stating accurate, timely, and relevant policy signals and information will enable private sectors to plan their business forward including making informed-decision on future investments.
3. Sustainability must be a relatable concept, de-jargonise 12MP.
By making the sustainability concept within 12MP more understandable by the public-at-large, , it is also hoped that families, children and rural communities will be able to relate and translate them into actions, within their own capacities. Sustainability concepts such as planetary health, SDG, etc. and science are best learnt in their mother tongue (and should be taught in English too) in schools to increase its relatability and understanding by the younger generation as highlighted by Dr. Nagulendran and further elaborated by Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood. Panellists expressed that sustainability should be the responsibility of every citizen and it should not be perceived as and let it become an elitist game.
4. Grassroots innovations as part of the sustainability effort.
In facing a triple crisis -on climate, biodiversity loss and pollution, stakeholders in private sectors, manufacturers and communities need to be engaged to develop innovative grassroots social solutions. As noted by Dr. Nagulendran, an effort initiated by the government include empowering start-up businesses through MyStartUp Hub Programme which moulds technology and innovation to be future-ready sustainability solutions for commercialization and the merger of Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) into a technology commercialization agency.
In wrapping the dialogue, panellists agreed and applauded EPU and Government in formulating a holistic 12MP - a plan that has integrated sustainability agenda with equal emphasis on economic growth and social development and cohesion, towards a more sustainable, prosperous and inclusive Malaysia. 12MP is an aspirational framework and for it to become a success, it needs to be synergised with the national budget and expand partnership with private sectors, public and including international/multilateral agencies such as UN/UNDP and NGOs/CSOs. The dialogue was officially closed by Ms. Manon Bernier, Deputy Resident Representative of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.